Steve Hummel, owner of Paradox Technology Inc. – the company that the Williams Unified School District paid more than $25,000 to investigate alleged ethics violations by Williams Unified School Board Trustee Rosa Elia Orozco-Lopez – suggested in late May that a story published by the Pioneer Review failed to “report all sides of an issue, and let the readers decide for themselves.”
Hummel stopped by the Pioneer Review’s office on Thursday, May 31, to voice his concerns over the article “Paradox Technology has experience with explosive school board-initiated investigations,” published on May 30, and agreed to sit down for an interview.
“To me, the article I just finished reading, essentially appeared to paint the picture that the people that I interviewed in Williams claimed that I had misrepresented what they said, and that people in other interviews, in other cases that I did, had the same opinion,”
Hummel said. “Yet, the two people that you quoted were the two people that were accused of whatever it was that I was investigating. So, my question for you would be, how many convicted people disagreed, or thought that the jury got it wrong?”
Hummel pointed to the other investigations referenced in the prior article – one related to former Hayward Unified School District Superintendent Stan Dobbs, the other to former El Rancho High School teacher Gregory Salcido – and claimed that the Pioneer Review failed to report on them in their entirety.
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and I’ve never had a single complaint filed. What does that tell you?” Hummel said. “I get into some pretty controversial things. You say Mr. Dobbs did not agree with my report, and you say that he says, ‘What does somebody having an affair have to do with it?’ It was a school employee that he was the manager of – of course it has to do with him as a superintendent. And as far as Mr. Salcido, again, you’re telling me that the guy who got fired for doing – don’t take my word for it. Look online and watch the video. Judge for yourself.”
This publication reported that three of the individuals interviewed in the course of Hummel’s WUSD investigation – who he described as a part of a “witch-hunt by disenchanted former Board members and parents that wanted to manipulate the system by forcibly removing sitting Board members and replace them with ones that would vote their way” – felt that the investigator had misrepresented or twisted their statements to fit his agenda.
“I wanted to make myself available… because there is no agenda,” Hummel said. “There’s just my opinion, you know, after I did my investigation.”
Hummel said that the three individuals who made those claims to the Pioneer Review, similar to Dobbs and Salcido, had “a motive for the opinion that they gave” relating to the accuracy of his report.
“I’m not going to get very specific, other than to simply say, that each person – and this isn’t just in Williams – but each person, generally within any conflict, has their own side and their own agenda, and they do things for their own reasons,” Hummel said. “And so when I interview people, and I come to understand what that reason or motivation is, I’m not worried about saying that in my report and sometimes, when people have a motivation, and they do things behind the scenes, they’re not so happy about having those motivations come to light. And human nature dictates that sometimes people will deny having said something.”
Hummel said that, in all but one of his interviews, he had been granted permission to record them. When asked whether he would consider making those recordings, or transcripts of those recordings available to the Pioneer Review to address the claims that certain statements were misrepresented, he indicated that he likely would not, even if requested to do so by the Williams Unified School District.
“In any case like this, my recordings and my notes are my property,” Hummel said. “They are not delivered to, nor will they ever be delivered to the client, including the school district.”
Hummel added that the forum for releasing those recordings, which he described as his work product, would be the courtroom.
“And when this case comes to a criminal trial, which it seems destined, I would absolutely make my recordings available to the court,” Hummel said.
Orozco-Lopez’s preliminary hearing was scheduled for Friday, at which point her defense attorney, Daniel Olmos, filed a motion to disqualify the District Attorney’s office from prosecuting the case. Hummel’s report was the only exhibit attached to the motion, and was referenced heavily. Hummel filed a declaration in support of the defense’s motion to disqualify the prosecuting attorneys, declaring under penalty of perjury that his report was “true and correct to the best of (his) knowledge”
“As to the matters declared on information and belief, I believe them to be true,” Hummel wrote in the declaration, which was executed on June 27.
When asked during the interview with the Pioneer Review on May 31, Hummel said that he was not hired by the school district to conduct an investigation for the specific purpose of exonerating Orozco-Lopez. He also said that he had never worked with, nor provided investigative services for either of Orozco-Lopez’s attorneys.
“No, I have never,” Hummel told the Pioneer Review on May 31. “I have never met them.”
