Jan. 30 2012 12:00 AM

Activists say it was improper for Henry Coker to endorse Bonnie Dumanis for mayor

Henry Coker

Two San Diegans have filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel against San Diego County Public Defender Henry Coker, alleging he improperly used his office for political activities.

The complaint cites Coker's endorsement of District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis in the San Diego mayor's race as a potential violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from using their official authority to influence an election. The law also applies to local government employees working in agencies that accept federal funds. The complaint is signed by Katheryn Rhodes and Conrad Hartsell. ---

The complaint includes the official endorsement press release from the Dumanis campaign, images of Dumanis and Coker together on the Thomas Jefferson School of Law website and a news article from CityBeat questioning the ethics of the endorsement.

The packet also includes an email exchange between blogger Gail Powell, who says she was represented by the public defender's office in 2009 and 2010 in a misdemeanor case, and a top San Diego County official.

"It is an insult to the clients of the Public Defender—especially the innocent victims of lies—such as myself who feel this is another slap in the face," Powell wrote to Ron Lane, who heads up the county's Public Safety Group. "Shameless D.A. Dumanis knows better—she was a judge once and surely knows this is not right."

Lane responded that the county's position is that the endorsement was legal.

"It does not appear that the Hatch Act or any provision of state or local law restricts a county employee's political speech—including endorsements," Lane wrote in response.

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