Supervisors Appoint Lawyer as Second Member of Ethics Commission

Greenberg Gross LLP

H. Josh Ji was nominated to serve on the county ethics commission by Supervisor Michelle Steel.

Orange County supervisors, without discussion, on Tuesday appointed the second member of the still-unformed countywide ethics commission.

H. Josh Ji, an attorney with Greenberg Gross LLP, was appointed unanimously after he was nominated by Supervisor Michelle Steel to serve on the Campaign Finance and Ethics Commission.

The five-member commission will be tasked with providing independent enforcement of the county’s campaign finance limits, lobbying law, gift ban and code of ethics.

Voters in June 2016 overwhelmingly ordered the panel created. But more than a year later, the county supervisors – who would be subject to possible enforcement penalties by the commission – have yet to form it.

The only other commissioner appointed so far is Peter Agarwal, who inaccurately claimed in his ethics commission application that he is on the governing board of a national association, and repeatedly defended his description as accurate, despite acknowledging he doesn’t serve on the governing board but instead is one of the group’s 17,000 members.

Ji, who was admitted to practice law in December, said in an interview Monday he will bring his experience as an attorney to the table, including looking at regulations, codes and case law and applying them to the facts in front of him.

“I’m very honored,” Ji said. “I’m just looking forward to serving the community and doing what I can.”

His employer was hired this year to publicly advocate to supervisors on behalf of a company seeking a county contract to oversee services for private jets at John Wayne Airport.

Ji said he looked into his employer’s representation of ACI Jet and was told it would not present a conflict of interest for him to serve on the county ethics commission.

None of the supervisors, including Steel, spoke about Ji’s appointment at the meeting. His appointment was made on a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Shawn Nelson absent.

Steel’s appointment documents for Ji say his term of office is “to be determined.”

Voters approved specific rules for the commission’s terms of office, which require initial terms of one, two, and three years – chosen at random – in order to set up staggered three-year terms later on.

But supervisors have wanted to change that, to potentially grant each supervisor the power to choose how long their appointee serves. This would make it so the commissioners “serve at the pleasure of the supervisor” who appointed them, Supervisor Andrew Do, who supports the changes, said last month.

While some local governments conduct public interviews with candidates for commission appointments, which allows residents to observe the process, county supervisors have opted for a secret approach to the ethics commission appointments.

They refuse to say who has applied to serve on the ethics commission, and haven’t conducted public interviews of applicants.

Instead, the public first learns who is up for appointment at the absolute last time that supervisors can legally wait to disclose it – the Friday afternoon before a Tuesday supervisors’ meeting.

Ji said he would decide ethics issues fairly on the commission.

“I’m an attorney and I just apply the law to the facts, and that’s what I would do,” he said.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.