Click. Campaign to recall Kamena raises doubts.

Campaign to recall Kamena raises doubts

By Guy Ashley

Questions raised by Marin District Attorney Paula Kamena about the tactics of a recall campaign against her have intensified in recent days with a wave of complaints to county offices from citizens who say they were misled into signing recall petitions.

The county's deputy elections chief said the complaints are unfortunate, but in all likelihood come too late to affect a possible recall vote against Kamena in a special election next May.

A leader of the recall campaign, meanwhile, said the complaints amount to sour grapes on behalf of Kamena supporters who fear a recall election.

About 20 calls were made to the county elections office this week by citizens, such as Cindi Bunten of Novato, who said they were told the petitions were in support of medical marijuana - and that there was no mention of a district attorney recall.

Bunten, a 39-year-old bartender, said she was approached by a woman outside a Novato Target store last week who asked her to sign a petition in support of a person's right to marijuana for medical needs.

"I do support medical marijuana, so I signed it," she said.

Bunten said she was horrified to learn a few days later that the petition she signed was in support of Kamena's recall - and made no mention of medical pot.

"I wouldn't have signed anything to recall Paula Kamena, because I'm not educated enough on that issue," Bunten said. "I know I'm supposed to read these things ... but I was in a hurry."

Petitions with 20,671 signatures were filed last week in support of a Kamena recall.

If county officials verify that 13,756 of those signees are registered Marin voters, a May 8, 2001, special election will be called to ask if Kamena should be recalled. The election would cost the county an estimated $500,000, Marin Registrar of Voters Michael Smith said.

The recall is supported by an unusual alliance of critics who either oppose Kamena because of her medical marijuana policies, or her office's prosecution of a Novato mother who was convicted of attempting to abduct her own daughter in violation of a court custody order.

Kamena raised questions about the recall campaign last week by noting that the recall petitions against her make no mention of medical marijuana - despite indications that it was the medical pot contingent that provided the recall campaign with volunteers and financial support that was essential in the massive signature drive.

Kamena said her concerns were bolstered by an experience she had at the Montecito Shopping Center in San Rafael, where a man approached her to ask if she would sign the recall petition bearing her name.

"He was going on an on about medical marijuana and saying things about my policy that are not true: that we are prosecuting hundreds of people for medical marijuana, including people dying of AIDS," Kamena said. She said the man stormed off after she confronted him with the fact that the petition spoke only of the case against the Novato mother, and didn't mention anything about medical pot.

"It's not right to tell people one thing, and then have them sign a petition that says another," Kamena said. "It makes me think people have been seriously misled."

County elections officials said it is a misdemeanor to misrepresent the contents of a petition in an initiative like the recall campaign. But proving a case will be next to impossible, said Madelyn DeJusto, the assistant county registrar of voters.

"After the fact, it comes down to telling the local police that some person whose identity you don't know lied to you when you signed a petition," DeJusto said. "The bottom line is that you should always read a petition before you sign it."

If the signatures presented are verified, DeJusto said there's little that can be done to halt the recall election.

DeJusto said state law allows people to call in and ask that their names be taken off a petition. But the deadline to do so was last week, the same day the recall campaign filed its petitions targeting Kamena. No complaints about misleading tactics were made to the elections office during the four months that petitions were in circulation, she said.

Officials with the Marin League of Women Voters said they, too, had been informed of complaints of misleading tactics.

Anne Layzer of Mill Valley, the league's voter services coordinator, said league officials wrote a letter to warn citizens about the complaints, but never distributed it because they were told it was too late.

Lynnette Shaw, founding director of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, said she thinks the complaints by Kamena and others amount to belly-aching and an 11th-hour attempt to smear the recall campaign.

Shaw said signature-gatherers who worked in opposition to Kamena's medical marijuana policies carried fliers explaining their position - and were asked to make their positions clear to voters they approached at local shopping centers and other public places.

She said supporters of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana helped raise an estimated $15,000 to support the campaign, money that was used in part to hire 18 workers who were paid $1 per valid signature obtained.

Shaw said the recall campaign also took out a newspaper advertisement explaining how medical marijuana forces joined the movement to recall Kamena that was launched in May by supporters of the Novato mother, Carol Mardeusz.

"I think people were well informed about what the recall campaign was all about," Shaw said, noting the number of complaints that reportedly have been registered amount to a "handful" when compared to more than 20,000 petition signees.

"To me, this is just a smear campaign by some sore losers who know there's going to be a recall."

Contact Guy Ashley via e-mail at