First Justice, Now Peace

Joan Williams, Miss Crown City 1958 who was denied a place in the Rose Parade due to her race, has died

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/28/2019

Joan Williams, whose story of racial reconciliation inspired the nation, passed away from ovarian cancer on Feb. 20 at her home near the Rose Bowl. She was 86.

More than a half-century after she was discriminated against by city officials in 1958 and denied a ride in the Rose Parade because she was African American, the Pasadena Weekly reported on her story and she finally rode in the parade in 2015.

Pasadena City Councilman John Kennedy invited Williams’ children Angela Williams, Robyn Wood and Robert “Chip” Williams to say a few words about their mother at Monday’s City Council meeting. The council adjourned the meeting in her honor.

“Joan Williams was a proud, resolute, kind, loving, contemplative person who did not seek attention, who let the story of her disrespect remain untold for many years because she was not seeking personal attention,” Kennedy told the Weekly. “However, for the greater good, and to help build ‘one Pasadena,’ she allowed [the Weekly] to bring a light to her story, part of the Pasadena story, part of the American story.”

“I am saddened to hear the news of her passing but feel relief that the city of Pasadena was able to right a past wrong and give her Roses while she was still alive,” said former Council member Jacque Robinson.

‘Righting that Wrong’

In 1958, then-26-year-old Williams was nominated by her co-workers at City Hall to represent Pasadena as Miss Crown City, which was a Rose Queen-esque honor at the time. She was also the first African American hired to work at City Hall, albeit inadvertently, in what was then known as the Municipal Light and Power Department.

Williams was “selected from a field of seven finalists by a committee of judges from newspapers and the Tournament of Roses Association,” according to an Aug. 3, 1958, article in the Independent Star News.

In her capacity as Miss Crown City 1958, she was scheduled to ride on the city’s float in the Jan. 1, 1959, Rose Parade, but was denied the honor after city officials discovered the light complexioned Williams was African American and canceled the float. Then-Pasadena Mayor Seth Miller, who had crowned Williams at a coronation ceremony, later refused to take a photo with her at the annual city employees’ picnic at Brookside Park, and she was also not allowed to cut the grand opening ribbons at Sears, J.W. Robinson and other businesses. Her City Hall coworkers and bosses ostracized her until she left the job.

Inr 2013, this reporter interviewed Williams about her experience for an article in the Pasadena Weekly, the first time her story was told. On April 5, 2014, the local nonprofit Men Educating Men About Health (MEMAH) honored Williams at a gala at the Western Justice Center. During that event, Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Pasadena) presented an award to Williams. City Council members Steve Madison, Terry Tornek, Robinson and Kennedy were also in attendance, and they later directed city staff to investigate her story. Madison was the first city official to apologize for the 1958 incident “on behalf of my forebears,” he told her.

In May 2014, Robinson, who was vice mayor at the time, called on the city to officially apologize and offered Williams the opportunity to ride in the parade with her in a car. In October 2014, then-Mayor Bill Bogaard and then-Tournament of Roses Executive Director Bill Flinn took Williams to lunch and offered her a spot on a float in the upcoming parade.

“She had put the ugliness of [the 1958 incident] behind her, so when she was contacted to ride on a float in the 2015 parade she wasn’t sure she wanted to do it because it was like opening up a door that she had closed,” Williams’ son Chip told the Weekly. “But she realized that it meant a lot to the community and would allow for healing, so she felt it was important to ride on the float so that there would be reconciliation.”

Williams told the Weekly that before accepting the offer to ride on a float, she wanted to make sure it wasn’t sponsored by an organization that espoused homophobia in any way.

Pasadena Weekly again wrote about her story on Dec. 24, 2014, after which dozens of local, national and international media outlets picked it up.

On New Year’s Eve 2014, Bogaard delivered a formal letter of apology to Williams on behalf of the city written on the mayor’s official letterhead.

“I am truly pleased that you will be in the parade this year, and I am extremely sorry that this opportunity was not made available to you in 1958,” Bogaard wrote. “You have kindly said that the Tournament’s invitation to you represents a new commitment in Pasadena to our efforts to embrace differences and welcome all members of the community. I share that view with you. As Mayor, I hereby apologize to you for the experience you had as Miss Crown City in 1958 and I thank you for accepting this year’s invitation and for the friendship you have expressed for Pasadena.”

Just before riding in the parade, Williams told the Weekly that she was “delighted and really appreciate that the city recognized that they needed to make some kind of gesture towards righting that wrong. Pasadena has shown the community that they’re on the right path and that they’re recognizing these things and that it’s something they need to follow through on.”

On Jan. 1, 2015, nearly six decades after being discriminated against by Pasadena city officials for being black, Joan Williams finally got to ride in the 126th Rose Parade in the lead theme banner float. The apt theme that year was “Inspiring Stories.”

“To be on that float is especially important because it will point out that with people of good will working to correct these mistakes, change can come,” said Williams. “We hope it won’t take so long, but when you look at our history, none of it has happened overnight, none of it has happened without a fight. The fight goes on.”

Chip said she was “happy to represent the community and have that closure.”

‘To the Betterment of Pasadena’

After riding in the parade, Williams told the Weekly that the most important thing to her was the community showing her kindness and appreciation along the route. She heard from people all across the country who were excited to tune in and watch Miss Crown City finally riding in the parade. KTLA, however, did not mention her in their televised broadcast of the parade.

In the months that followed the parade, several organizations and local and state officials, such as then-LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich and state Assembly member Chris Holden, honored Williams.

“Joan Williams was the model of poise and grace,” Holden wrote in a text message to the Weekly. “Several years ago, I honored her on the Assembly floor during Black History Month as an unsung hero in recognition of her contribution to the advancement of civil rights. As a result of her courage in calling out racial discrimination in the early years of the Tournament of Roses, her contributions to the betterment of Pasadena will not be forgotten.”

