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Stracener mailer attacks Hoffman: Allegations ‘much ado about nothing’

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From page A1 | May 25, 2012 | 29 Comments

A mailer sent out as part of El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Warren “Curt” Stracener’s reelection campaign has stirred controversy over opponent Joseph Hoffman.

The mailer alleges that “Joseph Hoffman may have aided Daniel Chartraw in the commission of interstate fraud.” As previously reported in the Mountain Democrat, between Jan. 1, 2007, and Nov. 31, 2011, court documents allege that Chartraw made false statements and promises in order to obtain money in the form of loans, investments and “various commodity purchases.” He collected approximately $2.4 million from investors.

Money was wired through a client trust account that Hoffman provided to Chartraw as part of being his retained attorney. The money was allegedly part of Chartraw’s fraud scheme.

“It’s an extremely common practice,” said former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District McGregor Scott of having a client trust fund. “It’s the client’s money” held in the trust fund, he said. Such accounts operate “literally every day, every week, as a function of the law practice.”

The fund is meant as a holding area for the client’s money. That money can be later used to pay retainer fees, or, should the client lose the court case, be dispersed as restitution or settlement, Scott said. It is not meant for the attorney to use except for official court-approved purposes, or to pay himself as agreed upon, in writing, by the client.

El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Douglas C. Phimister agreed that nothing appeared out of the ordinary.

“You are required to have a trust account” as a lawyer, he said. “It’s not for hiding money for clients, it’s for holding to give out for a given purpose.”

Hoffman, according to the mailer, is being sued by a victim for the stolen money. Phimister said the solution to that is simple — a writ of execution, signed by the sheriff, would allow the victim to easily get the money back after proving the money is theirs.

Greg Jones, a spokesman for Hoffman, said the matter was “Nothing out of normal, how trust accounts are used every day.” He said it’s “Much ado about nothing” and that the mailer is meant to “distract viewers from (Stracener’s) own deficiencies.” The account is government-regulated, he said, and thus there is transparency and accountability. “Every attorney I’ve spoken to about it says the same thing, that it’s much ado about nothing.”

Jones also mentioned that since the information on a supposed connection between Hoffman and Chartraw’s crimes have come to light, they have not lost any endorsements, but instead gained endorsements, as lawyers knew there was nothing wrong with the client trust fund, Jones said.

Meanwhile, Stracener has lost the support of former Supervisor Rusty Dupray, who said he endorsed both Stracener and Hoffman early on in the campaign, but “after more research and talking with Hoffman endorsers,” after after reading the Village Life article on Stracener he dropped Stracener and kept his Hoffman endorsement.” In an e-mail to Stracener, Dupray wrote that he was “withdrawing my endorsement of you, and ask that you remove my name from your campaign materials and Website immediately.”

On the topic of endorsements, one of Stracener’s mailers claims he is endorsed by the “El Dorado Tea Party.” Bill and Dena Freeman, founders of the Tea Party of the Hills, have not heard of that party, nor do they endorse Stracener.

“I checked with every Tea Party in the area, none know of that Tea Party,” Dena Freeman said, who said none of the Tea Parties in the area endorse candidates.

“We don’t know where the El Dorado Tea Party came from. We’ve never heard of it,” Bill Freeman confirmed. When asked if they had endorsed Stracener, he said “It’s not true. A falsehood.”

The mailer also mentions that Hoffman wrote a letter verifying Chartraw had gold-and-silver bars from mining worth $6 million, claiming it could be part of the fraud. However, the letter is not mentioned in the federal indictment of Chartraw. In other words, no legal action has been taken against Hoffman due to the letter.

“Is Chartraw a crook? Probably. Did Hoffman facilitate any action in a knowing way? No,” said Scott.

Instead, Scott said, the connection with Hoffman to Chartraw is just a way for a higher court to claim jurisdiction, as the federal court can lay claim over cases involving interstate commerce.

“It’s typical in a fraud case to use wire transfer or the use of mails to move” money and items, Scott said. “That way, they can be accused of wire fraud. That’s a jurisdictional requirement … it’s a procedural requirement only, there’s no bearing on Hoffman.”

