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As the hour drew near for Bill Clinton's Monday night mea culpa, a snazzily dressed crowd from Governor Pete Wilson's lavish birthday fundraiser made its way to the bar at the downtown Hyatt Regency to watch the historic spectacle on big-screen TV. Among the well-connected Wilson supporters were Tom Shepard, one-time Hedgecock aide now making big money from the pro-baseball stadium campaign; Padres co-owner Larry Lucchino; wealthy port commissioner David Malcolm and wife Annie; Congressman Brian Bilbray and two aides; city councilman Byron Wear; and Mike Alessio, whose late father John (a buddy of fallen banker and Nixon crony C. Arnholt Smith) was convicted of income tax evasion and spent two years in federal prison. As might be expected of Republican partisans, the Wilson crowd booed and yelled at each Clinton utterance, and when the president invoked "Our God," someone at the bar screamed out, "Yeah, the God of Love!" Union-Tribune editor-in-chief Herb Klein, a top Nixon aide now regarded as San Diego's political godfather, attended the fundraiser on the fourth floor but didn't come down to watch the president.

Coke law

San Diego lawyer Philip DeMassa made headlines back in November 1985 when he pleaded guilty to harboring Robert Kent Lahodney, a suspect wanted in connection with the infamous Coronado Company dope-smuggling caper. DeMassa, a preeminent member of the city's drug dealer defense bar, had initially been charged with conspiracy in the case against the sophisticated smuggling operation, which ultimately convicted 60 people. The charges against DeMassa became a national cause célèbre among defense lawyers when federal agents raided DeMassa's office and took more than a thousand client files; an appellate court later ruled the government had violated the clients' privacy rights. Because of his guilty plea to a felony, DeMassa was barred from practicing in federal court, but an effort to have him disbarred from practice in California on grounds of moral turpitude ultimately failed. These days he's back practicing law, leading the charge against the Los Angeles Police Department, which he accuses of abusing wiretap laws and violating the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure. One of DeMassa's clients is an alleged L.A. drug dealer busted two years ago by LAPD for coke possession. DeMassa discovered the bust was the result of what he maintains was an illegal "handoff" from one cop to another of wiretap data collected during a separate investigation. A superior court judge agreed and ordered the district attorney to fess up by turning over the transcripts of the previously undisclosed wires to DeMassa; he told the New York Times they will clear his client.

Slime city

You can tell when campaign season is getting serious when the Union-Tribune takes off the verbal gloves against folks it considers foes of progress. This time around the enemy is anybody opposed to the $400 million-plus, taxpayer-funded Padres ballpark. Case in point: former city councilman Fred Schnaubelt, a lifelong Republican who was a faithful donor to Susan Golding's failed U.S. Senate campaign bid. In a story appearing last Friday under the byline of U-T reporter Ray Huard, Schnaubelt, who sells real estate for a living, was called a "Libertarian Party activist." With its popular connotation of "nuts and sluts," the word Libertarian is apparently one of the worst appelations the U-T can pull out of its somewhat limited political lexicon;U-T editorials frequently attribute any sort of municipal dissent to "Libertarian activists." Huard declined comment. Meantime, the U-T is also showing its support for the stadium cause by sticking Padres posters on its outdoor news racks. Then there is the case of fallen mayor Roger Hedgecock. The radio talk-show host showed up beaming among ballpark supporters on the speakers stand at last Saturday's rally featuring Tony Gwynn and game announcer Ted Leitner, once a critic of the Chargers' stadium deal. It's shaping up to be a very long campaign ... U-T sportswriters are being honored this month in the American Journalism Review's "Cliché Corner" for the following: "Size does matter, as the Godzilla ads tell us, and the size of McGwire's home runs is what truly sets him apart from anyone else in the game today."

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