Jim Morris, executive director of MEMAH, the organization that originally honored her in 2014, said he is “saddened that Joan has left us but happy that she lived long enough to get the justice that was due to her.”

‘A Mother Figure in the Community’

Williams graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1950. She attended Wolfe’s School of Costume Design by day and took general studies courses at Los Angeles City College by night. She saw Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., deliver a sermon on February 28, 1960, at Friendship Baptist Church in Pasadena, in which he talked about the Montgomery bus boycott and the foundations of a meaningful life.

In 1952, she married Capt. Robert W. Williams, who was one of the original “Tuskegee Airmen” fighter pilots in World War II whose story helped inspire the movie of the same name starring Laurence Fishburne. Robert also co-wrote and co-executive produced the film, which was released by HBO in 1995 and won a Peabody Award and three Emmy Awards.

Joan and Robert were married for 45 years when he died from prostate cancer in 1997. They met when Robert returned home after the war and enrolled at UCLA. They enjoyed golfing at Brookside Park and dancing to jazz music. Her favorite was Ella Fitzgerald. She also designed her own clothing.

Williams said she and her husband encountered racism from realtors when they tried to purchase a home in the San Fernando Valley, so they built their own house in 1963 on Arroyo Boulevard overlooking the Rose Bowl in the Arroyo Seco using African American architects, designers and contractors. That year, she started working at Kaiser Permanente as a receptionist, where she worked for 32 years, including five years in a Medicare office in Kaiser’s regional office on Walnut Street.

“My mother was a graceful, elegant and caring woman,” said Chip. “My mother’s and father’s open arms and open hearts welcomed people from all over the world into their home. Many of my gay friends felt that where their parents didn’t accept them, they found a surrogate mother in my mother who did accept them. She was a mother figure to many people in our community.”

Chip added that his mother was very involved in her community, including by advocating for proper street lighting and equitable distribution of Rose Bowl event traffic. She served as treasurer and financial secretary of the Pasadena-Altadena chapter of an African American women’s service sorority called the Links. In that capacity, she also organized a Saturday school for students in the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) who needed support with reading and math, and served as the school’s director for two years.

After retiring in 1994 from Kaiser, she volunteered at the Pasadena AIDS Service Center, read to PUSD students and participated in Leadership Pasadena.

Joan Williams is survived by three children, four grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Her family is currently planning a memorial.

Outnumbered and irrelevant

Supporters of 2019 Rose Queen drown out Westboro Baptist Church picketers with messages of love

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/28/2019

Westboro Baptist Church protesters arrived in Pasadena with a whimper Monday morning. 

A half-dozen or so members of the anti-gay, anti-Semitic, Kansas-based church picketed on the sidewalk outside Pasadena’s Sequoyah High School, located on the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church campus on Orange Grove Boulevard.

On its website, Westboro said they were targeting Sequoyah because the 2019 Rose Queen Louise Deser Siskel wrote a column in the Los Angeles Times on New Year’s Eve coming out as bisexual. The column also noted that she is Jewish and a senior at Sequoyah.

The Westboro picketers, including Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the late church founder Fred Phelps, were outnumbered by dozens of counter-protesters in several clusters on and around the campus and in the Rose Bowl parking lot about a mile down the road.

“Today we met hate and venom with love and compassion,” Jessica Gable, communications coordinator at Neighborhood Church, told the Pasadena Weekly. “Members of our community, as well as the Pasadena community at large, surrounded the Sequoyah students with support and messages of kindness. We are thrilled at the triumph of inclusion that we witnessed today.”

Several Pasadena police officers and private security were on the scene, as was Siskel, who was surrounded by supporters. Westboro picketers held signs with offensive — and mostly irrelevant — slogans, such as “God sent the shooter” and “God hates Christ-rejecting, apostate Jews.”

Siskel’s supporters held up rainbow banners and signs with slogans such as “Love > Hate,” “I love my trans son,” “Love lives here,” “My God loves all and so do we” and “Blessed to be LGBT,” among many others.

On Sunday, Neighborhood Church Social Justice and Inclusion staff and LGBTQ community organizers hosted a peace training and poster-making workshop. The fruits of their labor were posted around the campus and written in chalk on the sidewalk, featuring messages of love and acceptance.

The protest lasted less than half an hour and ended without incident. Last week, Neighborhood Church officials said they were discouraging people from engaging with Westboro protesters.
'Rise Above'

Anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church plans to picket Monday at Pasadena school attended by LGBTQ Rose Queen

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/21/2019

Members of anti-gay and anti-Semitic Westboro Baptist Church have targeted openly bisexual 2019 Rose Queen Louise Deser Siskel and are expected to picket Monday morning at her high school.

According to the church’s website,, members of the Kansas-based congregation will picket from 7:45 to 8:15 a.m. at Sequoyah High School, located on the campus of Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church in west Pasadena. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described Westboro as “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America.”

“That poor child has been so saturated in filthiness that she bragged about being a pervert of the deepest waters (‘the first LGBTQ queen’), honoring what God has called abominable. Uh-oh, that calls for preaching!” a press release on the church’s website states.

In a column published in the Los Angeles Times on New Year’s Eve, Siskel came out as bisexual and noted that she is Jewish.

“[I]n this new, very public position, I feel it’s important to present myself authentically, especially to those who look to the Royal Court as a representation of our community,” wrote Siskel, who could not be reached for comment. “While I am almost certainly not the first member of the LGBTQ community on the court, I hope that by saying so publicly, I might encourage others to be proud of who they are.”