When asked if Hoffman had done anything illegal, Scott replied “Absolutely not, in no way, shape or form.” On the matter of whether there might be an unindicted co-conspirator in the case, which could be Hoffman, Scott said that “Not a single work alleges anyone other than Chartraw of wrongdoing.”

Phimister claimed instead that Stracener had done some wrongdoing in contacting the lawyer on the other side of the pending litigation from Hoffman, without contacting Hoffman at the same time. This is known as ex parte communication, and is a violation of Judicial Canon. “It’s required that he has to self-report” his infraction to a judicial conduct committee, Phimister said.

District Attorney Vern Pierson, who had seen the mailer before it was sent out, told Stracener’s campaign that it was a “complicated case of nothing.”

Upon learning that calls to Stracener for comment on the matter were not returned, Pierson said, “For someone who calls himself a superior court judge, it’s sad and pathetic to disparage someone without substantiation, and he doesn’t have the backbone to respond to a reporter’s phone calls.”

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Discussion | 29 comments

  • Sam VenhuizenMay 24, 2012 - 6:28 pm

    This corruption has been going on in that county since the eighties. Judges accepting forced plea deals and sending people to prison for crimes they did not commit. Public Defenders verbally admitting the truth and telling you that you will never get the courts to admit the truth (Rick Myers), South Lake Tahoe. How do I know this, I am that person and have been forced into three false pleas because of this corruption. I asked for the DNA and they said it had been destroyed. I was told to get over it. Even now that I do not live there, they try to screw me over in a different state. Look at the facts and remove all the corrupt people in power in that county before it is too late.

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  • dollars to donutsMay 25, 2012 - 6:45 am

    Stracener's campaign knows only one way to "win". Good luck, Hoffman and Valentine.

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  • Helpu SeethetruthMay 25, 2012 - 9:32 am

    Hoffman’s campaign is beating the same drum. Last night (May 24th) at the Tea Party forum (in Cameron Park) When responding to questions, Hoffman looked like a deer in headlignts, Valentine resembled "dopey-one of the 7 dwarfs" just pointing his finger, and Phimster sounded like a cranky-bitter "Old Goat"!!!! We were all told to not attack in any way - Phimster clearly had one mission to accomplish...shame, shame on you. But, it is probable not the first rule you ever broke! Stracener was the only speaker that spoke in an educated and experienced manner, after all.... He IS the Judge. Join me and Vote Stracener on June 5th!

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  • voterMay 25, 2012 - 9:43 am

    Helpu, I wasn't there. What were Stracener's main points?

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  • ShaunMay 25, 2012 - 10:36 am

    Apparently none of the ELECTED officials in this county are able to interpret or apply the laws and rules they are responsible for applying. Phimister's contention that there was any sort of ethical violation misapplies the Canons of Judicial Ethics. An ex parte communication is contact between the judge hearing the case and any party interested in the outcome of that case. Hoffman is being sued in New York. Stracener is not presiding over that case. An ex parte communication did not occuer. As for Pierson and Scott contending this is a "complicated case of nothing" and that "trust accounts are used like this every day", they fail to acknowledge that when an attorney relinquishes control over a trust account to a client, the attorney violates the Rules of Professional Conduct and is subject to severe discipline by the State Bar. When an attorney designates a bank account as a client trust account, the attorney becomes personally responsible for the money in that account; this responsbility is non-delegable. In these cases, a two-year suspension is typical. In addition to these ramifications on Hoffman's license to practice law in the future (a requirement of being a judge), when the violation of an attorney's ethical obligations result in the perpetuation of a fraud on the members of our community, the wrongdoing is patently obvious and quite a leap from a mere "case of nothing". It is downright appalling that these elected officials continue to come out in support of Hoffman and mislead the public as to the extent of his wrongdoing. Don't let them mislead you into casting a vote for Hoffman.

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  • Evelyn VeerkampMay 25, 2012 - 10:57 am

    Shaun, yours is the first comment on this difficult subject that has made any sense to me. Thank you. Though drawing no conclusions, I certainly will keep in mind what you have written. Unearthing the truth in politics is a real minefield.

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  • Henry GimenezMay 25, 2012 - 12:02 pm

    All garbage in this article. Scott defends and never bothered to call me for facts of the case!