When asked about character judgments he made in his report, Hummel reiterated what he had previously stated in the report itself: that it was “unusual for (him) to go to those lengths” but he felt that it was warranted in this situation.
“I don’t have a horse in the race,” Hummel said. “But when I see a miscarriage of power and authority that appears to be way past the bullying line, it ruffles my feathers… I believe that the people I spoke about in my report have gone out of their way to use the system for their own purposes… I believe bullying has occurred, and I felt a need to report that this is what’s going on.”
Hummel’s report contained a number of explosive allegations, a number of which concerned the Colusa County District Attorney’s Office: Hummel called District Attorney Matthew Beauchamp’s own legal residency into question, claimed that Beauchamp had, while in private practice, represented Orozco-Lopez to defend one of her sons “and was fired by Ms. Lopez for failing to meet her expectations.” He also stated that “the Chief Deputy District Attorney’s wife is an elementary school teacher in the Williams Unified School District and a member of the teachers’ union that is up in arms against the Superintendent and Board.”
In the sworn statement filed with the court on last week, as part of the defense’s motion to disqualify the prosecuting attorneys, Hummel made one amendment to his report: “A fact discovered after my report was published is that the wife of the Chief Deputy DA, was a teacher in the Williams Unified School District during the 2017-2018 school year, but due to her temporary status was not required to join the union.”
Beauchamp denies any bias
Beauchamp has previously denied the insinuation that there was any hidden motive behind his office’s investigation, stating that the public integrity investigation of Orozco-Lopez was initiated under his predecessor, based on citizen complaints and a Grand Jury investigation and “not as the result of any animus towards Ms. Orozco Lopez.”
Hummel firmly rejected the notion that his report constituted an attack on Colusa County District Attorney Matthew Beauchamp, and said that he included the reference to Beauchamp’s residency merely to provide context, geared at helping the public understand what it means to have a legal residence in California. In his report, Hummel claimed Beauchamp’s wife lives at a home they own in Penn Valley where she, Beauchamp, and their family have lived since 2000. He stated that Beauchamp purchased a second house in Colusa in Feb. 2013, and that during his three week investigation, Beauchamp “lived at the Penn Valley house for days at a time.” On weekdays, Hummel continued, Beauchamp would leave Penn Valley at around 5 AM, and drive to his Colusa house, where he would arrive about an hour and 15 minutes later and park in the garage. Hummel said that Beauchamp would spend a little over an hour inside before leaving for his office at the Colusa County District Attorney’s Office. Hummel stated that, because Beauchamp had declared his Colusa home his legal residence, his domicile, and has other evidence of his intent to make the Colusa house his permanent home, he met the legal standard for legal residency in Colusa County.
“I think I said very clearly in my report is that what, in my opinion, the district attorney is doing, is exactly the same as what Rosa Orozco is doing,” Hummel said. “If you take the four documents she’s being charged with for perjury, and lay them right next to the four documents that he himself has signed, they are identical. And the behavior is identical, or at least very similar. And my point in the report, is to help explain to the public what it means to use the word legal residence. It is not a report on the behavior of either person.”
Prior to last week’s preliminary hearing, Beauchamp stated that his residency is not at issue in the case against Orozco-Lopez, but noted that his residency had been vetted by Colusa County Counsel and the Board of Supervisors prior to his being appointed, and that their comparing their respective residency situations was comparing “apples and oranges.”
“She’s pretending to live with her father in Williams when she in fact lives in Yuba City, and you’ll find all that out when you go to the preliminary hearing,” Beauchamp said. “The short answer is, I live here. I actually have a home that I own outright, and all of my business and other associations are in Colusa.”
County Counsel Marcos Kropf said in an email on Monday, June 25, that “On October 18, 2016, the Board appointed Matt Beauchamp to fill the unexpired term of the District Attorney. The Board made the appointment on the recommendation of the Board’s Ad hoc Committee. Matt provided a written application for the position and interviewed with the Committee. The Committee found that Matt was qualified for the position which included meeting the requirement under California Government Code section 24001, that he be a registered voter in the County when appointed.”
That section of the Government Code states that “a person is not eligible to a county or district office, unless he or she is a registered voter of the county or district in which the duties of the office are to be exercised at the time that nomination papers are issued to the person or at the time of the appointment of the person.” It adds that the Board of Supervisors, if it finds that the best interests of the county will be served, may waive the requirements of the section for an appointed county office. The Board found, however, that Beauchamp met the requirements because he was a registered voter in the County – but they did not, and were not required to, vet his Colusa residence as his domicile for the purposes of his voter registration. Kropf said the Board had only to consider whether he was registered to vote in Colusa County.