Westboro followers are best known for demonstrating at funerals of gay people, service members and victims of national tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Westboro’s website claims the church has picketed 63,534 times in 1,033 cities across the country. Church officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Westboro’s messages are “extremely offensive and inflammatory,” Neighborhood Church officials wrote on their Facebook page. “While Sequoyah has been advised not to engage with picketers, we are planning a peaceful response on our campus to counter their hateful rhetoric with a message of love, LGBTQ welcome and interfaith solidarity.”

The Rev. Lissa Anne Gundlach, senior minister at Neighborhood Church, wrote in a public Facebook group on Pasadena politics that she is calling on “our community [to] come together to rise above this hate group.”

Members of the public Facebook group also wrote that Pasadena police suggested that people refrain from counter-protesting Westboro because of the proximity of young children. The Fair Oaks Preschool is located on the same campus. They also wrote that police will be standing by and security will be present. Gundlach recommended that parents drop off their children earlier than 7:45 a.m. or later than 8:15 a.m. to avoid the Westboro picketers.

“Maintaining a safe, healthy environment for the students is our top priority. Therefore, we ask that
you refrain from demonstrating on Monday,” Gundlach wrote in a press release. “If you would like to participate as a peacekeeper in our nonviolent response, please join us on Sunday for a training and poster-making workshop conducted by the Neighborhood Church Social Justice and Inclusion staff and LGBTQ+ Community Organizers. The workshop will be a safe space for Neighborhood Church members, Sequoyah faculty and students, and the San Gabriel Valley community at large.”

A Peacekeeping Training and Poster Making Workshop will be from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday on Neighborhood House Front Porch. Registration is requested: For more information, contact church Social Justice and Inclusion Coordinator Luis Sierra Campos at or call (626) 449.3470 Ext. 18.

In an email exchange with a concerned resident, Pasadena Police Chief John Perez described Westboro as “peaceful and cooperative” based on previous encounters with the group. He wrote that they expect “a very loud group of 15 people or so — likely not much more.”

He added that police will “plan for contingencies and keep the view of the police to a minimum to avoid any issues. Our strategy is to get groups in and out and have PPD resources organized to quickly respond as needed.”

Westboro Baptist Church was founded in 1955 by pastor Fred Phelps as an offshoot of the East Side Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.

Phelps, who died in 2014, attended and received an associate degree from Pasadena’s John Muir College in the late 1940s and early 50s before it merged with Pasadena Junior College to become what is now Pasadena City College.

A June 11, 1951, an article in TIME Magazine reported that 21-year-old Phelps preached to fellow students about their sins, including “promiscuous petting, evil language, profanity, cheating, teachers’ filthy jokes in classrooms and pandering to the lusts of the flesh.”

According to the LA Times, Phelps met his wife at the Arizona Bible Institute and they moved to Kansas in 1954. Westboro’s congregation is “heavily composed of his relatives, including many of his 13 children and 54 grandchildren.” It holds a hyper-Calvinist worldview, although it is not technically affiliated with a specific denomination of Christianity.

Phelps was born in Mississippi in 1929 and ordained as a Southern Baptist minister in 1947. He was also an attorney who argued civil rights cases but was disbarred in Kansas in 1979 for harassing a witness on the stand and calling her a “slut.”

Phelps and his congregants began their picketing campaigns in 1991. In 1998, they became infamous after they picketed at the funeral of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, who was beaten and killed because he was gay.

In 2011, the US Supreme Court ruled that demonstrations such as Westboro’s picketing of the 2006 funeral of a Marine killed in Iraq, “no matter how odious, were legal as long as protesters obeyed state and local laws setting a minimum distance between themselves and mourners,” according to the Times.

Pasadena Police Lt. Jason Clawson, adjutant to Perez, wrote in an email to the Pasadena Weekly that Westboro does not need a permit to hold their protest because of their First Amendment rights.

“The city is aware of the protest as Westboro reached out to the PPD,” he wrote, adding that the department is not aware of plans for a counter protest.


Pride USA's response:

All Saints Church's response:

A complicated legacy

Former FBI Director James Comey discusses his firing, the Russia investigation and why Americans must vote Trump out of office

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/14/2019

The United States is in sore need of ethical leadership, former FBI director James Comey said Monday during a talk at the Ambassador Auditorium in West Pasadena as part of the 23rd season of the Distinguished Speaker Series.

“We must make sure good follows bad,” said Comey before an audience of more than 1,200 people. “I’m so worried that the picture of leadership today — not just in our national government, although that’s deeply concerning to me without regard to policy differences but in terms of values — but also in sports, entertainment, religious institutions, nonprofit organizations and corporations. The vision of leadership is so unethical that I worry people are going to say, ‘That’s just the way it is’ and especially young people will just step away from it, and then we’re going to be deeply sorry.”

His wide-ranging remarks covered his hiring by President Obama (who he said is the best listener he’s ever met), his firing by President Trump (which he said was tacky and tasteless), the death of his 9-day-old son Collin, his role in the Russia investigation, Trump’s request for loyalty from him and how important kindness, toughness, confidence, humility, humor and listening are to ethical leadership.

“Trump doesn’t know anything about leadership,” Comey said. “I’ve never ever heard Trump laugh. It is a deeply concerning absence and a sign of insecurity in a leader. And to tell that man important stuff you almost always have to interrupt him. He’s a deeply insecure person.”

In 2013, President Obama appointed Comey as the seventh director of the FBI, succeeding Robert S. Mueller III, who now serves as the special counsel investigating whether there was a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump obstructed justice of that investigation. Mueller was appointed on May 17, 2017, shortly after Comey was unceremoniously fired by Trump.

Difficult Circumstances

Before leading the FBI, Comey served as counsel for private law firms, Lockheed Martin and Bridgewater Associates. He also served as a federal prosecutor in New York and Virginia, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and deputy attorney general under John Ashcroft in the Bush II administration.

