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October 22, 2021

Group launches DA recall effort

A group of residents Wednesday launched a recall campaign
against District Attorney John Sarsfield claiming the prosecutor
has mismanaged the office, misused political power and lied to the
A group of residents Wednesday launched a recall campaign against District Attorney John Sarsfield claiming the prosecutor has mismanaged the office, misused political power and lied to the public.

The newly formed Committee to Recall John Sarsfield served him with a legally required “notice of intention” – which sums up reasons for the effort and lays the groundwork for a signature gathering campaign.

The committee includes former state Assemblyman Peter Frusetta, retired school teacher Bob Wilson, members of the Mexican American Political Association and other residents, according to Wilson.

“I just think the voters made a mistake and I would just like them to get the chance to right that wrong,” Wilson said.

Sarsfield didn’t return phone calls inquiring on the matter.

To reach the final stage – a recall election – the committee would have to gather signatures from 20 percent of San Benito County’s 24,050 registered voters, or 4,810 signatures, according to Secretary of State’s Office documents.

The attempt to recall Sarsfield comes as the district attorney faces two separate scandals.

Two subordinates filed a complaint June 9 alleging he’s having an inner-office affair creating a hostile workplace. And in May he canceled a probe of the District 5 supervisor’s race after Supervisor- elect Jaime De La Cruz’s camp filed a court motion against Sarsfield that included information about the same alleged affair.

By the time a signature gathering campaign ensues, Wilson believes the committee will have 20-50 volunteers taking part, he said.

On Tuesday, Wilson’s group joined with members of MAPA, who intended to start their own recall campaign this week. Before the 2002 election, MAPA endorsed Sarsfield and even walked door to door promoting him, according to local chairman Henry Sumaya.

He said the District Attorney’s Office has embarrassed the county and continues to cost taxpayers money in litigation.

“He should resign or we will do that for him,” Sumaya said.

Wilson said the committee planned to file a copy of the same notice with the Elections Office today – a legal requirement among many set forth by the Secretary of State’s Office for recall campaigns.

According to a press statement released Wednesday, some of the committee’s other “grounds for recall of John Sarsfield” include the following allegations:

– Sarsfield has not set foot in a courtroom or tried one case since his election

– Mistreatment of the victims of violent crime

– Repeatedly avoided taking cases to trial by accepting inappropriate plea bargains

– Mishandled the Ralph Santos murder case and many other high-profile felonies

– Lied about asking the FBI to investigate claims of extortion relating to the grand jury’s cancellation

– Misuse of political office by targeting critics

Sarsfield has said most criticism directed at his job performance comes from a handful of local lawyers and investigators, including his opponent in the 2002 election, Arthur Cantu.

Cantu on Wednesday said he’s not involved with the recall effort. But if it reaches a ballot, he would seriously consider running against Sarsfield, he said. First, he would talk it over with his family, colleagues and members of the community, he said.

“It’s no secret that I think this community’s District Attorney’s Office needs improvement,” said the local defense lawyer. “There’s nothing holding me back in terms of will or commitment.”

Cantu does have a tie to Wilson, who served Sarsfield with the notice Wednesday. Both are members of the Masonic Lodge, each acknowledged.

Two other members of the committee – Frusetta and Fran Fancher – are related to one of the workers in Sarsfield’s office, Katie Fancher, threatening litigation for the alleged affair.

And Sumaya acknowledged being friends with Julie Roybal, the other woman who filed the complaint. MAPA also supported Jaime De La Cruz, the target of the grand jury investigation Sarsfield had been overseeing.

Several other steps must be taken before a recall can reach a ballot. Among them, if Sarsfield wants to respond in writing to the notice he must do so within seven days, and elections officials must scrutinize an array of requirements before and after signatures are gathered.

Wilson doesn’t think it’s realistic to shoot for the November ballot. And there’s no scheduled election in 2005, so the county would have to call for a special election.

Historically, recall attempts in San Benito County have failed, said head elections official John Hodges.

But he mentioned the recent recall of former Gov. Gray Davis. Hodges didn’t think that campaign had a chance, either, he said.

“Who would have ever guessed he would have gotten recalled? You just never know,” he said.

Statewide, there have been at least two attempts to recall district attorneys in recent years.

Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos survived a recall attempt earlier this year by gaining 61 percent of the votes, according to published reports. A lumber company, which Gallegos had sued years earlier, led the effort.

And Marin County District Attorney Paula Kamena gained more than 80 percent of the vote in a recall election in 2001. That attempt was led by medical marijuana advocates.

Supervisor Reb Monaco said the local recall effort didn’t come as a surprise.

“That’s part of the process, the democratic process, that people can recall public officials, or at least make an effort to,” Monaco said. “How successful it’s going to be is another question.”

Staff Writer Erin Musgrave contributed to this report

Kollin Kosmicki can be reached at 637-5566, ext. 331 or at

[email protected]

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