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  • Chuck HollandMay 25, 2012 - 3:29 pm

    Here goes Shaun again speaking out of his "south end". More spin and smoke and mirrors. The ex-parte communication took place regarding a case here locally. Shame on a sitting judge for making such a communication. I guess the judicial counsel will be the judge on this. Shaun why are you afraid to "man up" and defend your candidate openly?

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  • Justice InsiderMay 25, 2012 - 3:41 pm

    I hear there was some good video taken at last nights debate in Cameron Park showing Warren Stracener lying once again. Can't wait to see it. This guys is creating a pattern that could be described as "pathological lier".

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  • ShaunMay 25, 2012 - 4:11 pm

    Your comment indicates precisely why your negative website lacks any semblance of validity or reliability. Phimister's quote in this piece I referred to (3rd to last paragraph) attempts to discredit Stracener by claiming he improperly engaged in ex parte communications IN THE PENDING CASE AGAINST HOFFMAN. That case is not local; it is in New York. This is just one simple example of you getting it wrong. You're taking facts from one place and misapplying them to facts found in other places. These elected officials are trying to confuse the public by throwing around big legal terms that the general public does not understand. As a result of their occupation and elected position in the community, people accept these statements as true. The real issue here isn't jurisdiction, interstate commerce, or writs of execution. The issue is with the mishandling of a client trust account and a letter drafted on Hoffman & Hoffman letterhead that certified that the client owned $6 million in "dory bars" when the client did not in fact own such bars. The letter is not addressed to anyone in specfic, asking whichever unfortunate "sir or madam" the client sends the letter to, to send $400,000 to his client trust account; $2,000 of which will serve as attorneys fees. These are all public records that can be pulled off the United States government website, pacer.gov

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  • Evelyn VeerkampMay 25, 2012 - 4:19 pm

    Shaun, I have found PACER. What info (case # or other reference info.) should be entered to substantiate the points you are making?

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  • Chuck HollandMay 25, 2012 - 4:55 pm

    Shaun, I guess we will have to just disagree on who is telling the truth here. I can prove a pattern of misleading information on Stracener's behalf, you can make innuendo's about one of Hoffman's former clients. Remember, attorney's represent clients, not adopt them. If Chartraw was an upstanding citizen he wouldn't need a lawyer. If you think you have some earth shaking information proving my position incorrect please email it to me. chuck@goldcountrybail.com.

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  • ShaunMay 25, 2012 - 8:21 pm

    Yes Chuck attorneys represent criminals.  But an attorney's services and properties may not be used as an instrumentality in a crime.  That's what takes this beyond simply representing a bad guy.  I'll respond to the rest of your website's claims in due time; however I am unable to do so due to time constraints.  Evelyn, the case numbers are: (1) Eastern District of CA no. 2:12-mj-00051 (USA v. Chartraw - Document 1); (2) Eastern District of NY no. 2:12-cb-00669 (Gimenez v. Law Offices of Hoffman & Hoffman - Document 4 Exhibit A.). The documents do cost $.10 per page. You would think the Mountain Democrat would purchase and publish these documents for its readers free of cost, if they don't already have them. These are just allegations at this point but its hard to doubt the authenticity of the FBI agents' sworn statements and the signed letter on the law firm's letterhead with a signature matching the one on Hoffman's campaign website.

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  • Chuck HollandMay 25, 2012 - 8:31 pm

    Evelyn, I already have all those documents in my office, there a bunch of nothing. I'll be back in on Tuesday.

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  • ShaunMay 25, 2012 - 8:48 pm

    If they truly are a bunch of nothing why don't you put it all up on that website of yours for all to see for themselves?

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  • ConcernedMay 25, 2012 - 9:03 pm

    No one seems to focus on what is true; there is a federal case, Hoffman did associate with Chartraw, money did filter through Hoffman's account, Hoffman did write the letter in support of Chartraw,etc. Valentine does associate with a felon, he was asked to leave the bench, he was a commissioner not a judge,etc. facts "not much to do about nothing" Do your homework then vote

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  • Rob HarrisonMay 26, 2012 - 8:16 pm

    Please put on website. I want to see for myself.

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  • Helpu SeethetruthMay 26, 2012 - 8:53 pm

    Yes Chuck. Please put this information on the Hoffman website. Maybe you can also forward information to the National Enq. ooops! I mean the Mt. Democrat, so they can "see the light" and endorse the right guy. Shaun and Evelyn ~ you both certainly have my attention. Maybe Shaun can take over for Cole Mayer to report the truth, which is what I thought newspapers do.