Comey has a complicated legacy. His actions as FBI director during the 2016 election left both Democrats and Republicans upset with him. On July 5, 2016, he unexpectedly went around Justice Department leadership and recommended that no criminal charges should be brought against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State but added that she had been “extremely careless.”

On October 28, 2016, just days before the election, Comey announced that the FBI had found new Clinton emails and was reopening the investigation. The emails turned out to be duplicates, but the damage was done. Meanwhile, Comey kept silent on the fact that Trump and his associates were being investigated by the FBI for their potentially criminal interactions with Russians, seen by some as a double standard on Comey’s part. On Monday, Comey said he regrets having to be a part of that process, but thinks he made the right decisions under difficult circumstances.

“I don’t know [if my actions helped elect Trump],” he said. “I really, really, really hope not. But it doesn’t change how I think about my decision—it just increases the pain. The FBI wasn’t on anybody’s side and it also wasn’t out to get Trump.”

‘I Expect Loyalty’

On Jan. 27, 2017, Trump invited Comey to dinner at the White House, an unusual situation for a president and an FBI director. Comey wrote in his book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” that the move made him feel uncomfortable because “the president of the United States had invited me to dinner and decided my job security was on the menu.” He said that Trump told him, “I need loyalty [from you]. I expect loyalty.” The request reminded Comey of tactics employed by Cosa Nostra bosses, whom he helped prosecute in the 1990s.

“A real leader never asks for loyalty,” Comey said in Pasadena. “All they do is give.”

Trump also told Comey he hoped the FBI would let go of the investigation against his then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in December 2016, during the transition. It was then that Flynn told the Russians not to overreact to Obama’s sanctions as punishment for meddling in the election because Trump would soon be president and overturn them.

Flynn was fired in February 2017 and soon began cooperating with Mueller. Former New Jersey Governor and Trump supporter Chris Christie wrote in a new book that Trump and his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner naïvely believed firing Flynn would end the Russia investigation.

Because Comey declined to admit publicly that Trump was not personally under investigation at the time, Trump fired Comey on May 9, 2017. Comey learned about his dismissal by seeing a headline on TV as the director was speaking to FBI agents at a field office in Los Angeles. He said in Pasadena on Monday that he felt both numb and stunned.

The White House’s official line was that Comey was fired because of the way he mishandled the Clinton email investigation, citing a memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But one day after firing Comey, Trump invited Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov into the Oval Office at the White House, where he told them, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

And during a televised interview with NBC’s Lester Holt two days after firing Comey, Trump said, “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’” Trump later claimed Holt doctored the footage of that interview.

Trump also said he would have fired Comey whether or not Rosenstein wrote that justification memo, and in an upcoming book by former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was also fired under pressure from Trump just hours before he would be eligible for retirement benefits, McCabe wrote that Trump ordered Rosenstein to write that memo against his wishes.

‘Shameful’ Attacks

Trump has called Comey an “untruthful slime ball” and a “showboat.” Comey’s “aww shucks” demeanor strikes some as genuine and others as not so much. After Comey had a friend deliver the contemporaneous memos he wrote after his awkward meetings with Trump to the media, Trump tweeted, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” When questioned during a congressional hearing about the existence of such tapes, Comey said, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”

A lifelong Republican, Comey has since his firing turned his ire on Trump and congressional Republicans. The latter have hauled Comey before Congress several times in the past two years. After the most recent hearings in December, Comey tweeted that it “wasn’t a search for truth, but a desperate attempt to find anything that can be used to attack the institutions of justice investigating this president. They came up empty today but will try again. In the long run, it’ll make no difference because facts are stubborn things.”

Comey told reporters that Republicans were “talking again about Hillary Clinton’s emails, for heaven’s sake,” and called Republicans’ silence in the face of Trump’s attacks on the FBI and other US institutions “shameful.”

“I’ve been a Republican most of my adult life,” he said in Pasadena. “What I say to my Republican colleagues is, imagine the next president’s a Democrat and she starts calling for the jailing of private citizens, attacking the intelligence agencies and the FBI and calling for criminal investigations of her political opponents. What’s your reaction going to be? Your head’s going to explode. So why is it not exploding now? This is about America’s values. I get why Donald Trump is doing it; in a way, it’s kind of his thing. What’s most disturbing is, Republicans are standing there with their hands in their pockets looking at their shoes.”

He added that Trump is trying to burn down the FBI because he sees it as a threat, but that in the long run the institution and the country will survive the Trump presidency.

“We are going to be OK. All of this will pass,” he said. “But we need a moment of inflection in this country. If Trump were removed from office by impeachment, a whole lot of people would believe that there’d been a coup. We need to vote the values that glue us together. We need to remove him from office using that mechanism, so we send a message that we will not have a leader who does not embody those values.”

Learn more about the Distinguished Speaker Series at

Man on a Mission

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has big — and controversial — plans for the beleaguered department

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 1/10/2019

Newly elected Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva began his shrievalty Dec. 3 when he was sworn in at East Los Angeles College following a vote counting process that lasted weeks after Election Day in a close race with incumbent Jim McDonnell. As the county’s 33rd sheriff, Villanueva has promised to “reform, rebuild and restore” the Sheriff’s Department.

Villanueva, 55, last served as a lieutenant and a watch commander at the department’s Pico Rivera Station. He worked for the department for more than 30 years before retiring in February.

Villanueva is LA’s first Democratic sheriff in 138 years and the first to speak fluent Spanish. He was an underdog candidate who defeated McDonnell with 52.8 percent of the ballots cast, ultimately receiving 1.3 million votes in a county of more than 10 million people, according to final results by the LA County Registrar-Recorder/Clerk’s Office. McDonnell, elected in a landslide in 2014, was the first incumbent sheriff to be unseated in an election in LA County in more than a century.

