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If there has ever been a weirder recall campaign against an elected official than the current one involving Marin County, Calif., District Attorney Paula Kamena, San Francisco political consultant Donald Solem hasn’t seen it. “Fringe is a good way to describe it,” he says. Solem, who has been involved in helping Kamena fight the recall, might not be the most unbiased source, but he’s got a point. At times, the Marin recall campaign has resembled a three-ring circus with bad acts. What began as an effort to oust four family court judges has now become a recall campaign against Kamena, whose office has little, if any, contact with family court. And while the original proponents were people who felt some moms were getting the shaft in family court, they’re almost outnumbered now by marijuana advocates who accuse Kamena of violating state law by prosecuting people who use pot medicinally. Kamena has been accused of everything from abducting children from their parents to being a closet conservative who favors abortion. And she’s been the target of hundreds of anti-Kamena e-mails, including some odd ones by a former Marin political candidate about being a victim of “speed freak” terrorism and others by a man who claims Madonna and other celebrities have stolen his sperm. It’s all too much for some people, who wonder whether the voters really understand what they’ll be voting about when they go to the polls on May 22. “It doesn’t seem to me,” says Donna Bjorn, president of the League of Women Voters of Marin County, “that there’s an intelligent discussion of the issues.” There have been, however, headline-grabbing incidents on the margins of the campaign. For one, there were allegations — all denied — that proponents misled the public by telling people they were gathering signatures to put a pro-pot measure on the ballot rather than trying to recall the DA. And for another, there were false reports that environmental whistleblower and movie icon Erin Brockovich was coming to support the recall. “This sort of thing is difficult because you are fighting against rumors and allegations that have no clear factual basis,” says Solem, who also worked with the four Marin judges who avoided a recall election. “It’s like trying to fight against windmills.” Even so, Kamena’s prepared to play the role of Don Quixote, fighting back with facts and figures that she says should refute any misinformation. “To me this is about someone having a personal agenda and wanting to get an elected official to do what they want them to do,” she says. “And the more the allegations made are proven to be untruthful, the more I hope people will realize that all of this is that way.” Recall proponents targeted Kamena initially because her office prosecuted Carol Mardeusz, a Novato woman convicted last year of five felonies and two misdemeanors for attempting to abduct her own daughter. They also accused Kamena of refusing to prosecute members of the Marin County Board of Supervisors for allegedly misusing county credit cards. But nearly everyone agrees that it was the marijuana people who blew new wind — and some smoke — into the campaign’s sails by gathering a majority of the nearly 21,000 signatures that put the Kamena recall on the ballot. At the same time, some say, they brought with them a fanaticism that is off-putting to some residents and usurped the original cause of reforming family court, an institution that had been the subject of a scathing report by New York author Karen Winner. “They just took the Winner report and ran with it and went off the reservation,” says retired San Rafael lawyer Annegret Topel, one of three people in Marin who commissioned Winner’s report. “They just used this for the wrong reason and they watered down the issues by recalling everybody they could think of for their own personal reasons. “It has taken away a lot from the real issues we were concerned about.” Recall proponents — operating under the name Legal Abuse Task Force — don’t agree, arguing that they have legitimate gripes and that the disparate groups share some common denominators. “We are the sick, the abused, the battered women, the children,” says Lynnette Shaw, head of the Fairfax-based Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana. “And we have all been abused and unfairly treated by those who are supposed to protect the most vulnerable in our village. “We are a group that is harassed and threatened and even jailed, despite our innocence.” Cindy Ross, the California director of the National Alliance for Family Court Justice, agrees. “It’s the idea that Paula Kamena’s office is prosecuting people who should not be prosecuted and overlooking crimes that should be prosecuted,” she says. “It’s the underlying theme, and all these groups have come together.” Furthermore, says Ronald Mazzaferro, an investigator from Sonoma, the more on the bandwagon the merrier. “Just because the Mardeusz case is what’s mentioned on the petition,” he says, “doesn’t preclude anyone else from coming forth and joining in the recall for their own particular reasons.” That’s fine and dandy, Kamena’s backers say, but they would like it if the recall faction would get its facts straight. Recall proponents should realize that the DA’s office has no authority over family court issues, they say, and voters should be told that of 73 people who claimed a medical marijuana defense in Marin between Jan. 1, 1998, and last Dec. 31, only one went to trial. “We have one of the fairest policies in the state,” Kamena says. “It’s patterned after Mendocino County’s. I don’t know what else we could do.” Others suggest that the cast of characters behind the recall lack credibility also. Shaw, who wore tie-dyed clothes to the Marin County Courthouse the day the Kamena recall signatures were delivered, is a self-professed reverend in The Religion of Jesus Church, which uses cannabis in worship practices. Peter Romanowsky, a former political candidate who claims to be a reverend with Baptist and Pentecostal ties, issues lengthy e-mails that alternately bash Kamena and wax poetically about life. “I would like to throw off the shackles of having to support women kind, but that is as unlikely as women throwing off the curse of being dependent on man for protection,” one February e-mail railed. “Let me paint my toenails red and wear robes, shower in my home and work from there also, while bare-chested laborers work in my garden.” Romanowsky defends his words as “very elaborate” meditations on life, but even some other recall proponents disavow him as a leader of the movement. “He is only concerned with getting his name in the paper,” says Ross, of the National Alliance for Family Court Justice. She and others were cheered up earlier this month, however, when Thomas Van Zandt threw his hat in the ring to challenge Kamena for the DA seat. “He is motivated to take a step down in his salary because his sister is Carol Mardeusz,” Shaw says, “and I know that he would never turn his back on victims of legal abuse in Marin County.” Yet Van Zandt, a patent associate in Sunnyvale, Calif.’s Blakely Sokoloff Taylor & Zafman, remains pretty much a mystery. He has made few, if any, public appearances and has been extremely low-key with the press. On Monday, however, Van Zandt responded to an e-mail inquiry, saying that his sister’s case and others made him aware of “corruption” in Marin County government. “I intend to see that what happened to them does not happen to others,” he wrote. Van Zandt, who graduated from McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, called the alleged problems in family court part of “an organized criminal enterprise” that the DA has a duty to investigate. Instead, he said, Kamena has “continued to prosecute people beyond the letter and spirit of the law when it suits her politically.” Van Zandt also defended recall proponents. “This election would not be taking place, were it not for 20,000 people signing the recall petition,” he wrote. “It’s absurd to claim that ‘fringe groups’ or special interests are responsible in the face of that overwhelming popular support.” Van Zandt also has established a Web site — www.tomvanzandt.com– on which he vows to remove political considerations from prosecutorial decisions, implement a “fair and lawful policy” on the use of medical marijuana, and commission an independent investigation of the Marin County family and probate courts. Kamena’s backers hope that Van Zandt brings the campaign debate to a higher level. But they’re prepared to combat any misinformation while not attacking their opponents. “Our emphasis is going to be on the good things accomplished by Paula,” says Barbara Fuchs, manager of Friends of Paula Kamena. “We want to tell the citizens of Marin they made a good choice in 1998. “Recall is reserved for gross malfeasance and corruption in office,” she adds, “and there has been no evidence of that.” The Marin County Bar Association was so upset about the recall that its board of directors took the rare step recently of coming out publicly against it. Even Martin Silverman, one of the three people who commissioned the Winner report, thinks the Kamena recall is a bad idea. “It seems recall should be based on a body of complaints,” the retired businessman says. Silverman goes further by saying that the recall misses the point and could undermine the work that got under way after the Winner report. “Anytime you have fringe people and fringe situations and there is a question of objectivity, it can affect the perception of everybody else in the county about what’s going on,” Silverman says. “The recall,” he adds, “was ill-advised and absolutely hurt our objective of bringing systemic change to the Marin County family court system.”

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