Subscribe

Why this Sebastopol lawyer is running as a write-in candidate in a recall election he doesn’t support

Although he opposes the recall effort against Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, attorney Omar Figueroa has thrown his hat in the ring as a write-in candidate should the effort succeed.

Figueroa, 50, is among the best-known cannabis lawyers in the region and has been a critic of Ravitch over the years in his defense practice.

Still, he said, he doesn’t support the recall effort spearheaded by wealthy developer Bill Gallaher, the sole financial backer of the attempt to remove the three-term DA from her job as top law enforcement officer in the county.

In fact, Figueroa has two large “No DA Recall” signs in front of his Sebastopol law offices.

Figueroa considers himself “a backup candidate,” he said this week after filing a petition with valid signatures of 20 Sonoma County registered voters and qualifying with the county registrar’s office.

No other candidates appear on the ballot, which was mailed to all Sonoma County voters last week. The ballot asks one question on the DA’s office — whether Ravitch should be recalled.

Because no candidates filed to replace Ravitch, if the effort succeeds, only a write-in candidate could receive votes.

So far, only Figueroa has qualified to be a write-in candidate, county registrar Deva Marie Proto said. The write-in candidate period remains open through Tuesday.

The election is Sept. 14 and ballots must be received by 8 p.m. that night or postmarked by that day and received at the registrar’s within seven days.

Figueroa said the recall “might succeed despite unified opposition from the legal community,” and that if it does, voters should have a say in a replacement. If there were no qualified write-in candidates, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors would appoint a replacement to fill the remainder of Ravitch’s current term.

Ravitch announced last October that she was planning to retire at the end of her third four-year term, which ends next year.

“There’s got to be a progressive choice for the chief justice officer for Sonoma County,” Figueroa said. “My goals would be to clean up the Sonoma County DA’s office, prosecute dirty cops, protect our environment from polluters and institute reforms, particularly with search warrant transparency.”

Born in Mexico, Figueroa is a naturalized citizen who grew up in Southern California. He graduated from Yale University as a philosophy major and completed law school at Stanford University. He counts legendary defense attorney Tony Serra as his mentor.

He has found a niche in cannabis law and has written a series of books documenting the evolution of California laws governing marijuana use and cultivation.

Ravitch said she is pleased that Figueroa opposes the recall effort, enough that he asked for bigger signs to display at his office this week.

“I’ve spoken with Omar and I very much appreciate his support of the No DA Recall campaign,” she said. “He has been an outspoken opponent of the recall.

“My hope is that voters vote no to send a strong message to the one person who is funding this mean-spirited campaign that has turned personal against me.”

Figueroa has clashed with Ravitch over marijuana and other criminal prosecutions, but called Gallaher’s effort misguided.

“I’m an ardent critic of Jill Ravitch, but I still oppose the recall,” he said, “because it’s funded by a single individual who’s basically trying to throw his weight around.”

Gallaher has spent more than $1.6 million to unseat Ravitch, including $536,000 he added last week. He is the singular donor to the recall effort, according to campaign finance disclosures.

Gallaher targeted Ravitch’s job after her office sued one of his companies, Oakmont Senior Living, when the staff abandoned nearly 100 frail, elderly residents at two Fountaingrove senior homes during the 2017 Tubbs fire as flames bore down on the facilities.

Family members and police rushed to rescue the residents, evacuating them on city buses. Villa Capri, which includes a memory care unit for people with conditions including dementia and Alzheimer's, burned to the ground and Varenna was damaged during the wildfire disaster.

Gallaher-owned companies paid $500,000 to settle the lawsuit in 2020. He and his daughter, Molly Gallaher Flater, launched the recall effort nearly two months later.

The plight of those Santa Rosa seniors led to a new state law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 that increased civil penalties for caregivers who abandon elders during emergencies.

Gallaher’s recall effort has accused Ravitch of corrupt hiring practices and a failure to disclose conviction rates. Ravitch has denied those accusations and countered that Gallaher is simply vengeful after he and his company were called out for leaving the elderly residents on their own during the deadly fire.

Last week, Gallaher funded a radio and social media ad and campaign mailer that falsely suggested Ravitch improperly intervened on behalf of her brother in a 2015 fatal crash of his best friend in Napa County. Ravitch had nothing to do with the case, Napa officials said.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

Lori A. Carter

 Sonoma County courts and Rohnert Park, The Press Democrat

Local journalism is vital to a community's wellbeing, and that means keeping an eye on what happens in our justice system and our communities. I cover Sonoma County courts, as well as the city of Rohnert Park. In my work, I want to share the stories that affect our daily lives and, yes, maybe even rile us up. 

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette