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.

  • Ed Romero

    Ethics Commission, WHAT A JOKE. I would like for them to invite me to one of their meetings. I still want to know how the Board of Supervisor’s SELECTED the convicted Criminal who was caught shoplifting 8 times, who smoke so much Marijuana at the Probation Department that my co-workers gave her the AKA/Marijuana Nancy. She had her very own Gang of Drug Dealers making Drug Deliveries right into her Office while on duty and EVERYONE knew about and NO ONE did a thing about it. It must be nice to be WHITE, A RACIST and a DIRTY MEMBER OF THE GOP.

  • LFOldTimer

    Let’s see.

    (1) Shawn’s banker buddy.

    (2) A recent law school grad who works for a firm that advocated for a John Wayne airport flight service company ranked FIFTH in the bidding process that was awarded the contract by the supes.

    (3) A retired Superior Court judge.

    Question for Shirley Grindle:

    Why aren’t any ordinary residents appointed to the EC like ordinary residents are appointed to civil and criminal juries? You know, auto mechanics, real estate agents, pharmacists, home builders, mail deliverers, engineers, etc…? If they’re smart enough to evaluate evidence and send someone to prison certainly they have the ability to sniff out a crooked politician.

    Why does an EC commissioner have to be part of the inside establishment clan?

    Looks to me like the fix is in.

    I wonder who will be the first BoS political enemy to get investigated by the EC?

    • verifiedsane

      The non-ethics commission is a complete sham. Poor Shirley got played, and is now to vested in the sham to admit the obvious reality that OC just got saddled with another feckless money pit not unlike the other BoS debacle called OIR. At the end of the day, OC still receives no independent oversight; while the ruling oligarchy crime family government continues their back room & secretive assault on the citizens of OC