Clients say firm run by James T. Law and Analilia Joya, both candidates for city office, broke agreement to get enough signatures to put the clients on school board ballot. Law denies the allegations.
By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/ZbfH4g
January 5, 2013, 8:00 p.m. :: Two would-be candidates for the Los Angeles school board have accused a campaign consulting firm — run by two contenders for city office — of botching their efforts to get on the ballot for the March primary election.
One of the school board aspirants, Scott Folsom, filed a complaint with the district's attorney's office last month alleging fraud and possible forgery. Franny Parrish, the other would-be candidate, said she would comply with any probe into the firm, Henry, Law & Associates. The two say they hired the company to gather the signatures of registered voters for petitions that would qualify them for the ballot.
James T. Law, a principal in the firm, acknowledged that he accepted work from Folsom and Parrish. He denied wrongdoing and blamed his clients for failing to make the ballot. Law is the only challenger against incumbent Joe Buscaino to represent City Council District 15. Analilia Joya, who works closely with Law, is one of six candidates for the open job of city controller. She did not respond to requests for comment.
Candidates typically hire firms to gather the 500 registered voters' signatures required for the ballot. Those voters must live in the area a candidate hopes to represent. It is time-consuming, often difficult work — it involves knocking on doors and approaching people outside shopping centers or grocery stores. People sometimes give false information or refuse to sign.
In a letter to authorities and in interviews, Folsom said he hired the signature gatherers in response to a solicitation from a man who identified himself as David Johnson.
Folsom agreed to pay Johnson $2,000 up front and $1,500 plus expenses on the back end, according to the contract, which Folsom provided to The Times and included in his letter to the district attorney. Parrish said she agreed to pay a flat fee of $2,100 for at least 500 valid signatures, although she also was gathering some signatures herself. She provided scans of checks made out to Law.
In a series of text messages that Folsom saved, Johnson kept pushing back delivery and postponing appointments. Folsom saved a telephone message from Johnson and another from a woman who identified herself as Joya, about signing a form for the work. Folsom said the woman met him at a Denny's near the city's election office on the deadline day, Dec. 5, to assure him that her associate was on the way with the petitions.
Johnson was late but did turn over petitions, Folsom said. The city later determined, however, that of 704 signatures, 289 were not from the right district, 93 were not of registered voters, 85 had invalid addresses and 31 had other problems.
According to the contract, Law's company guaranteed between 500 and 1,000 valid signatures; only 206 passed muster.
Several attempts by The Times to reach Law failed, but responses then came via text message, from the cell number that Johnson had given as his own to Folsom and Parrish.
In these text messages, someone identifying himself as Law blamed the disappointed candidates.
"The allegations are not true," he wrote. "It's slander and harassment. My company worked very hard for those two candidates. Out of six candidates my company helped out, those two are the only one[s] that did not make the ballot. Mr. Folsom gave us the wrong ZIP Codes and Franny did not hand me her work until the last four days left."
He wouldn't name the other four candidates, citing "disclosure agreements."
Folsom said he was never asked to provide ZIP Codes.
Law also said that he collected 767 signatures for Parrish and that she failed to meet his worker at an agreed upon location.
Parrish said she waited in vain for Johnson on the deadline day at the election office, where, she said, he'd promised to show up after postponing other meetings. Her account was confirmed by Folsom and another witness, who were with Parrish in the election office when Johnson allegedly called and texted to say he was on his way. She also forwarded those text messages to The Times.
Parrish added that she hired Johnson two weeks before the deadline.
Law and Joya gathered enough signatures to qualify themselves for the ballot — a task that Law allegedly delegated to another signature contractor, Vernon Van. Van claims Law didn't pay him. Law, in turn, claims that Van "ripped me off."
The address of Henry, Law & Associates is a private mailbox in Torrance, rented Oct. 27, according to a manager. The firm made one monthly payment of $15 and recently lost the box for failing to pay rent.
Even though both are on the city ballot, neither Law nor Joya is currently a registered voter in L.A. County, records show. And Law's listed residence is in Torrance. Either issue would disqualify a successful candidate from taking office. The Torrance address is associated with several businesses: Open Door Christian Lifestyle; the United States of America Kingdom of Tzedakah Charitys; and Titus Landscaping.
In election filings, Joya describes herself as an employee of Open Door Christian Lifestyle.
The person behind the Torrance business entities appears to be named Titus Henry. The relationship between Henry, Law and Johnson is unclear. The former school board candidates and Van said that based on descriptions they exchanged, they are convinced that at least two of the three are the same person.
When asked to sort out these identities, Law declined to respond.
The L.A. County district attorney's office would confirm only that "an allegation of fraud regarding petition signatures" is under review.
Without Folsom and Parrish, the dynamics of two pivotal school board races were altered.
Folsom was among the candidates endorsed by the teachers union in District 2, where the union hopes to push school board President Monica Garcia into a runoff. Four challengers remain in that race. Folsom served for years on an important school bond oversight committee, and both he and Parrish were longtime PTA leaders.
Parrish had hoped to represent District 4, in which two candidates remain: incumbent Steve Zimmer and challenger Kate Anderson. Zimmer is backed by the teachers union. Parrish works as a library aide, advocated for disabled students and served as a negotiator in her union's contract negotiations.