In race to unseat attorney general, why rival Dave Jones says Becerra doesn’t belong in this courtroom

Democratic Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is in a tough spot in his campaign to become California’s next attorney general: His opponents include a fellow Democrat who enjoys the power of incumbency with the governor’s seal-of-approval, and a Republican who’s been endorsed by the state GOP.

Only two candidates running in the June 5 primary will advance to the general election, and under California’s election rules their party doesn’t matter. They just have to come in first or second place.

That’s the backdrop for a press conference Jones held today to accuse his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, of violating “the very law he is sworn to uphold.”

How? By filming campaign commercials inside a courthouse.

Jones contends the commercials violate a state law that prohibits government officials from using “public resources” in their political campaigns. He called on Becerra to pull the commercials off the air and appoint a special investigator to look into his claims.

Becerra’s spokesman said he would not stop running the ads, and his campaign manager lashed back by calling Jones’ attack “a desperate attempt to bring attention to himself.”

“The campaign applied for and obtained a permit from the California Film Commission to film at the courthouse by going through the same legal process that is available to everyone. (The law Jones cited) does not apply where a candidate uses a public forum that is available to anyone else on the same terms,” said a statement from Stephen J. Kaufman, Becerra’s campaign attorney, who called the claim “baseless.”

Regardless of whether it was a serious allegation or a publicity stunt, the announcement gave Jones a platform to highlight his own experience as a lawyer—and to point out that Becerra has spent more time in politics than in the legal trenches. Becerra, a 12-term congressman from Los Angeles, was appointed attorney general in 2016 by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown after then-Attorney General Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate.

“These campaign ads are an attempt to fill huge gaps in Mr. Becerra’s legal career by showing him in a courtroom,” Jones said of the ads that show scenes inside the historic Sacramento courthouse where the state Supreme Court sometimes meets.

“So Mr. Becerra takes one of the most well-known courtrooms in the state of California as a film set to show him in courtroom. How did I recognize that he used the Supreme Court courtroom for this film set for his commercial? Well, I’ve argued at least one appeal in this courtroom as a lawyer. And more recently I appeared as a litigant, as the insurance commissioner… So I’m very familiar with this courtroom.”

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