FPPC Investigates County Bar Association President-Elect John Mlnarik

Last month Fly delved into the litigious world of John Mlnarik, a local attorney and former candidate for a seat on the Santa Clara City Council. Mlnarik had open lawsuits against three four separate parties connected to his abysmal 2012 campaign, and an interesting countersuit coming back his way. Elena Rivkin Franz, a former employee of Mlnarik’s, accused him of using staff and resources from his law firm—Mlnarik Law Group—to walk precincts during the race. He also allegedly created an internal billing code to track this work while promising employees they would be reimbursed in bonuses for their time canvassing as well as in exchange for campaign contributions. All of these claims would be major violations of state campaign law. (It’s worth noting that Mlnarik had previously filed a lawsuit against Franz for using company resources to launch her own firm.) Fly did a little digging and found that the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has had an open investigation into Mlnarik’s campaign since September. The few people named as witnesses in the complaint wouldn’t talk to Fly, and that could be due to Mlnarik’s penchant for punitive action—or the fact that most of them still work for Mlnarik. (Photos of Franz as part of the “Mlnarik Team” remain on the law firm’s website.) The cagey counselor, who believe it or not is the president-elect for the Santa Clara County Bar Association, is starting to turn around his losing streak, though. He recently won his defamation lawsuit against James Rowen for a judgment of roughly $400,000. Rowen worked on Mlnarik’s campaign—for under-the-table cash, he claims—but things quickly soured, which is when Rowen took to his political attack blog, Mission City Lantern. Rowen says he missed an important court hearing due to health concerns and a lack of interest, forfeiting his right to contest the court decision. As part of the ruling, which is unlikely to actually result on any money changing hands, The Lantern has gone dark. Jim Erickson, an attorney at Mlnarik Law Group, contacted San Jose Inside on Wednesday morning to say his boss would have no comment for this story.

The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.

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