Mlnarik Accused of Breaking Campaign Law, Benefiting from Shadow Consultant

Since his unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Santa Clara City Council last year, attorney John Mlnarik has been on the legal warpath. To date, Mlnarik has sued: a couple whose diminutive dog allegedly nipped him on the hand while he was campaigning; blogger and political operative James Rowen for defamation; and a former employee, attorney Elena Rivkin Franz, who supposedly misused company resources to start her own firm and steal clients. The last two targets on that list are fighting back, however, and the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC)—the state political watchdog—could have an interest in their allegations. In a cross-complaint going to court Thursday, Franz claims that Mlnarik not only engaged in gender discrimination but that he also forced staff at his firm, Mlnarik Law Group, to walk precincts. Franz says Mlnarik’s firm even created a separate billing code for campaign work. When she voiced ethical concerns, Franz claims, her pay was docked and she was told to work from home to be closer to her young children. Shortly thereafter, she resigned. But this isn’t the only allegation of Mlnarik paying campaign staff off the books. Rowen, whom Mlnarik is suing for $390,000, told Fly that the attorney gave him envelopes of cash to do his bidding—a violation of campaign law. The eccentric author of Mission City Lantern of adds that he would take a lie detector test to prove it. Mlnarik did not respond for comment. Raising even more alarms, multiple sources in Santa Clara politics tell Fly that labor-aligned political consultant Ed McGovern worked on Mlnarik and Santa Clara Councilmember Debi Davis’ campaigns, but disclosure forms for both show McGovern was never officially paid a dime. Santa Clara’s campaign expenditure limit caps at $36,800, leaving little room for paid advisors—at least officially. Mlnarik did not return a call for comment. As previously noted, McGovern has worked free of charge under questionable circumstances before—such as when he pro-bono’d San Jose Councilman Xavier Campos’ campaign in 2010 while billing Assemblysister Nora Campos $45K. One associate of McGovern’s who definitely did work on Mlnarik’s campaign is Kevin Moore, a former vice mayor of Santa Clara. Moore volunteered for Mlnarik’s camp to walk precincts and gave him a glowing endorsement but the two apparently had a falling out.

The Fly is the valley’s longest running political column, written by Metro Silicon Valley staff, to provide a behind-the-scenes look at local politics. Fly accepts anonymous tips.


  1. James Rowen should not be used as a source of information by San Jose Inside. 

    After the excellent reporting on the George Shirakawa issues, why would SJI stoop so low as to print what James Rowen says, apparently without any proof?  He’s willing to take a lie detector test?  That’s meaningless when he has, for many years, cyberbullied, harassed, and written lies on his blog about so many people here in Santa Clara.

    By the way, FPPC 460 forms (City of Santa Clara’s website) show that James Rowen worked for competing council candidates Debi Davis and Mohammed Nadeem last fall.

  2. The website for the Santa Clara County Superior Court reports that in the case of John Mlnarik suing James Rowen for defamation, John Mlnarik has won.
    From the Superior Court website:
    “total judgment: $401,048.57; signed by Judge Manoukian

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