Probe began with Sonora attorney

December 09, 2002 11:00 pm

By AMY LINDBLOM

Modesto's mayor is the subject of state Attorney General's Office and Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office investigations in part because questions raised by a Sonora attorney.

That lawyer, Roger Brown, and a client contend Modesto's Carmen Sabatino violated the 1975 Public Reform Act by allegedly failing to disclose sources of income, loans and investment interests totaling about $3 million on state-required documents between 1999 and 2001.

In September, Brown met with four members of Attorney General Bill Lockyer's staff and outlined the alleged wrongdoings in a 22-page report Brown wrote.

As a result, Sabatino — re-elected last year — is being investigated by both state and Stanislaus County prosecutors, plus the state Fair Political Practices Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.

Brown would not name the client who hired him to look into Sabatino's doings but describes the client as a "public-spirited citizen."

With clients throughout the state, Brown is one of 50 or so California attorneys who specialize in political law, and by his own claim, one of the few who do it well.

"California campaign finance laws are so terribly complicated, the penalties are too large, and the consequences too severe to not have a competent lawyer on your side," Brown said.

Among clients he has defended are political powerhouses U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, former San Francisco mayor Frank Jordan, former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Hoenig and one-time San Francisco mayoral candidate Angela Alioto.

Brown spent a decade as an enforcement attorney for the California Fair Political Practices Commission. For half that time, he was the chief enforcement attorney

He joined the FPPC three years after the Political Reform Act was passed by California voters.

While at the FPPC, he prosecuted Republican Congressman John Doolittle, who once represented Tuolumne County, and won.