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  • HelpMay 27, 2012 - 4:00 pm

    helpuseethetruth look at Shaun's previous post and you will see the pacer.gov site and case numbers to give to the MD or I'm sure they have read them by now so the two mentioned can stop pretending it didn't happen....

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  • GladMay 27, 2012 - 9:16 pm

    Glad that this information has come out before voting took place, how the people have been in-lightened by the Federal case and the information that has been discussed. It tells us that the others are not fit for the position and the current one is doing the job without any problems.

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  • Angels AwareMay 29, 2012 - 1:43 pm

    Someone who is truly humble portrays humility; he does not need to tell everyone, like Hoffman does, over and over again that he is humble. Hoffman is puffed up and prideful, not what we want in a Superior Court Judge. Chuck, Yes I choose to be anonymous as well. I don't want to be bullied, harassed and followed. Hoffman's supporters go around trying to intimidate people that are supporting Stracener, like a witness that hides out before the trial ; so they are not "gotten to". Chuck, you had said that you are not for any one candidate. You are a liar! We all know that you are Hoffman's right hand henchman; his attack dog, by evidence of your articles in the paper. We all know that you blog under several aliases, even women trying to spread more falsehoods. You also set up the negative website, not so people could share information, but so that you could spread more lies about Judge Stracener. Justice Insider, or should I say Chuck, you are the "pathological liar" an evil man with a hard heart. Again, you lie Chuck because it was not Judge Stracener, but Hoffman's campaign that started all the negative ads and articles in the Mountain Democrat 3-4 months ago to try to mislead the public. Hoffman can't run on his own merit; so he has to try to attack Judge Stracener's character. Stracener is the one that stands up for what is true and what is right, that is why some want him out, and that is why Stracener deserves everyone's votes. I hope and pray that everyone can see through you, Chuck and Hoffman's campaign's lies and make the right choice which is Judge Stracener. In responding to the Mt Democrat article: At the Tea Party meeting in Cameron Park, Judge Stracener clarified that it is the Tea Party Patriots of El Dorado Hills that has recommended him. The Mountain Democrat is biased, has their own agenda. The paper could have printed the clarification; however, chooses to mislead the public. Also, Vern Pierson has the responsibility to thoroughly investigate the connection between Hoffman and Chartraw. He has chosen not to do his job. Of course, Pierson wants to disparage Stracener without knowing the facts concerning "not retuning calls". The reporter called Judge Stracener while he was in court and when Stracener's spokesman called the reporter back, the call was not answered. Judge Phimister said the victims of the Chartraw case can get their money back just by a writ of execution. That makes no sense because the money is gone. Phimister is just trying to groom "his" man because he will be retiring and Hoffman is part of the "Good old boys", a "yes man". Let's agree with two of the other El Dorado County Superior Court Judges: Judge Bailey and Judge Melikian who have endorsed Judge Warren "Curt" Stracener by voting for Judge Stracener on June 5th.

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  • voterMay 29, 2012 - 2:03 pm

    Exhausting tirades like AA's (puffed up and prideful, harassed and followed, intimidate people, liar, pathological liar, evil) don't do much good.

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  • 1036-FrankMay 29, 2012 - 2:09 pm

    There is something oddly strange and curious about why an attorney would allow a client to use the attorney's trust account for any purpose. These accounts are not an account for a client to use that I am aware of, I thought they are for an attorney to draw from for legal work and have to be carefully accounted for, I have never heard of a client drawing from this account as I thought it was also a co-mingled account of clients. It just doesn't pass a smell test. The letter that claims his client has six million in "dory bars" which is also strange and doesn't look good. There is something here that strikes me as odd as if actions were undertaken in violation of the Rules of Conduct involving several ethics issues that involve the client trust account and the letter advising something that apparently didn't exist which would of been a tool to lure unwary investors into investing for a promise of a large return. I hope one of the investors could perhaps clear up what was going on and what role Hoffman had in it.