McDonnell’s predecessor Lee Baca resigned in disgrace in 2014 and was sentenced to three years in federal prison in 2017 for his role in obstructing an FBI investigation into corruption and deputies’ abuse of inmates in county jails. Dozens of deputies and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka were also convicted in that scandal. Baca is currently out of jail while a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals considers his appeal. Villanueva now says abuse of inmates in county jails “has almost disappeared,” and that the focus should be on inmate violence against jail personnel.

After pledging to kick federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents out of county jails, Villanueva’s voter base in the election included Latinos and progressives. At his swearing-in ceremony, he told his deputies that “the success of your career will be determined by how well you serve the community, not the political powers that be. Those days are over. We will not allow any divisive policies from outside LA or California dictate the way we do our job here in California. Our hard-working immigrant families shouldn’t have to wonder if we’re here to protect them or deport them.”

But now some progressive groups and others are concerned about a few of his other positions. For instance, he supports the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs’ (ALADS) lawsuit to block the release of a list of problem deputies known as the Brady List, which is now before the California Supreme Court. ALADS supported Villanueva’s campaign.

He also plans to limit the disciplinary role of two constitutional policing advisers. The LA Times editorial board wrote that Villanueva “has yet to make a convincing case that the real problem facing the Sheriff’s Department was too many deputies facing too much discipline, or that constitutional policing advisers were running amok,” and called on him to reconsider.

During his first week, Villanueva removed 18 high-ranking officials from their posts and told 500 other captains, commanders and lieutenants that he’s reviewing whether they will remain in their positions and that they should remove their rank insignia from their uniforms.

Villanueva recently spoke with the Pasadena Weekly about his priorities, what he plans to do differently from his predecessors and challenges facing the department.

Pasadena Weekly: What are your main priorities as the new LA County sheriff?

Sheriff Alex Villanueva: We’re converting our ‘Reform, Rebuild, Restore’ campaign slogan into an actual action plan. The first three days that I was actually at work … shows you the route I’m taking on that. On Tuesday, we did a leadership assessment for lieutenants and above. We did some leadership training. On Wednesday, we went to jail. We spent time doing an assessment of the ICE situation in our county jails and how we’re going to literally kick them out. On Thursday, we were working on the issue of body cam deployment.

What does it mean to the Latino community in Los Angeles to have a Latino sheriff who speaks fluent Spanish?

It’s important for them, and hopefully I can live up to their expectations of me. When any one group that has someone who’s a representative of that group enter into that leadership position, it’s always a good day. My mom’s side of the family is Polish, and I remember when John Paul II became pope, my grandma and my mom were walking a foot taller.

Do you support civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department? What should that ideally look like?

It has to be a partnership. The [state] constitution lays out that the oversight of the sheriff, per se, is the voters. And then from the operations standpoint, that’s where we’re going to work hand-in-hand with the oversight commission. I want them to be informed. I want them to have everything they need to be able to do their job effectively so I can make informed decisions based on their input. They represent stakeholders throughout the county.

How do you plan to reform the county jail system so there is less or no abuse of inmates?

It’s not just the abuse of inmates that’s the problem. That has almost disappeared. There are three elements to the problem of violence in our jails: the use of force from our personnel against inmates, the violence of inmate on inmate and the violence of inmates against staff. The outgoing sheriff focused solely on the force against inmates and forgot the other two. So we need to swing the pendulum back to the middle somewhere, where everyone can be in a safe environment in the jails, whether you’re an inmate, a civilian employee or a sworn deputy.

What should the Sheriff’s Department’s relationship with ICE look like?

They need to do their job and we need to not be involved in their federal immigration enforcement efforts. We want nothing to do with that. Our sole priority is providing public safety for all of LA County’s residents, regardless of immigration status. We have the largest undocumented population in the entire nation within our county, and public safety means the entire public. That includes them.

You had a large progressive voter base in this election, but now some progressives are worried about a few of your positions, such as limiting the disciplinary role of two constitutional policing advisers. Do you still plan to do that, and why is that a necessary step?

The individual one in particular that was involved in that, they went way beyond their mandate or their original intent of being constitutional policing advisers. They actually overrode the decisions of our own unit commanders and division chiefs, who are the ones who are imposing the discipline. That was not the intention of the entire program when it was set up. It’s something that looks nice on paper, and people unfortunately bought the idea hook, line and sinker that we were getting advice that was going to somehow put us in a better light in regards to the constitution, but what they did is they actually created a nightmare in terms of violating due process for employees and for the public as well. Now we have to undo some of that damage.

Do you still support ALADS’s lawsuit against releasing the Brady List, and if so, do you plan to compile a new list?

We want to have a list that’s accurate and fair, for sure. We’re going to use the Brady List as a starting point. We’re going to go through each and every case one by one, but ultimately the list itself is not the end game. The end goal is actually to make sure that those who provide testimony in court, who prepare written reports, who gather and submit evidence, that the process is not tainted or compromised so someone doesn’t end up being wrongfully convicted based on tainted testimony. That is the end game. To that end, we’re going to work very hard.

Where do you stand on deputy group tattoos?

I’m not going to tolerate a clique or any kind of mentality that goes from just having ink on your body to criminal behavior. That’s not acceptable. We’re looking at all of our options available to make sure that doesn’t happen. The problem with the tattoos and the cliques is one of unchecked hazing that went on for literally almost two decades. That was an outcome of that unchecked hazing. There was a failure of supervision and a failure of leadership, and we’re working hard to resolve that.

Do you see the Sheriff’s Department, under your command, doing anything differently in its relationships with municipalities such as Pasadena, as well as its role in international relations?

