OC Ethics Commission Can Now Meet After Third Member is Appointed

The Orange County Board of Supervisors. From left: Michelle Steel, Shawn Nelson, Todd Spitzer, Lisa Bartlett, and Andrew Do. (Photos by Nick Gerda and Katlin Washburn)

Orange County’s ethics commission now can legally meet for the first time – over 15 months after voters overwhelmingly approved its creation – after a retired judge was appointed as the third member.

The Campaign Finance and Ethics Commission will be tasked with providing independent enforcement of the county’s campaign finance limits, lobbying law, gift ban and code of ethics.

With county supervisors’ unanimous appointment Tuesday of Barbara Tam Nomoto-Schumann, who served as a Superior Court judge from 1979 to 2013, the commission has a majority of its five members.

That means the commission could hold its first meeting, said the county’s top attorney, Leon Page, at the supervisors meeting. Voters approved the commission in June of last year, more than 460 days ago.

But it’s unclear how soon that will happen. Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who nominated Nomoto-Schumann, repeatedly emphasized the commission can start going about its business. But none of the other supervisors responded.

Some of the supervisors have expressed interest in changing the commissioners’ length of office rules that voters approved. Supervisor Andrew Do has said he wants the ethics commissioners to “serve at the pleasure of the supervisor” who appointed them.

Nomoto-Schumann was the first Asian-American judge to serve on the Orange County bench, and now works as a lecturer on community property and family law at UC Irvine’s law school.

She was a member of the California Judges Association ethics committee from 2011 to 2017, and served as president of the American Judges Association from 2008 to 2009, according to Spitzer.

“She’s obviously, I think, eminently qualified,” Spitzer said just before the vote. He said he found Nomoto-Schumann after asking courts for the names of retired judges who might be eligible for the commission.

Out of the three supervisors so far who have appointed ethics commissioners, Spitzer has been the only one to publicly describe their appointee’s qualifications for the position.

The other appointments have been made by supervisors Shawn Nelson and Michelle Steel.

Nelson appointed Peter Agarwal, a bank branch manager who falsely claimed in his ethics commission application he was on the governing board of a national association, and then defended his representation.

Supervisor Michelle Steel appointed H. Josh Ji, who graduated from law school last year and was admitted to the state bar in December.

In a separate vote Tuesday, county supervisors exempted the ethics commissioners from having to disclose their property ownership on financial interest disclosures.

Under state law, officials must disclose their financial interests to allow the public and others to evaluate whether there are conflicts of interest in their official decisions.

The law requires county supervisors to disclose their income, investments, and real estate within the county.

But when it comes to county commissioners and staff, supervisors get to decide what they do and don’t have to disclose.

The ethics commission’s top staff member, Denah Hoard, is required to disclose financial interests in real estate within Orange County, as well income sources and investments.

The supervisors exempted ethics commissioners from the real estate disclosure requirements. They did not explain why.

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