In a recent interview, Bertha Lopez voiced a strong opinion about Sweetwater Union High School District attorney Bonifacio Garcia. Lopez, who has been a Sweetwater boardmember since 2008 and served as a Chula Vista boardmember for ten years before that, said she did not trust the advice offered by the attorney. Why not?
Garcia recently advised the board to hire attorney Greg Vega to do an independent review of district expenditures. According to Lopez, Garcia did not reveal that Vega had worked for the district. A Union-Tribune story also reported that Vega reviewed Garcia’s employment contract last July.
Garcia has been the district’s main attorney since l996. In 2006, the Union-Tribune wrote, “South County’s high school board has scrapped a $400-an-hour contract with its main attorneys in favor of a $320,400-a-year deal designed to rein in legal spending that topped $1.1 million in the year ending June 30.” Garcia, with the firm Burke, Williams and Sorensen, was the main attorney.
Garcia formed a new firm (Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz) and continued to work for Sweetwater. Changing names does not appear to equal reining in legal spending: Garcia’s current contract with the district is $84,334 a month, or a little over $1 million a year.
Citizens for Good Government in the South Bay was a political action committee that operated out of Garcia’s office until March, when it became inactive. Yuri Calderon, a member of Garcia's law firm, was the treasurer. Garcia gave generously to this committee, as did Laura Martinez, who co-owns a house with Garcia in Sierra Madre, California, according to documents.
According to records kept by the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, Jim Cartmill, a Sweetwater boardmember since l996, received $5000 from the Citizens for Good Government in South Bay in last November’s election. He also received $5000 from Laura Martinez. Arlie Ricasa, first elected in 1998 and re-elected last November, received $5000 from Laura Martinez. And newly elected John McCann received $900 from Laura Martinez.