We’re like Grand Central Station for a lot of nations and a lot of the different immigrant groups. We want to have good, working relations with all 88 cities in the county. We provide constant law enforcement services to 42 of them, and we want to make sure we’re always a viable alternative for any city that’s in financial distress or is having difficulty with their own police department. We don’t want to take any police departments away. That’s not our goal by any means. We want them to be successful, but we’re a fallback option in case they have issues. That happens occasionally, especially when people get into hard financial situations. We can provide a more economical alternative for basic law enforcement services.

Is there anything you plan to do differently on the Mitrice Richardson case?

I’m very aware of that case, and we’re going to get to the bottom of what happened and what went wrong. I’m not satisfied with what we’ve done to date. The truth and reconciliation process is one of the first things we’re going to be addressing.

Can you tell me more about how you were discriminated against in terms of not being promoted in the Sheriff’s Department, and how do you change that culture in the department?

For the last almost 20 years, the department has been driven by cronyism. It was a political patronage system. If you didn’t fit the bill or, for example, if you were a minority, you were always limited to a very predetermined role in the organization. No matter what you did, how hard you worked or how much education you had, your future was already predetermined for you with a firm glass ceiling. I butted up against that glass ceiling my entire career. I said, ‘This is just unacceptable.’ I think every single employee has a right to play on a level playing field.
Can rights be wrong?

The Pasadena Republican Club sues the Western Justice Center and the city of Pasadena over an alleged violation of free speech

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/20/2018

A battle over the First Amendment is raging across the country, especially on college campuses. Republican clubs book controversial speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro or Steve Bannon, then liberal groups protest and the event is canceled. Conservatives say it is a violation of their free speech rights, and liberals say they have a right to prevent the institution they are affiliated with from giving speakers with hateful messages a platform to spread their discrimination.

That debate has come home to Pasadena.

The Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence (CCJ), based at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law, filed a complaint in federal district court on Nov. 28 on behalf of the Pasadena Republican Club (PRC) against the Western Justice Center (WJC) and the city of Pasadena.

PRC allege that WJC canceled their event at the last minute because of the scheduled speaker’s anti-same-sex marriage views. The civil rights complaint, filed in federal court, alleges political and religious discrimination and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and unspecified monetary damages. It was filed by Anthony Caso, director of CCJ.

“The essence of the complaint is that they’ve taken public property and they’ve decided who can use it based upon political or religious viewpoint,” Caso said. “Take your pick; both are unconstitutional.”

According to the complaint, PRC President Lynn Gabriel signed a contract in early 2017 with then-WJC Executive Director Judith Chirlin, a retired LA Superior Court judge, to rent the Maxwell House in west Pasadena for the club’s next event on April 20, 2017, for a fee of $190. The Maxwell House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located just a few doors from the US Ninth District Court of Appeals, is owned by the city of Pasadena. The city leases the Maxwell House to WJC for $1 a month. PRC had held meetings at the Maxwell House before, featuring different speakers.

The Pasadena Republican Club was founded in 1884, two years before Pasadena incorporated as a city, making it the oldest continuously active Republican club in the United States. According to its website, the club is “dedicated to electing Republican candidates to federal, state and local office. [It] funds and operates the Republican [election] headquarters in Pasadena every two years.” The Western Justice Center is a nonprofit organization that “develops creative programs to teach students, teachers and members of the community ways to resolve conflict peacefully.”

In the complaint, Gabriel asserted that she informed Chirlin at that time that the speaker at the event would be Dr. John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). NOM was formed in 2007 to promote the passage of Prop 8, the controversial 2008 ballot measure that eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.

Eastman also previously served as the dean of Chapman University’s law school and was the founding director of CCJ, which is representing PRC in this lawsuit. He has argued many cases before the Supreme Court and engineered President Trump’s recent call to end birthright citizenship. At the Maxwell House event, he was planning to deliver a Supreme Court update.

According to the complaint, at 3:43 p.m. on April 20, 2017, less than three hours before Eastman’s talk was to begin at 6:30 p.m., Chirlin emailed Gabriel to cancel the event, writing, “While I knew that Prof Eastman was a professor and author, we learned just today that he is the President [sic] of the National Organization for Marriage. NOM’s positions on same-sex marriage, gay adoption, and transgender rights are antithetical to the values of the Western Justice Center. WJC works to improve campus climates with a special focus on LGBT bias and bullying. We work to make sure that people recognize and stop LGBT bullying. Through these efforts we have built a valuable reputation in the community, and allowing your event in our facility would hurt our reputation in the community.”

The complaint asserted that WJC’s contract required a disclaimer to be included on any publicity for the event that read, “The Western Justice Center/Maxwell House does not endorse the views expressed by this organization or its speakers,” a rule that Caso said PRC followed.

Caso said the last-minute cancelation caused several problems for PRC.

“The Pasadena Republican Club president had to scramble to find an alternate location for the event, and I’m amazed that they did so,” he said. “Then she had to stand out in front of the Maxwell House to redirect traffic to the University Club of Pasadena, the new location, so she never got to the event herself.”

The University Club charged PRC $500 and not all PRC members were able to make it to the new venue. The complaint stated that “attendance at the event at the University Club was one-third below average attendance.”

Elissa Barrett, WJC’s current executive director, declined to comment for this story.

“We are consulting with legal counsel and cannot make any further comment at this time,” Barrett wrote in an email in response to a request for comment from Chirlin.

Earlier, Barrett reportedly wrote in response to questions from Pasadena Now, “When this matter arose more than 18 months ago, we believed that a fair and mutual accommodation had been reached. We have heard nothing from the plaintiff since then. We are disappointed that the plaintiff chose not to contact us before pursuing litigation, especially given the centrality of conflict resolution to our mission. The Western Justice Center empowers people to resolve conflicts and to address forms of bias that often underlie those conflicts.”

