More reporters than protesters at Hunter arraignment, incumbent still leads election polls

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The numbers are in: 20 protesters, six police officers, more than 60 journalists, one freshly sworn in American citizen and two political candidates running in the 50th district of San Diego. These parties, besides the legal teams, showed up for GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter’s court arraignment on August 28, 2018.

Press gathered in front of the Edward J. Schwartz U.S. District Court located in downtown San Diego since before 8:00 a.m. to reserve space to photograph the congressman’s appearance in front of a federal judge.

The numbers are in: 20 protesters, six police officers, more than 60 journalists, one freshly sworn in American citizen and two political candidates running in the 50th district of San Diego. These parties, besides the legal teams, showed up for GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter’s court arraignment on August 28, 2018.

Press gathered in front of the Edward J. Schwartz U.S. District Court located in downtown San Diego since before 8:00 a.m. to reserve space to photograph the congressman’s appearance in front of a federal judge.

The court procedures were scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m.

Hunter (R-Alpine) and his wife, Margaret, were indicted days before on 60 counts including wire fraud, campaign finance violation and falsifying records, among others.

By 9:00 a.m., about a dozen camera people and reporters started installing their video equipment, with four police officers across the plaza chatting away affably, keeping an eye on everybody. A handful of protesters took over one of the picnic tables, spreading colorful, hand crafted signs and banners calling out Hunter for his alleged crimes.

Benjamin Martinez, a San Diego resident, stands out among the quiet protesters with his cheerful mood, eager to share the good news: “Yesterday, I became a United States citizen, I took the oath and what makes this country great is our First Amendment right to be here, to film and to bring awareness.”

Unpacking a brand-new hair band with attached pink bunny ears, Martinez placed it on his head.

“The gentleman spent money to fly a pet bunny from California all the way to Washington,” Martinez said. “The callousness of that is absolutely insane. That’s why I wear the bunny ears, and the fact that I don’t have any hair.”

Martinez said he is not inclined to demand Hunter’s resignation and is content to wait for the court’s decision.

Carol Landale, also a San Diegan, carried a sign with Hunger’s image being blinded by raining paper dollars under a bold headline, “Ethics Matter.”

“I am here because Duncan Hunter is a crook and we need to get crooks out of office,” said Landale, who is representing the San Diego group for Gun Violence Prevention and accuses Hunter of accepting money from the NRA.

Living in a different district in San Diego, Dr. Thomas Becker said, “I am here because, in my opinion Duncan Hunter is a criminal and should immediately resign.”

Alan Geraci, a constituent of the 50thCongressional District and a candidate for the 75th Assembly District, said he has decided to show his support for the justice system.

“We want to hear a full explanation to why he believes he’s not guilty,” Geraci said. “I believe he should resign. That would be the honorable thing to do.”

A few protesters are taking positions, holding two big banners in handwritten fonts “Flip Congress 2018” and “Indivisible,” with the American flag in between. Some of the protesters are interviewing live with local TV stations. Nobody is allowed to enter the courthouse with a camera, so very few journalists are going in. By this time, there are at least 60 reporters clustered on both sides of the building waiting for the Hunter couple to show up.

The almost idyllic scene of people casually lounging around cups of coffee having friendly conversations is suddenly interrupted by loud noises. The narrow access alley to the building is simply under assault by dozens of cameramen pushing, shoving and yelling. The protesters are grabbing their signs, alerting everybody, “It’s him, he’s here, Hunter is here!”

It is 9:45 a.m. when a black SUV pulls at the curb and Congressman Hunter gets out and looks around confused at the angry people chanting, “Resign,” “Shame” and “Lock him up.”

A KPBS reporter is asking him “How is your day going?” and Hunter answers calmly, “It’s going good.”

As he tries to make it through the courthouse doors, a woman holding a cell phone to his face is chanting, “Resign! Resign!” The security personnel is pushing the reporters back, “You can’t film inside here, no cameras at the windows!” 

Left without the main target, the videographers turn their camera toward the protesters who gained steam, led by newly sworn in American citizen Martinez, beating the rhythm on a huge drum.

A new commotion starts right after 10:15 a.m. on the other side of the building when Margaret Hunter comes in, all in black and business casual, high ponytail and sunglasses. This time, the reporters are convinced they have the right person in the viewfinders. Hunter is not answering any questions.

The waiting game has started, and it is going to last for few hours. In the meantime, the reporters who made it inside are texting updates to the ones waiting outside about Rep. Hunter waiting on the hallway for his case to come in front of Judge William V. Gallo and how his wife walked rights past him without a word.

A reporter shares that the couple sat separately in court, without communicating, and each brought their own attorneys. After another hour, Kathy Stadler, organizer of the protest, announces out loud both Hunters pleaded not-guilty and the judge set bail at $15,000 for Duncan and $10,000 for Margaret.

Rori Devine from NBC 7 is hunting for inside information from Ed Lenderman with KUSI.

“Are you live yet?”

“Not yet, practicing.”

“How much was the bail?”

“15. One five.”

Two newspaper reporters are debating if this is the biggest political scandal in San Diego, “even bigger than Filner. I’ve never seen so much media. I can’t believe it.”

The media people are climbing up the walls of the water fountain now, camera ready for when Rep. Hunter is coming out, which should happen any minute now.

His political rival is showing up first though, conversing with protesters. Ammar Campa-Najjar is running for Congress in CA’s 50th district against Hunter in November and tells the press he does not think Hunter is going to resign because he “obviously has a track record of not making wise decisions.”

Shortly after, Hunter comes outside, taking everything in very calmly, most likely the only calm person in the plaza at this moment.

Hunter climbs into his car while people chant “Shame.” Hunter’s attorney, Greg Vega, stays behind to give statements to the press. “We are hoping the public will keep an open mind until we will have an opportunity to respond in a court of law, not the court of public opinion,” said Vega.

Margaret Hunter left the courthouse using a different exit route and a separate car.

As of the end of the week, Hunter has been removed from all his House’s committees.

On Monday, Hunter was still leading Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar by seven points, according to a recent SurveyUSA Election Poll conducted for KGTV-TV and the Union-Tribune.

The same survey shows that in CA-50, Republicans stick by GOP’s Duncan Hunter, see the indictment as politically motivated, would prefer any other Republican to Hunter but will vote for Hunter if he decides to continue pushing for re-election rather than vote Democrat.”

Both Hunters are expected back in court for hearings on September 4, at 9:00 a.m.

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