Thursday, May 21, 1998
Monterey County Sheriff Norm Hicks currently faces every elected official''s nightmare: Two weeks before election day, the state attorney general''s office has requested that the Monterey County district attorney''s office investigate Hicks on charges of election irregularities, dating back to his 1994 run for office.
With the elections coming up on June 2, Hicks feels the timing of this request is politically motivated. Those involved--from the newspaper that broke the story to the attorney general''s office to Hicks'' opponent in the race--adamantly deny that accusation.
But whether politically motivated or not, the sequencing is bad for Hicks and only time will tell if a whiff of scandal can stink up Hick''s re-election campaign.
"I don''t think from what I am hearing in the community that [this incident] will affect [the campaign]," says Hicks.
Others--specifically his opponent in the election, Sheriff''s Detective Gordon Sonn--see the request as telling.
"This matter sheds light on his character," says Sonn. "Quite frankly, it sheds light on his personal disregard for the law."
The matter in question involves the collection of signatures for a "signature in lieu" to offset the filing fee during Hicks'' 1994 campaign. George Wiggins, a parolee who was not registered to vote, allegedly helped the Hicks campaign gather the 3,180 signatures needed to offset the $794.88 fee required of candidates to run in the election. To legally collect such signatures, gatherers must be registered voters and parolees are not eligible to vote.
According to Monterey County Registrar of Voters Tony Anchundo, when Hicks found out about the situation involving Wiggins'' ineligibility to collect signatures, he asked to have the signatures gathered by Wiggins removed, and they were. Ultimately, Hicks did not succeed in gathering the required signatures, so he "did a combination"--part signatures, part payment of fee.
The matter came to the attention of the state attorney general''s office, which, after a lengthy investigation, sent a report to the Monterey County district attorney''s office recommending that Hicks be charged with election irregularities.
At Coast Weekly press time, the Monterey County district attorney''s office had released no details on the report or whether or not there would be an investigation or charges filed against Hicks.
"We are reading the reports right now," says Assistant DA Charlie Keeley, who adds the reading of the reports should be completed "fairly soon."
That, after nearly four years of investigation the attorney general''s report should arrive only two weeks before an election, fuels Hicks'' suspicion of foul play.
"I question the sincerity of [the report]," says Hicks.
Alfie Charles, spokesperson for the state attorney general''s office, says the timing was just a coincidence.
"This was as soon as we could conclude the investigation," says Charles. "There are not any political considerations. It would be irresponsible of us to let that play a role in our decision one way or the other."
That may be the case, but the referral of the report to the DA''s office coincided with the latest in a series of damning articles about Hicks in the Monterey County Post, a weekly paper that has over the past two years scrutinized this incident and Hicks'' performance as sheriff. Hicks suggests that the Post is politically biased and is simply carrying out a political vendetta, and says that he is currently consulting attorneys on the possibility of libel action against the paper.
"This is dirty politics," says Hicks, "a personal vendetta."
Post Publisher Dan Hudson denies the charge.
"We have absolutely, positively no vendetta against Norm Hicks," says Hudson, who adds the fact that the Post''s latest unflattering story on Hicks coincided with the release of the attorney general''s report and the election was not intentional.
"The timing was in the control of the Secretary of State''s office," says Hudson. "We had nothing to do with that."
There is also a difference of opinion over why the state attorney general''s office would kick the case back to Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo, whose office works with the Sheriff''s Department and Norm Hicks on a regular basis.
Keeley says the state decided the Monterey County district attorney''s office did not have a conflict of interest in the matter and forwarded the report.
Charles reports just the opposite, saying that the decision to handle the matter was made by Flippo''s office.
"As a matter of course we refer the measure to the district attorney and allow them to recuse themselves due to personal or political relationships," he says.
Regardless of which decisions led up to the referral of the report to the DA''s office, the referral is now here and it will doubtless be an issue on Hicks'' re-election campaign. Because the matter is still under review, the contents of the report remain unknown. But even the possibility of charges being filed against a sitting sheriff does not bode well for Hicks this close to the election.
This fact does not go unnoticed by Sonn, who does not hesitate to condemn Hicks on any number of issues, but denies being part of any concerted effort to sabo