- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

A federal district judge in Sacramento yesterday ordered the release of letters implicating California Gov. Gray Davis in a racketeering scandal.
The release of letters in the decade-old case could be a blow to the Democrat's re-election campaign against Republican challenger Bill Simon.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered the uncensored release of letters from a fraud-and-racketeering case in which former state Coastal Commissioner Mark L. Nathanson implicated Mr. Davis in a bribery scheme.
In two letters submitted to prosecutors in 1993, Mr. Nathanson named Mr. Davis, who was state controller at the time.
The release of the documents comes at the worst possible time for Mr. Davis and puts him on the defensive with less than a week before voters go to the polls.
"Any allegation that Karlton is a biased judge will never work on this one," said California Democratic strategist Joe Cerrell, who knew Mr. Karlton before he became a judge.
"He was a liberal Democrat, so nobody can say they got a Republican judge to do it," said Mr. Cerrell, who also said he hasn't "a clue" as to whether the Nathanson accusations about Mr. Davis are true.
In the documents released yesterday, attorneys for Mr. Nathanson cited instances in which Mr. Davis sought coastal-commission favors for people whom Mr. Davis would then approach for donations. Mr. Nathanson had a history of raising contributions for Mr. Davis.
In a letter that Judge Karlton unsealed yesterday, Mr. Nathanson's attorney, Stephen L. Braga, recounts "a number of instances where Gray Davis approached Mr. Nathanson, who was then a member of the California Coastal Commission, to assist various friends or supporters of Davis who had matters pending before the Commission."
The letters were part of an attempt by Mr. Nathanson to get a better deal after he was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison and fined $200,000 for soliciting money from celebrities and others in exchange for help getting projects approved by the commission.
Davis campaign spokesman Roger Salazar dismissed the Nathanson accusations. "In a last desperate attempt to salvage his campaign by making further reckless accusations against Davis, the Simon campaign has been pumping a story about ridiculous charges by a criminal seeking to reduce his prison term," Mr. Salazar said.
For two years, the Sacramento Bee had been seeking the full release of the letters, which until yesterday were available only in censored form.
From the beginning of the bitterly fought campaign, Mr. Simon has attacked Mr. Davis' fund-raising practices, which have also been the subject of stories in the California press. California voters in most polls expressed dissatisfaction with both candidates.
"This is the break that Bill Simon has been waiting for," said California Republican Party Chairman Shawn Steel. "And it couldn't have happened at a better time."
"The great majority of voters who haven't made up their mind will go against the governor as a result of this," Mr. Steel said. "Democrats who haven't been enthusiastic about Davis will be even less so."
But Democrats generally poohed-poohed the impact, maintaining it would be a one-day story that would not alter the dynamics of the campaign.
"The Justice Department and FBI concluded that Nathanson is a liar and not to be believed and put him away," said Bob Muholland, a California member of the Democratic National Committee.
Depending on the poll, up to 25 percent of the state's voters tell pollsters they are undecided in the governor's contest.
A recent published poll had Mr. Davis ahead 41 percent to 31 percent, but the Simon campaign and other Republicans say internal polling shows the race much closer, and that Mr. Simon is "within striking distance," as a national Republican campaign official put it.

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