Hummel justifies looking into Beauchamp’s residency
Hummel said that looking into Beauchamp’s residency was absolutely within the purview of his investigation into alleged ethics violations by Orozco-Lopez, noting that the ethics investigation would have never come up if felony charges were not filed against her, and that Beauchamp’s residency “was an example that could not be ignored.”
“He’s the one that chose the charges. He’s the one that got used as an example. Why doesn’t it flow logically just along the simple lines of that?” Hummel said.
Hummel indicated that he did not interview Beauchamp during his investigation, nor did he attempt to interview the district attorney.
“I wasn’t attacking or accusing him of any wrongdoing. I was simply using his life as an example,” Hummel said. “See, as far as I can tell, he’s a great guy, does great things. I have no dispute with that. I don’t know him. I don’t know the county. I just know that his family situation and residential situation is a mirror image of Ms. Orozco.”
Hummel said that he felt the District Attorney’s felony charges against Orozco-Lopez amounted to “dropping a nuclear bomb on an ant,” which was another reason he felt the need to investigate the motivation behind the charges.
“I mean, who does 13 search warrants, and spends hundreds, if not thousands of hours, and place tracking devices on multiple vehicles for years, on a case of this magnitude?” Hummel said. “Who does that? Is it a mismanagement of county funds? I’m not going to say that. I don’t know the details. I’m not investigating that. But it raises a question in my mind.”
Mary-Beth Moylan, an election law expert and the Associate Dean for Experiential Learning at McGeorge School of Law, said that felony charges “are unusual, but not unheard of.”
“District Attorneys, of course, do have the power to prosecute these violations of state law,” Moylan said.
Hummel said that following his investigation, it was his intention to say that he believed Orozco-Lopez should be exonerated.
“Absolutely my intention. I believe my reports,” Hummel said. “I write probably as many reports that say the subject of that the investigation is guilty of what they’re accused of, as I do they’re not. I frustrate some boards, I make some boards very happy, but I record my interviews, I review my interviews, I report on the things from the interviews that are germane to the investigation… I am very professional, and I’m very concerned about the truth. What I wrote, I wrote because I believe it. And I can tell you that the biggest problem that the people have with this is that there’s such a huge misunderstanding of what a legal residence is.”
According to Moylan, “a finding of domicile/residence is very factually specific” and requires a marriage of act and intent.
“In order to establish domicile or residence for the purposes of the Government Code, a person must have the intent to reside in the location indefinitely, and must take actions to show that intent,” Moylan said. “The Code section is 244 of the Government Code and sub-section (a) which is the general rule (that) says that a residence is ‘the place where one remains when not called elsewhere for labor or other special or temporary purpose, and to which he or she returns in seasons of repose.’”
Hummel, WUSD release redacted exhibits from investigation
Hummel did make a number of exhibits he used in his investigation available to the Pioneer Review – all but two of which he claims were at the house in Williams during the execution of the search warrant. Among those redacted exhibits were tax documents, invoices, receipts, and statements – all of which were either addressed to the same post office box that Orozco-Lopez listed as her mailing address on her election filing, or had her Williams address listed as her primary address. Of the exhibits Hummel provided, one – Orozco-Lopez’s Driver License Card Information Request dated May 3, 2018 – also listed her Yuba City residence as an “Other Address” as of April 18, 2014.
“Except for the DMV printout and voter forms, these items were in the Williams house in Ms. Orozco’s room the day of the search,” Hummel wrote in the email containing the exhibits.
When asked explicitly how he knew that the documents were at the residence at the time of the search (which was executed two weeks before his own investigation began), how he confirmed that this was the case, and how confident he was that the documents in question were at the home during the execution of the search warrant at the house, Hummel responded:
“The documents were gathered by Ms. Orozco while I sat at the kitchen table in Williams,” Hummel wrote. “She went into her room and returned with (them). We would talk and she would go get other documents responsive to more questions. This happened several times. She would let me see what I can find. They seemed to be filed in places she could easily access, and each document type I asked about, she retrieved and handed me.”