Caso acknowledged that PRC did not try to contact WJC to resolve the situation before pursuing litigation but argued that they didn’t need to do so.

“There’s no requirement to contact,” Caso said. “Basically, what [WJC] did is they gave the money back for the contract, the $190. That’s all that they did. They didn’t apologize, they didn’t say they wouldn’t do it again, they didn’t open up the facility and they didn’t promise to obey the Constitution.”

Caso said the city is also responsible because it gives WJC “the authority to rent the [Maxwell House] out, but is not providing guidance or supervision at all. Just like the city can’t delegate it to an employee and not provide any oversight. It is city property, so the Western Justice Center is operating on express city authority as to how to do the rentals.”

On KPCC’s “AirTalk with Larry Mantle,” Eastman said that if the city were to rent the Maxwell House out as a public forum, “there’s no question constitutionally it would be required to lease it out without discriminating on the basis of viewpoint. The real question is, by signing a dollar-a-month lease, can it avoid those constitutional duties and pass the buck to a nonprofit organization to do the discriminating for it? I don’t believe it can do so.

“The Western Justice Center has some decisions it’s going to have to make,” he continued. “If they want to continue to discriminate on the basis of viewpoint, they can’t do that with sweetheart deals using publicly owned facilities. If they want to continue serving as an agent of the city, renting out this spectacular facility for community organizations’ meetings, then they have to comply with the Constitution just like the city does.”

PRC is seeking a declaration that WJC and the city of Pasadena “violated the free speech and religious rights of [PRC] and its members” and that they “acted with malice, oppression and wanton and intentional disregard for the law.”

PRC is also seeking an injunction prohibiting the city of Pasadena from “allowing [WJC] to decide which organizations may or may not hold events at city-owned property” and prohibiting the WJC or any of its agents from “discriminating against organizations in the use of city-owned facilities based on the viewpoint of the speaker or the religious viewpoint or affiliation of the speaker.”

PRC is also seeking damages for “emotional distress suffered by members of the [PRC]” and punitive damages against WJC for “action with malice, oppression and wanton disregard for the law in engaging political viewpoint and religious belief discrimination,” as well as attorneys’ fees.

“The main thing we’d like to see is that the Western Justice Center not have the opportunity to continue to violate the Constitution, that this go over to the city or some other mechanism so we can ensure that the Constitution gets obeyed,” said Caso. “One alternative of the relief that we’re asking for is that the court order Pasadena to take over the task of deciding who can and cannot use the property, rather than the Western Justice Center.”

No court hearings have been scheduled for the case yet, but Caso expects the first one to happen in January or February.

“We were just served [Monday, Dec. 3] and are reviewing the complaints,” Lisa Derderian, the city’s public information officer, wrote in an email in response to a request for comment from the city.

The complaint alleged that by waiting until the last minute to cancel PRC’s event, “Chirlin, acting on behalf of [WJC] and the city of Pasadena, sought to ensure that the event could not be held at all and to impose the maximum level of inconvenience for [PRC]. These actions constitute willful and wanton misconduct. As a retired California judge, Chirlin is presumably aware of the provisions of the United States Constitution and was therefore aware that the action she took on behalf of [WJC] was unconstitutional.”

Eastman said on “AirTalk” that WJC should have known better.

“The folks on the Western Justice Center board, including the executive director who did this, are judges or former judges,” Eastman told Mantle. “They ought to have known their constitutional obligations.
Turning the tables

Rep. Adam Schiff, incoming chair of the House Intelligence Committee, discusses the Democrats’ plans once they take control of the House of Representatives next month

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/13/2018

President Donald Trump’s political life will drastically change come Jan. 3 when Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), whose district includes part of Pasadena, will become the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. A former federal prosecutor, Schiff has vowed to follow up on the leads in the Russia investigation that Republicans ignored when they were the majority in the House.

The day after the election, Trump essentially fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with loyalist Matt Whitaker, who has criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Schiff called Whitaker “Trump’s Roy Cohn,” a reference to the combative lawyer for both Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the communist witch hunts of the 1950s, and for Trump in the 1970s. Schiff wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on Nov. 12 that Whitaker’s appointment “represents the president’s most direct challenge yet to the rule of law. The new Democratic majority will protect the special counsel and the integrity of the Justice Department.”

On Nov. 18, Trump tweeted, “So funny to see little Adam Schitt [sic] talking about the fact that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker was not approved by the Senate, but not mentioning the fact that Bob Mueller (who is highly conflicted) was not approved by the Senate!”

Special counsels do not need to be approved by the Senate, but attorneys general do, per the Constitution. Last week, Trump nominated former Attorney General William Barr to return to the position. Meanwhile, Mueller’s investigation is picking up speed with recent sentencing memos filed on Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

“There’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him,” Schiff said Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “He may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time.”

Schiff recently spoke with the Pasadena Weekly to discuss the new power dynamic in Washington, how Democrats plan to hold the Trump administration accountable and what’s next for the Russia investigation.

Pasadena Weekly: What message do you think voters sent on Election Day?

Rep. Adam Schiff: They sent a message that they want to place a check and balance on this administration. They want Congress to be focused on bread and butter issues, like how families make ends meet and keeping the cost of health care within reason. But also that they don’t want this president to have unrestricted power, that he’s just too unstable and too inclined to tear up the foundations of our democratic institutions.

What are your main priorities when Democrats take control of the House, and what can they get done with control of just one branch?