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  • Chuck HollandMay 29, 2012 - 4:06 pm

    Oh my, according to Angles Aware I've been very bad? Yeah right. First off, I don't have a candidate in the race. I do how ever have a target in the race, and that target is Warren C Stracener. It is my goal to educate the voters as to his lies and misleading information he dispenses daily. You may think your man is honest and upstanding, I would invite you to visit our web site where you can find a wealth of information, and video's. Stracener has now told so many lies he has to lie more to keep up. That's pathological. Ask yourself a question, why are there only two of the judges in this county supporting him? In the past all the judges stand behind the "incumbent". Another question, why are the majority of procecutors, several defense attorney's, some court clerks not supporting stracener? As a matter of fact, not one court clerk in this county supports him. When a sitting judge of Doug Phimister's caliber speaks out as to Straceners inabilities and deficiencies to handle the job, people listen.

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  • Angels AwareMay 29, 2012 - 8:31 pm

    As I said before Chuck there is no truth to your website. It is malicious lies and videos have been doctored. You take things that are said and twist and turn them to mislead the public. It is not Judge Stracener doing the misleading but you. Judge Stracener has the most experience, is the most qualified and has the best list of people endorsing him than the other two candidates.

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  • ShaunMay 29, 2012 - 8:42 pm

    The Secretary of State's official campaign records prove your smear website is run by a Hoffman supporter despite all your contentions that you guys have no dog in the fight. Although you had enough foresight to shield your endorsement of Hoffman, your website's co-runner didn't. The government records reveal that John Bailey, Manager of Gold Country Bail Bonds, made a $100 donation to the Hoffman campaign on May 4, 2012. Tell the world the truth, Chuck, you're not doing all this for some altruistic purpose; you and your partner are throwing mud all over the place, not caring who it hits, with one goal in sight. See for yourself: http://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/Campaign/Committees/Detail.aspx?id=1344214&session=2011&view=received

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  • bunchocrapMay 29, 2012 - 9:19 pm

    Everyone! Read the Chartraw documents! It is all there. What I read in the Mountain Democrat is amazing to me and it is totally amazing what Phimister says and how much ink the paper gives him. He attacks Stracener on how many cases he has heard? 600 or a thousand it is a heck of a lot more than Hoffman. Hoffman is a family law specialist! Look at who backs him! Almost all the local family law lawyers, Phimister AND THE COURT CLERKS??? Ouch! Good luck getting a fair divorce in this county! Then lets take a look at Mr. Hoffman and this little ditty he seems to have himself in....do we want a judge in our county who MAY end up in court defending himself as a criminal?! Hmmmm, exagerate a number or be a crook....gee which one do you pick? Hoffman is a baby and yes a dear in the headlights....not too well spoken and definately in "groom" mode. Wonder what kind of deals he will have to make as a judge for all the attorneys who back him in his bid for judge?

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  • Chuck HollandMay 29, 2012 - 9:29 pm

    Well Shaun, first off John Bailey doesn't manage Gold Country Bail Bonds, he manages a different business entity of mine.Second off, John is free to contribute to anybodies campaign he wishes. I've made no bones about attending fund raisers for both candidates. ( well the honest ones) If I don't show up in their reporting's (460's) I would have to assume I have yet to spend in excess of $99.00. A $100.00 is hardly what I consider enough to show any financial support. Nice try though. So tell us Shaun, did Warren really spend $695.20 on a private investigator to uncover a $100.00 contribution? (C.P. Hayes Investigations) That's a sad desperate candidate you have there. Lets talk about campaign contribution deception, on 5-24-10 Stracener received a $1499.00 contribution from SERRANO ASSOCIATES, LLC. $1.00 shy of having to recuse himself for their litigation in our courts. Stracener is not only misleading and deceptive, but for sale now? Sinking pretty low.

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  • ShaunMay 29, 2012 - 11:31 pm

    I'll take it as a compliment that you think I am a private investigator. Funny enough, it was the link to the Secretary of State's website you posted on your smear website that led me to the information. I didn't even know you could access this information there. But in just minutes, there was John Bailey's campaign contribution. I don't pretend to know what Judge Stracener spends his money on and I certainly don't guess. I make sure to base all my information on facts I find (the records indicate John Bailey identified himself as the Manager - that wasn't my guess). The facts I did find indicate you and your cohort are being less than truthful about your website's true agenda.

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