Nina Salarno Ashford of Crime Victims United of California at a news conference orchestrated against Fourth District supervisor candidate Shawn Nelson outside the Fullerton Police Department.

Thursday, May 27, 2010 | The race for Orange County’s Fourth District supervisor seat went statewide Wednesday with a Sacramento area-based crime victims’ group flying south to decry a solicitation for defense of sex offenders that was on, then off, the website of Republican candidate Shawn Nelson’s law firm.

Nelson, a Fullerton city councilman, said he has never defended sex offenders and dismissed the news conference by Crime Victims United of California as a part of union-orchestrated attack on him because of his stance against the spiraling costs of public-sector pensions.

Meanwhile, the Fullerton police officers union, also angry over the sex offender issue, is threatening a cease-and-desist order against Nelson, who has been endorsed by the local GOP, for mailers that show Fullerton police officers shaking hands with him.

“The last thing Orange County needs is someone like Shawn Nelson whose law firm advertises to convicted sex offenders and then hides it from the public,” said Harriet Salarno, chairwoman of Crime Victims United of California.

Salarno added that her group is supporting Harry Sidhu even though, she said, it does not usually get involved in local races. However, the group does not list Sidhu on the endorsement list on its website.

Nelson said Salarno’s appearance was all part of an Orange County Employees Association plan to keep an adversary out of office. “There’s a common theme here,” Nelson said. “The union.”

The fireworks started earlier in the month when the OCEA began flooding Fourth District mailboxes with a series of ads that call out Nelson for scrubbing his law firm’s website of solicitations for sex crime defenses.

The ads rattled Nelson’s campaign enough that it went to this month’s GOP Central Committee to solicit donations for mailers through the party that counter the attacks.

Nelson acknowledges that the solicitations were once on his site but said they were put there by a consultant the firm hired to increase hits on the site. He said his firm, Rizio & Nelson, has never represented sex offenders.

“That’s not our bailiwick,” Nelson said. “Most of those (sex offenders) don’t have private attorneys.”

He said the website issue was the product of a marketing person he hired to work on the law firm’s website. Apparently, a subcontractor working out of India assembled the sex crime defenses to heighten hits on the website through search engines like Google, Nelson said.

When he was made aware of the section, Nelson said, he took it down.

“It wasn’t to hide anything,” he said. “If we had advertisements for canoes, we’d get rid of that because we don’t sell canoes.”

“No one in my office, my firm, has done anything wrong.”

Nelson criticized the victims rights group’s involvement in his race, saying it was funded through the state’s prison guard union and alleged a connection to OCEA.

“I know that OCEA featured them in a print mail piece against me. Somehow Nick Berardino stumbles onto this group,” Nelson said.

Berardino did not deny an alliance with the group, saying, “If he wants to attack Crime Victims United, it says it all.”

Standing to the side at Wednesday’s news conference were the Fullerton Police Officers Association officials who say Nelson is being dishonest regarding who in law enforcement supports him.

He’s trying to “dupe” voters into thinking that public safety supports him. And at least in Fullerton, that’s not the case, said Barry Coffman, president of the local officers union.

Coffman said Nelson wants it both ways. He’s sought police union support in the past but declined to seek it now because of a Republican Party mandate that no endorsed candidates accept contributions from public unions, including cops and firefighters.

Yet in his mailers, he’s showing off old photos of cops and firefighters shaking his hands, Coffman said. And that’s duplicitous, the union argues.

“If he’s deceitful about his mailer and his website, what else is there?” Coffman asked.

Coffman said the union has sent Nelson a “cease and desist order,” which he’s ignored. And the union says it may soon seek a restraining order in court.

Nelson disagrees and said he’s tired of public safety unions linking support for cops to their unions.

“I’m not allowed to support public safety unless I support unions?” Nelson said.

He noted that the photos he’s using in his mailers are his. The cops and firefighters who posed for photos in 2004 knew what they were doing when they stood next to a politician, he said.

“They can complain all they want. But I have an eight-and-a-half-year history of looking after law enforcement that has nothing to do with babysitting their pension benefits,” Nelson said.

“Can’t you support public safety and not support or oppose the union?”

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