Shortly after San Joaquin County District Attorney Ron Freitas was elected, the DA’s public information officer quit. She was replaced by Freitas’ campaign consultant, Lee Neves.

Is that proper? Neves isn’t double dipping. He’s filling in the PIO job while the county pays him to be Freitas’s “media consultant.” Perfectly acceptable, says Freitas.

“I have full faith in Lee’s ability to be impartial while performing duties of the Public Information Services Specialist …” Freitas said in a statement. “… He has indeed been nothing but above board and impartial.”

Neves says he is qualified, having for years run his political consultancy, CrossCurrents LLC.

“I have a background in speaking with the press,” Neves said. “I’ve done it with my clients, as (Assembly member Carlos) Villapudua’s chief of staff, I’ve done press releases, social media. I have a background on doing everything a PIO does.”

Yes … But. 

As political consultant to partisan candidates or elected officials, Neves represented his clients’ interests. That meant spinning or leaving out prejudicial information.

As spokesperson for the nonpartisan District Attorney’s Office, Neves represents the public’s interest. He must give out timely, accurate information about the District Attorney’s Office.

But he also represents Freitas. So he would seem tasked with dispensing information that is both impartial and favorable to Freitas. Is that even doable? Or a conflict of interest?

Lee Neves (Courtesy photo)

It can be both, said Keith Smith, an associate professor of political science at University of the Pacific. 

“It is not uncommon for campaign staff to be hired on to these kinds of positions,” Smith said. “In congress and the legislature this is standard operating procedure. County government is a little bit different — it’s supposed to be nonpartisan — but the basic maneuver is fairly standard.”

Standard, not to say ideal.

“There is the opportunity to overstep and act more like a campaign press person than an agency press person,” Smith said. “It’s something to watch out for.” 

John Pelissero, a senior scholar in government ethics at the Markula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, expressed a more skeptical view.

“Being a political consultant and being a public information officer are really two very different kinds of roles,” he said. 

Consequently, “The DA’s challenge to overcome is the possible perception that somebody who has been on an overtly political campaign could actually make a transition to effectively represent the interests of the public… It is the appearance of something that doesn’t quite seem or look right that can undermine trust in the district attorney or the District Attorney’s Office.”

I lobbed three hardballs at Neves to see if he’d hit them or swing and miss.

First: One of the charges against former Stockton police Sgt. Nicholas Bloed, who is charged with over a dozen counts of sexual assault and other crimes, was dropped. Was it done in the interests of justice? Or because police pressured the DA? 

Neves: “Count 13 relates to Victim 4. Count 13 was dismissed because count 13 and count 14 … represented the same criminal act charged under different penal code violations. Upon review of the evidence and charges, count 14 (PC 502 © (3)) best fit the facts.”

Second: Based on the DA’s Instagram account, Freitas spends quite a lot of time out of the office, schmoozing, taking selfies at ribbon cuttings, posing with women’s soccer teams, and the like. How does he find time to do his job?

Neves: “Most of the time his selfies are either close to 5 pm or after 5 pm, usually after hours. Here’s a guy who after work is done in the office will go out to events as the district attorney, which is part and parcel of any official’s job. It’s after five or before 9 a.m.”

Third: Freitas’s campaign bought a $2,000 ad with the disreputable 209 Times and won its endorsement. Shouldn’t a lawman avoid such checkered characters?

Neves: “We advertised with them because they have a lot of eyeballs.”

Okay, but must Freitas associate with them? A video exposé circulating about 209 Times writer Frank Gayaldo includes a buddy-buddy photo of Gayaldo posing with the DA. 

Neves: “They were photographed at his swearing in where he took a photograph with everybody.”

Neves’ contract runs at least one year. 

Michael Fitzgerald is an investigative news columnist for Stocktonia. His column usually runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. email:

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  1. So you asked ‘hardball’ questions but where’s the follow up as to whether those were justifiable answers?
    As to question 1, the DA’s office regularly charges multiple penal code violations for the same conduct, it’s called charging in the alternative.
    As to question 2, that is a ludicrous claim that could be easily fact checked.

    Also, why not ask how much money the county has spent slapping Freitas’ name on everything? He took down the county signage in front of the DA’s office to put his name front and center.

  2. First it was Kevin Lincoln — now Ron Freitas! If I’m not mistaken both of these elected officials have very strong ties with, and may have even employed representative of 209 Times. This needs to be investigated!

  3. Why did so many longtime DA folk retire or leave when he was elected? Why was the Office of Political Integrity gutted? Why have the 209 Times never written a negative word about Ron? Does Ron still pay the 209 Times $500 a month for positive news coverage, besides the $2,000 for “political consulting?”

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