Some are calling it the deep state of San Diego Republican justice.
A plan by incumbent District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to step aside in favor of her chief deputy Summer Stephan is accompanied by what critics say is a disconcerting back story: Stephan's husband is U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw, a biotech industry favorite who last year refused to even temporarily block a California law requiring mandatory vaccination of school children.
"It is clear that the Constitution does not require the provision of a religious exemption to vaccination requirements, much less a personal belief exemption," said Sabraw's August 25 ruling, causing a group of parents challenging the state's right to eliminate the exemption to drop their complaint a week later.
After maintaining last October that she hadn't decided whether to run for reelection in 2018, Dumanis in December revealed that she would step down and endorse the election of her chief deputy Stephan to the politically powerful post that has a role in everything from policing street crimes to the region's crooked politicos.
Then, in late January, the board of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association voted to endorse Stephan, a neophyte to local politics. She declared her candidacy the next day, amid word that Dumanis might retire early to give her designated successor a head start and incumbency to use against would-be challengers.
To political insiders, the rapidly unfolding scenario resembles what happened in April 2009, when Republican Sheriff Bill Kolender, having been reelected three years before, abruptly resigned to clear the way for the county board of supervisors to appoint controversial ex-FBI man Bill Gore, leader of 1992's Ruby Ridge massacre, as Kolender's replacement.
Gore's appointed incumbency was widely viewed as insuring victory in his 2010 electoral bid for the position, setting up a long reign for him as the county's chief law enforcement officer.
Kolender had been grooming Gore as his successor ever since the former FBI agent left the Bureau to become assistant San Diego sheriff in 2004. It subsequently came to light that Kolender may have been suffering from the beginning stages of Alzheimer's Disease as early as his final reelection campaign in 2006. He died in October 2015.
Dumanis and Gore are widely seen as having emerged from the San Diego party's big government wing, financed by moneyed downtown and La Jolla establishments, including biotech, venture capital, and development industries, whose interests have long enjoyed favorable treatment by both feds and locals.
Dumanis has cast a wide political net, endorsing a bevy of establishment GOP insiders, including recently termed-out San Diego city attorney Jan Goldsmith, now employed by the big money law and developer lobbying firm Procopio.
Thus, continued control of the District Attorney’s office is seen as a key goal for business insiders, with Stephan and Sabraw counted on to be team players.
Appointed to the federal bench here by president George W. Bush in May 2003, Sabraw, a San Diego State University alumnus with a 1985 law degree from the University of the Pacific, was an early mentor of Democrat Scott Peters, according to comments Peters, a favorite of La Jolla high-tech interests, made at a San Diego bar governmental relations event.
A specialist in biotech and related intellectual property law, the judge famously led a 2006 drive to streamline patent cases in federal court here to benefit business.
"Noting that patent cases are very expensive to litigate and are often crucial to the success, or even the existence, of San Diego’s numerous technology companies, Judge Sabraw saw this as an opportunity for the Court to better serve its community," according to an account in the Spring 2006 San Diego Federal Bar Association Newsletter.
"I always say justice delayed is justice denied," Sabraw told the the San Diego Daily Transcript. "These rules are wonderful."
Noted the story, "Since a long discovery process can become quite costly for companies, the expedited process can mean savings for the companies involved."
The ties between Sabraw, his wife, and the region's wealthy campaign donors may raise fresh questions regarding judicial conflicts of interest as Stephan hits the campaign fundraising circuit.
Less than five years ago, Sabraw ruled in favor of Gore in an August 15, 2012 summary judgement motion, dismissing the sheriff as a defendant in a due process case, according to court records.
Sabraw has heard at least one case brought by Qualcomm-founding billionaire Irwin Jacobs and his wife Joan, a complaint against executive jet maker Bombadier, which the judge dismissed on October 12, 2005 following a stipulated settlement agreement and mutual release, records show.
A Democrat who raised major money for Bill and Hillary Clinton, Jacobs has long been a Dumanis backer.
Sabraw, who met his wife in law school, according to a 2003 Union-Tribune profile, currently resides with her in tony Rancho Santa Fe.