Our first priority is going to be to offer a positive agenda for the country that addresses the economic changes that are going on, that makes sure more Americans have an opportunity to live the American Dream, that brings down the cost of prescription drugs. But I also think that we’re going to need to do oversight that has been lacking for the last two years. There’s not a great expectation that our legislative agenda will get through the Senate, but we do want to be able to show the country the priorities that we have if they entrust us with the full government in 2020. On the oversight side of things, there are numerable allegations of corruption and malfeasance within the administration. We’re going to have to prioritize; we aren’t going to be able to look into everything that has come to our attention. We’ll have to look at the most serious matters first. It’s everything from the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia to the president’s potential efforts to use the instruments of state power to censor the press by raising postal rates on Amazon to go after the Washington Post, to holding up the merger of CNN’s parent to punish CNN, to violations of the emolument clause. We just saw reports yesterday of how much the Saudis were spending at Trump hotels to curry favor with the Trump administration. There are a whole range of important oversight priorities.

What can Democrats, Republicans and the Trump administration work together on in the New Year?

The country could badly use an investment in infrastructure. That would be good for the economy, it would help put Americans back to work, it would certainly help repair a lot of our decaying roads and bridges and highways and renewable energy infrastructure and airports, and that ought to be completely nonpartisan. So that’s a fruitful area to work together. The president at times has indicated interest in working to bring the cost of prescription drugs down. If he’s willing to buck some of the people in his own administration to work with Democrats on it, we can find common ground there. There are any number of opportunities for us to get things done for the American people. I hope the president will be open to doing that.

What are some of the leads or witnesses in the Russia investigation that the Republicans refused to follow up on that you will follow up on come January?

One that I’m particularly concerned about is the allegations that the Russians were laundering money through the Trump Organization. We know the Trump Organization was lying about its efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, efforts that continued through the middle of 2016, and efforts in which the Trump Organization sought to enlist the help of the Kremlin and offer Putin a penthouse suite, reportedly, but we don’t know whether the financial ties are much broader than that. If the Russians were laundering money through the Trump Organization that would be powerful leverage they would have over the president of the United States. So that certainly is a priority. There are any number of investigative threads that we were pursuing when the Republicans abruptly ended their participation in the investigation, so we want to make sure the job is done with thoroughness.

Have you seen any indication that the acting attorney general has interfered with the Mueller investigation, and are you worried that Bill Barr will interfere if he is confirmed?

We have no visibility into what role Whitaker is playing, and that’s of grave concern. He auditioned for the part by bashing the Mueller investigation and talking about how he can secretly suffocate the investigation. We will work hard to expose any involvement that he has as long as he’s with the Justice Department. In terms of Barr, he’s made some concerning remarks about not only the Mueller team but also he’s given credence to the president’s efforts to prosecute his political rivals and reopen the Uranium One investigation. Those things are deeply concerning, but I don’t put Barr in the same category as Whitaker. Barr is plainly qualified and has already been attorney general; he was a fairly mainstream and conservative attorney general. Were it not for the concerning comments he’s made about the Mueller investigation and the Clinton investigation, I would have far fewer reservations. But these are things that need to be explored during his confirmation hearings.

What can Democrats do to protect the Mueller investigation?

Once we get the gavel, we’ll be able to bring Whitaker before Congress and demand to find out what role he has played in the Mueller investigation, whether he was given and is abiding by an ethics opinion from the Justice Department, whether he’s shared any information he has gleaned about the investigation with the president or the president’s lawyers. He’s going to have to answer all of those questions and more. We ought to take up and pass legislation to protect Mueller, but that’s something that the Senate majority leader has refused to do. We’re going to try to get that done as part of our final budget talks, but I don’t know how optimistic to be about that. We can certainly end the attacks on the integrity of the Justice Department and the FBI that have come out of the House Intelligence Committee during the Nunes period. That will stop in January.

Do you think Mueller is delaying submitting his final report to the Justice Department until the Democrats have taken control of the House in January, or is the investigation just ongoing? Will House Democrats use their subpoena power to try to force the Trump administration to make the report public, if it is suppressed?

I don’t think his timing is determined by the change in the majority. I think there are other factors at work that are influencing the timing, including potentially the appointment of Whitaker may have accelerated the timetable. There are certain things that we should be doing to assist the Mueller investigation, and the Republicans have refused. We will certainly have to take that up in January, that is, we will be making the interview transcripts of our witnesses [before the House Intelligence Committee] available to Mueller for consideration as to whether witnesses should be charged with perjury. That may or may not influence the timing of charging decisions with respect to some of the subjects of the investigation. In terms of whether the report will be made public, I think we ought to make as much public as possible. We should be as transparent as possible. This is simply too important to be swept under the rug. It’s going to be the responsibility of Congress to make sure there is a full accounting.

It seems like if any other president had done what we already know this president has done they would be impeached. What is it going to take to hold this president accountable? And have you seen or do you know of evidence that the president, his family members, or his inner circle have committed wrongdoing?

What we are seeing every day as the president continues to attack the Mueller investigation and dangle pardons in front of potentially cooperating witnesses or a harsh sentence for those who testify against him, is that he is willfully trying to interfere in the investigation and he’s doing it in broad daylight. The effect of that is to numb the public to just what a breach of the democratic norms of office we are seeing. Ultimately, for an impeachment to be successful it will need to be bipartisan, otherwise you might be able to impeach the president in the House but you’ll never be able to convict him in the Senate. What it will take is we will have to wait and see what Mueller reports. His conclusion and the evidence of that report would have to be sufficient to convince the country that the president’s conduct was so incompatible with the office that he needed to be removed. That’s a very high bar, and it’s properly a high bar under any circumstance because it’s an extraordinary remedy. It would require a great many Americans around the country to view the president’s conduct not through a partisan lens, but through the lens of whether what he’s doing is consistent with our Constitution. We simply have to wait and see what Mueller produces and then determine what the consequences should be.

What’s next for you? Are you going to run for president?

What’s next for me is really getting to work on the parts of this investigation the Republicans were unwilling to undertake and providing a check on this president. Whatever comes after that, I don’t know at this point. I’ve got more than enough on my plate as it is.