COD Trustee Inquiry Seemingly Hangs in Limbo

Results of COD Trustee Inquiry Remain Quiet

Area 4 Trustee Joel Kinnamon

RANCHCO MIRAGE — Results of an inquiry College of the Desert Area 4 Trustee Joel Kinnamon filed asking the Riverside County DA’s Public Integrity Office to investigate possible illegal political campaign activity are on ice — at least for now.

“We can confirm our office received a complaint about campaign activities involving College of the Desert,” Brooke Beare, public information officer for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, told Uken Report. “We cannot confirm or deny any potential investigation involving that complaint.”

The COD Trustee inquiry originated in July when Kinnamon requested, through his attorney, the Riverside County DA’s Public Integrity Office investigate possible illegal political campaign activity that used public resources at College of the Desert. The alleged illegal activity includes emails, staff, and contracted legal counsel to thwart or derail Kinnamon’s political campaign for Area 4 in November 2022.

“Based on the evidence that was presented to me, it is my belief that former College of the Desert trustee and candidate Aurora Wilson, former COD president Martha Garcia, and former COD board attorney violated the law by using public resources, paid for by the taxpayers, to disrupt and/or derail my political campaign,” Kinnamon told Uken Report at the time.  “I call upon the Riverside County Public Integrity Office, under the authority of District Attorney Mike Hestrin, to investigate and prosecute to the full extent of the law.  Although these public servants were not successful, as the voters in Area 4 overwhelmingly supported my campaign, these public servants should have known that their actions may have been in violation of the law.  The college, hence, the taxpayers, should definitely be reimbursed for the legal fees associated with their actions.”

Kinnamon is represented by Megan Beaman Jacinto. This isn’t the first time Kinnamon has sought an investigation into potential illegal campaign activity.

On Feb. 15, 2023, on behalf of Dr. Kinnamon, she filed a complaint with the Attorney General, California Department of Justice, requesting prosecution of criminal misuse of public resources for political purposes. The DOJ subsequently advised her to re-file the complaint with the local District Attorney.

To refresh your memory, during the fall of 2022, candidates were campaigning for two of the elected Trustee positions, those of Area 1 and Area 4. At the time, Aurora Wilson was the elected Trustee in Area 4. Kinnamon, a former President/Superintendent of COD, was her opponent and ultimately won the seat. After taking elected office, Kinnamon uncovered documents (emails) stating plainly that Wilson and then-COD President/Superintendent Martha Garcia used COD and legal counsel resources to impact Kinnamon’s campaign, Beaman Jacinto states in her letter.

Those documents revealed the following, according to Beaman Jacinto:

On Aug. 31,2022, Wilson forwarded an email from her campaign consultant attaching a draft campaign video to Garcia, asking for Garcia’s feedback on the video. Garcia responded back that same day, telling Wilson she had reviewed the video and would call her later.

On Sept. 2022, Wilson messaged COD legal counsel Carlos Campos and Garcia, asking if COD could issue a writ of mandate to Riverside County Registrar of Voters to challenge Dr. Kinnamon’s ballot designation. Garcia followed up on September 6, 2022, reminding Campos of Wilson’s request and asking that they discuss the matter. Campos responded on Sept. 6, stating that he would instruct the election expert at his firm to review the matter, and billing records reveal that at least 1.4 hours of legal time was billed to COD related to this request.

On Oct. 16, 2022, Wilson forwarded to Garcia an email from a democratic club, which referred to Kinnamon’s campaign communications, and a website he and his spouse had set up to share information about COD with the public. In response, Garcia responded on Oct. 17 informing Wilson that “Legal” sent a cease-and-desist letter and that additional legal steps may follow. Wilson responded on Oct. 17, thanking Garcia and referencing her own campaign event.

On Oct. 19, 2022, Garcia emailed all Trustees with a legal memorandum prepared by Campos, regarding the status of COD’s legal action toward Dr. Kinnamon’s campaign activities and informational website. Wilson responded on October 19 asking Garcia and Campos if the legal memorandum was confidential, implying a desire to share it. It is not clear how or if Garcia and Campos responded.

On Nov. 10, 2022, Wilson once again contacted Garcia and Campos using her COD email address to ask them if the cease-and-desist toward Kinnamon’s spouse would create a conflict for Dr. Kinnamon in the event that he won election. It is not clear how or if Garcia and Campos responded. Legal billing records Kinnamon acquired reflect some but not all of the time Campos and his legal partners spent addressing Wilson’s, Garcia’s, and other Trustee’ concerns about Kinnamon’s campaign activities.

“It is our position that Wilson, Garcia, and any other involved COD Trustees used public resources (COD) email, administrative staff, and legal counsel) for campaign activities and unauthorized personal purposes, in violation of applicable law,” Beaman Jacinto stated in her letter. “This violation does not appear to be an anomaly or inadvertence, as COD Trustees implicitly and/or explicitly accused Dr. Kinnamon of improprieties and proposed a review of his actions during a public COD meeting in the early part of his campaign, which Dr. Kinnamon was forced to address with legal action.”

“Dr. Kinnamon requests prosecution,” Beaman Jacinto wrote.

Image Sources

  • Joel Kinnamon: College of the Desert
  • College of the Desert: COD