Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Monterey, CA attorney/radio journalist suffers mysterious death

Following the recent passing of both former President Gerald Ford and music icon James Brown is a death that will likely slide in under the radar. So far, only the local Monterey County Herald has reported on it. Granted, both Ford and Brown are more noteworthy individuals, but this one may be of interest to readers of LTR.

In what police describe as a "probable" suicide leap, a prominent Monterey Bay Area attorney fell at least nine floors to his death at the Embassy Suites Hotel Monterey Bay in Seaside the morning before Christmas.

Sunday morning, officers found the body of Paul Sanford, an attorney, journalist and local radio talk show host, in the west end of the hotel lobby, where he had landed on a large ventilation grate.

In addition to his work specializing mostly in DUI cases, Sanford was active in local organizations and causes, and made waves in the national arena. He appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004 when he argued unsuccessfully that the words "under God" should be stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance. A passionate believer in "a dynamic Constitution," Sanford claimed that he "never leaves home" without a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his pocket. He was a vocal advocate of free speech, and for the rights of homeless people.

In recent years, he became a journalist. Almost immediately, he caused a stir after he joined the White House Press Corps in 2005, making waves as the first reporter to ask then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan whether the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame's name might be considered an act of treason.

"There has been a lot of speculation concerning the meaning of the underlying statute and the grand jury investigation concerning Mr. Rove," Sanford asked. "The question is, have the legal counsel to the White House or White House staff reviewed the statute in sufficient specificity to determine whether a violation of that statute would, in effect, constitute treason?"

McClellan was apparently flustered by the question and replied that "those are matters for those overseeing the investigation to decide."

The White House incident sparked controversy after political bloggers incorrectly described Sanford as a reporter for the Air America radio network. At the time, he was associated with Watsonville radio station KOMY, an Air America affiliate, and Sanford told reporters he never claimed to work for Air America.

Sanford eventually filed suit against KOMY owner Michael Zwerling after Zwerling was reported as saying Sanford had not been authorized to represent the station as a reporter, a statement Sanford refuted. The case was scheduled to begin in Santa Cruz County Superior Court in February. The status of the case is unknown following Sanford's sudden death.

Although the dispute with Zwerling caused Sanford a great deal of stress at the time, his close friend, fellow Monterey attorney Shawn Mills, said his friend was feeling fine about it and believed he would soon be vindicated in court.

Sanford and Mills both co-hosted the "Paul and Shawn Show" on Saturdays at local progressive talk radio station KRXA, where they covered last fall's election.

Friends and associates expressed disbelief at the news of Sanford's death and that it was ruled a suicide, saying Sanford seemed happy and had made many plans for this week and in coming months. Mills said he and Sanford recently decided to open a shared law office to serve Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, something Sanford was looking forward to doing.

He and Sanford spoke on the phone "around four or five times a day," Mills said, and the two had just spoken on Thursday, "tweaking a marketing plan" for their new law practice before Mills went out of town for the Christmas holiday.

"I just don't know what happened since Thursday. There was nothing on the horizon there to know this was going to happen," Mills said. "We were going to get together this week."

Mills said he had spoken to Sanford's wife, Paula, and that she also was in shock. He said Sanford, a father of two, was a devoted family man.

"This is a horrible thing for his family. He would never have intentionally put his family through that trauma. Something's not right, it doesn't make sense."

Sanford recently purchased his mother's home in Pebble Beach, and Mills said his friend planned to retire there one day.

Police declined to state exactly why they ruled the case a suicide.

Mills said Sanford should be remembered for his volunteer work in the local community. "People don't like to work for free, and Paul worked for ideology. He didn't like the attention a lot. The attention he's going to get now would upset him."


LegalChat said...

You can listen to Paul Sanford's past programming, that is archived at his radio website:

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