Embattled Mendocino County DA Meredith Lintott was the top vote-getter in Tuesday’s primary, but she faces a tough run-off in the November election with challenger David Eyster and her re-election is far from certain.
Unlike the DA’s race, the voting outcome was clear in a closely watched race for a seat on the Mendocino County Superior Court bench.
Attorney Ann Moorman trounced challenger Caren Callahan by a 66-34 percent margin. A negative last-minute Callahan campaign attack on Moorman may have backfired, based on voting results county-wide.
Moorman, consistently ranked professionally as one of Northern California’s best attorneys, has a wide circle of support including judges, law enforcement groups and political leaders across the political spectrum.
In Lintott’s case, Tuesday's election results cast doubt about her ability to win in the November run-off.
While Lintott led in unofficial results with 38 percent of the votes cast in a three-way race, she was closely followed by Eyster and former county prosecutor Matt Finnegan.
In short more than 60 percent of county voters favored Eyster, who grabbed 32 percent of Tuesday’s vote, or Finnegan, who finished close behind with 30 percent.
That outcome doesn’t forebode well for Lintott.
She’s likely to have a hard time rallying Finnegan supporters to her side between now and November. Two years ago Lintott fired Finnegan as a deputy DA in a nasty office brouhaha that’s still having repercussions.
Yet Lintott is a scrappy political survivor, based on her tortuous run for DA four years ago.
Then Lintott challenged populist incumbent DA Norm Vroman, whose unexpected death early in their run-off campaign created a legal, financial and political quagmire. She eventually slogged through despite unexpected campaign costs, a stiff challenge from former Vroman protégé Keith Faulder and the withdrawal of endorsements from The Press Democrat and other former supporters.
Still Tuesday’s results suggest Lintott’s political career may be short-lived.
Lintott as DA has come under fire for being a poor administrator, and faces accusations that her prosecutorial performance has been propped up by Jill Ravitch, her chief deputy. Ravitch, a Santa Rosa resident, was elected Sonoma County District Attorney in Tuesday’s voting.
In addition, Lintott’s personal bankruptcy may hamper her ability to finance an effective campaign against Eyster in the November run-off.
Lintott and her husband filed for bankruptcy in early March, citing more than $1 million in debt despite a combined annual income of more than $200,000. Lintott has said part of her financial woes stemmed from her costly 2006 campaign for DA.
Eyster is expected to reach out to Finnegan and his supporters, as he did with former prosecutor Faulder early in his campaign.
A Finnegan endorsement could enhance Eyster’s chances in November, along with support from Faulder and former Vroman supporters.
In Mendocino County, there’s a long history of former DA prosecutors challenging their bosses.
Eyster is among them. A veteran prosecutor, Eyster was a chief prosecutor for former DA Susan Massini until they had a falling out that rocked the courthouse. Massini fired Eyster in a celebrated case that marked the turmoil during her tenure, and led to her eventual ouster by Vroman.
Finnegan was a popular prosecutor in Lintott’s office, but he too ran afoul of his boss and was fired. Finnegan challenged Lintott’s leadership, and the role prosecutor Ravitch, an outsider and Santa Rosa resident, played in the Mendocino office while she plotted her campaign to run for Sonoma County DA.
Finnegan took to calling Ravitch the “rat bitch,” according to testimony during a contentious civil service hearing into his firing. His dismissal was eventually upheld by an administrative law judge.