Candidate for CV City Council Misleads as ‘Legal Professional’
By Arturo Castañares
A candidate for the Chula Vista City Council refers to herself as a legal professional and to her legal practice even though she is not a licensed attorney, becoming the second recent candidate to embellish their background in hopes of gaining a political advantage in the county’s second-largest city.
Leticia Munguia claims she earned a law degree from Cooley Law School in Michigan, but she has not passed the California Bar exam to earn a law license in the state.
Munguia is one of five candidates running in Chula Vista’s District 3 which includes the southeastern portions of the City. The other candidates are Michael Inzunza, David Alcaraz, Daniel D. Rice-Vazquez, and Christos Korgan.
In 2021, Munguia ran in a special election to replace Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Weber when she was appointed to serve as California's Secretary of State. Munguia finished third with only 8.2% of the vote and did not continue to the runoff election.
Last month, Munguia posted social media messages touting her recent endorsement by the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association and said it meant a lot to her “as a legal professional” and was a testament to the passion she brings to her “legal practice”, giving the impression that she is an attorney or legal professional.
Munguia’s official campaign website describes her background as a community organizer, manager of a domestic violence program, and as an investigator in the public defenders’ office, but does not describe her as a lawyer.
But neither Munguia’s website nor her online LinkedIn profile show any past experience or certifications for doing work as a paralegal, lawyer, or other legal professional.
Munguia’s LinkedIn profile shows her current employment as “Human Resources Manager” at Sweetwater Authority, the local water agency that serves National City and Chula Vista. She began that job just two months ago.
Her online profile shows she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice Administration from San Diego State University and a Juris Doctor from Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan. Cooley is an independent law school that was affiliated with Western Michigan University between 2014 and 2020.
In California, it is a crime to engage in the unauthorized practice of law, and is also a crime to give legal advice even without compensation.
It is not clear when or where Munguia may have worked as a legal professional or had any sort of legal practice.
La Prensa San Diego scheduled two phone interviews with Munguia this week and sent her written questions asking about her legal background and work. Munguia did not connect on either call and did not respond with answers to the written questions.
Last year, Devonna Almagro applied to fill the vacancy in the same City Council district after then-Councilman Steve Padilla was elected to the California State Senate.
Almagro was one of 17 applicants who submitted written applications for the appointment process.
At the time, Almagro served as Communications Director for San Diego County Supervisor Nora Vargas.
During the application period, La Prensa San Diego reported that Almagro claimed to have a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of San Diego, but the University verified that she had never graduated.
Almagro had claimed the degree on her LinkedIn online profile, as well as on a resumé she attached to her City Council vacancy application signed under penalty of perjury.
After the news story, Almagro was still nominated for the vacancy by Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas, but Almagro did not receive more than two votes for the appointment.
The City Council’s remaining four members eventually appointed Alonso Gonzalez to fill the remainder of Padilla’s term which expires in December of this year. Under the City’s Charter, anyone appointed to serve the remainder of an unexpired term cannot run for election to the seat at the end of the term.
Munguia and the other four candidates for District 3 will appear on the March 5th Primary Election ballot. The two candidates with the most votes will face each other in the General Election in November.
County Supervisor Nora Vargas and Chula Vista City Councilman Jose Preciado are listed among Munguia’s political endorsements featured on her campaign website.
Six other candidates are running for election in the City’s District 4 which includes the southwestern areas of the Chula Vista.
Incumbent City Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas is seeking re-election and is being challenged by five opponents, including former Councilman Rudy Ramirez, Chula Vista Elementary School Boardmember Cesar Fernandez, Delfina Gonzalez, Christine Brady, and José Sarmiento.
Cardenas was indicted in November, along with her brother, Jesus Cardenas, on 12 felony criminal counts related to a COVID-era federal loan their company received, according to the indictment issued by San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. The charges detail that Councilwoman Cardenas used $32,000 of the COVID loan to pay down campaign debt from her 2020 election instead of using the money consistent with the pandemic recovery program.
The Cardenas siblings, who were charged together but retained separate attorneys, will be in court for a readiness hearing on February 20, and have a preliminary hearing schedule for March 13.