Legislator’s “agitated” behavior prompts election worker to hit panic button

A Democratic assemblyman became so verbally abusive toward Secretary of State workers this spring that one of them pressed a “panic button,” drawing security officers who escorted the legislator out of the building, according to records released to CALmatters in response to a California Public Records Act request.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in which he described Assemblyman Ed Chau of Monterey Park as having become “alarmingly irate in front of several staff.”

“Despite several attempts by staff to calm him, he lost his composure,” Padilla wrote to Rendon on March 13. “Assemblymember Chau raised his voice and spoke to the staff in a highly aggressive and demeaning tone, at times leaning over the counter and raising his hands at staff while berating them.”

A security staff report on the March 8 incident quotes one of the workers as describing Chau’s “aggressive confrontational manner” toward a woman working at the Elections Division counter in the Secretary of State’s Sacramento headquarters.

“Mr. Chau remained rude, condescending and agitated, so I put a call into security. They did not arrive after several minutes so I pushed the front counter button,” the worker’s statement says.

Chau was upset at the ballot designation of his main Republican opponent, Burton Brink. Brink, who retired last year after 29 years a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, describes himself in a ballot designation as a “retired sheriff’s sergeant.” He calls himself “Crimefighter Burton” in campaign finance filings.

“That’s funny,” Brink said in a phone interview when informed of Chau’s complaint. “That’s what I was until two days before I filed to run for the Assembly.”

Chau, who had not seen Padilla’s letter until shown it by CALmatters, said today that he went to the office to get information about Brink’s use of the word “retired,” believing it might not have been permitted by law, and became frustrated at the response. 

“There was no intention to offend anyone,” he said, adding that it was a “miscommunication or misunderstanding.”

“They said I raised my voice. I might have. I don’t recall,” Chau said. He does recall asking: “Is this the treatment I get from the Secretary of State?”

Chau is a 60-year-old attorney who was first elected to the Assembly in 2012. He received 69 percent of the June primary vote to Brink’s 31 percent in a heavily Democratic district east of Los Angeles.

In his most recent campaign finance statement, Brink had less than $16,000 in his campaign account and hasn’t reported receiving a donation since May 8. Chau had $175,000 in his account.

Chau gained attention last month when he helped author legislation to provide Californians with greater protection over their personal information. The legislation averted a war over a privacy initiative funded by San Francisco developer and privacy advocate Alastair Mactaggart.

Rendon answered Padilla by writing that he had spoken to Chau and that such an incident wouldn’t happen again. The Speaker asked that Padilla extend his apologies to the staff.

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