Seaside: Police suspect Paul Sanford committed suicide
By JULIA REYNOLDS
Herald Staff Writer
In what police describe as a “probable” suicide leap, a prominent Monterey Bay Area attorney fell at least nine floors to his death at the Embassy Suites Hotel Monterey Bay in Seaside the morning before Christmas.
Shortly before 9:30 a.m. Sunday, officers found the body of Aptos attorney Paul Sanford in the west end of the hotel lobby, where he had landed on a large ventilation grate.
Police Capt. Steve Cercone said horrified guests were eating breakfast in the atrium at the time, and a number of witnesses saw Sanford fall from somewhere between the 9th and 12th floors.
“I’m at a loss for words,” said Sanford’s friend and business associate, Monterey attorney Shawn Mills. “Paul really had his fingers in a lot of different pies. He was from the East Coast, and I used to call him our ‘West Coast Kennedy.'”
In addition to running his criminal defense practice in Capitola, Sanford was active in community organizations and hosted several independent radio shows in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
For several years, he was programs supervisor at the Volunteer Center in Santa Cruz and a teacher at the Monterey College of Law, where Mills said Sanford was an alumnus who mentored many students.
Sanford recently purchased his mother’s home in Pebble Beach, and Mills said his friend planned to retire there one day.
Sanford was also active in the national arena. He appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004 beside Elk Grove resident Michael Newdow when he argued unsuccessfully that the words “under God” should be stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance.
A passionate believer in “a dynamic Constitution,” Sanford always carried a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his pocket, Mills said.
“He was a champion of the downtrodden, he represented homeless people in Santa Cruz, and fought for free speech,” Mills said. “He did a run across America. You name it he’s done it. This is a real shock and a loss to the community.”
Mills said Sanford decided in recent years to add journalism to his many occupations.
Almost immediately, he caused a stir after he joined the White House Press Corps in 2005, making waves as the first reporter to ask then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan whether the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name might be considered an act of treason.
“There has been a lot of speculation concerning the meaning of the underlying statute and the grand jury investigation concerning Mr. Rove,” Sanford asked. “The question is, have the legal counsel to the White House or White House staff reviewed the statute in sufficient specificity to determine whether a violation of that statute would, in effect, constitute treason?”
McClellan was apparently flustered by the question and replied that “those are matters for those overseeing the investigation to decide.”
The White House incident sparked controversy after Beltway bloggers incorrectly described Sanford as a reporter for the Air America radio network. At the time, he was associated with Watsonville radio station KOMY, an Air America affiliate, and Sanford told reporters he never claimed to work for Air America.
Sanford eventually filed suit against station owner Michael Zwerling after Zwerling was reported as saying Sanford had not been authorized to represent the station as a reporter, a statement Sanford refuted.
Mills represented Sanford in that suit, which was scheduled to begin in Santa Cruz County Superior Court in February. Mills said he did not know if the case will continue after Sanford’s sudden death.
Although the dispute with Zwerling caused Sanford a great deal of stress at the time, Mills said his friend was feeling fine about it and believed he would soon be vindicated in court.
Sanford and Mills also have hosted the “Paul and Shawn Show” on Saturdays at Seaside radio station KRXA, where they covered last fall’s election and interviewed former Salinas mayor and now Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, Pacific Grove Mayor Dan Cort and others.
In 2002, Sanford inadvertently found himself at the center of a controversy in Santa Cruz County when his independent election fundraising was characterized in the Santa Cruz Sentinel as last-minute “developer” contributions on behalf of supervisor candidate Mark Primack. Primack lost to incumbent Mardi Wormhoudt by fewer than 600 votes.
Friends and associates expressed disbelief at the news of Sanford’s death and that it was ruled a suicide, saying Sanford seemed happy and had made many plans for this week and in coming months. Mills said he and Sanford recently decided to open a shared law office to serve Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, something Sanford was looking forward to doing.
He and Sanford spoke on the phone “around four or five times a day,” Mills said, and the two had just spoken on Thursday, “tweaking a marketing plan” for their new law practice before Mills went out of town for the Christmas holiday.
“I just don’t know what happened since Thursday. There was nothing on the horizon there to know this was going to happen,” Mills said. “We were going to get together this week.”
Mills said he had spoken to Sanford’s wife, Paula, and that she also was in shock. He said Sanford, a father of two, was a devoted family man.
“This is a horrible thing for his family. He would never have intentionally put his family through that trauma. Something’s not right, it doesn’t make sense.”
Police said that before Sanford fell, hotel housekeepers saw him pacing the hallway of an upper floor. Cercone said Sanford’s car was parked next to the hotel, and he was not checked in as a guest.
Police declined to state exactly why they ruled the case a suicide.
Mills said he and Sanford often met at Chili’s restaurant next to Embassy Suites Hotel Monterey Bay because the KRXA studio was nearby.
Mills said Sanford should be remembered for his volunteer work in the local community. “People don’t like to work for free, and Paul worked for ideology. He didn’t like the attention a lot. The attention he’s going to get now would upset him.”
Julia Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.