SAN BERNARDINO - Councilman John Valdivia wrote a letter of "character witness" in a child custody case stamped with the city seal, which at minimum violates city codes.

Valdivia sent copies of the same letter to family law judges Raymond Haight III on Oct. 29 and Duke Rouse on Jan. 22.

"Without equivocation, (the man) is a fine example of being a father and I wholeheartedly agree that he is a man of integrity, character and committed caregiver," Valdivia concludes, reflecting the five-paragraph letter's general tone.

The letter and a faxed copy of it were received but not read, Rouse wrote in response.

"Both the (fax) and original versions are unauthorized ex-parte communications with the court which are not appropriate attempts to contact a judicial officer," Rouse wrote to Valdivia. "Please do not forward additional correspondence regarding this case."

Valdivia declined to comment.

City Attorney James F. Penman also said he had no comment on Valdivia specifically, but the inappropriateness of such actions generally was the subject of an oral report he gave the City Council on Monday.

Penman spoke about several hypothetical actions that council members should not take, then described a case that matched the particulars of Valdivia's without referring to him.

"You have really committed several serious violations of law," Penman said of that case. "First, you have interjected yourself in a private property dispute. More than that, you're abusing your office. It is an abuse of power for you as a council member to go beyond your role of the official business to influence who another business should hire or how a court should take into consideration your opinion."

Penman, still speaking generally, said he didn't want to prosecute any council member.

"I know all seven of you," he said. "I know none of you want to abuse your power."

San Bernardino's Municipal Code makes it an infraction to use the city's seal "for any private or personal purpose."

That carries a maximum fine of $100 for the first violation and $200 for the second violation within a year, according to the code.

In general, council members can mention their title if they don't use the city seal, but should beware of putting judges in a position of looking like they came to a ruling because a politician had weighed in, Penman said.

Court rules generally do not allow judges to communicate with one party in a lawsuit or that party's representative without including the other party.


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