More MS news articles for May 2001

Attempt to oust Marin's D.A. fails miserably

Resounding rejection of marijuana activists

Wednesday, May 23, 2001
Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer

Marin County District Attorney Paula Kamena resoundingly defeated yesterday a recall attempt backed by a coalition of medical marijuana activists and disenchanted family court litigants.

Voters clearly were not swayed by arguments that Kamena was victimizing users of medicinal marijuana, voting by more than 4 to 1 to retain Marin's first female district attorney. In unofficial final results, the effort to oust Kamena failed 40,777 votes to 6,735 votes, or 86 percent to 14 percent.

"This is a very important day for Marin County," Kamena said last night during a victory celebration at Falkirk Cultural Center in San Rafael. "The voters told the world that they would not accept deceptive and misleading tactics or political pressure from people who want to make the D.A. bend to their will."

The failed attempt to oust Kamena means replacement candidate Tom Van Zandt,

a patent attorney who has never handled a criminal case, will not get the experience of being Marin County's top prosecutor.

The election was a kind of test case in a statewide effort to force county prosecutors to honor Proposition 215, the 1996 state initiative allowing the cultivation and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. (The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that federal anti-marijuana laws make no exception for medicinal use.)

Kamena was the first of six district attorneys in the state threatened with recall by medical marijuana activists to actually face a vote of the people.

The 55-year-old career prosecutor, who in 1999 was elected as Marin County's first female district attorney, was forced to fight for her job not only against the cannabis lobby but also against a fringe group of unhappy family court litigants.

Medical marijuana activists said yesterday's failed attempt would not deter their advocacy.

"It's been very important that we took a stand for civil rights and medical rights," said Lynette Shaw, head of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana. "This is just a start. We need to initiate a policy statewide that stops police from harassing patients, pulling plants and confiscating medicine."

Marin's recall movement actually started out as an attempt to oust several judges who at one time or another handled a case involving Carol Mardeusz.

Mardeusz lost custody of her daughter in 1995 after a bitter court battle with the girl's father. She has been peppering the courts with legal challenges ever since, repeatedly accusing the father of child molestation.

She was declared a vexatious litigant in Sonoma County, and prosecutors in Sonoma and Marin concluded that her very public allegations against the father were at best unprovable.

A jury in Marin County found her guilty last year of falsifying a court order and perjuring herself in an attempt to steal custody of her daughter.

A group of divorced parents upset with the outcome of their child custody cases rallied to her defense, but they could not collect enough signatures to recall the judges.

Instead, they enlisted the help of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana,

which gathered enough signatures for the Kamena recall even though there is no mention of medical marijuana on the petition.

Van Zandt, the only candidate to replace Kamena, is Mardeusz's brother. He accused the district attorney of refusing to investigate the family court judges or their alleged co-conspirators in a scheme to railroad his sister and others.

Kamena argued that she had nothing to do with family law and nobody ever accused the judges of any legitimate crimes.

But it was pot, not family law, that was believed to be the biggest threat to Kamena's job.

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming the federal prohibition against pot clearly hurt the case against Kamena. Even so, most observers considered Kamena's policy on the prosecution of medical marijuana cases to be relatively progressive.

She is one of 15 district attorneys who have set guidelines for marijuana prosecutions, exempting people with fewer than seven mature plants, 12 immature plants and a half-pound of dried weed.

Nonetheless, pot proponents said that her guidelines did not prevent the arrest of patients and suppliers or the confiscation of their medicinal plants.

Kamena, who raised about $80,000 to fight the recall, said she is proud of her record since taking office.

E-mail Peter Fimrite at

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle