SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) - A federal judge balked at wading into politically choppy waters, as two candidates vying for the right to represent Silicon Valley in Congress dragged their acrimonious election fight into court.
U.S. District Judge Edward Davila urged U.S. Rep. Mike Honda and Ro Khanna, the man running to replace him, to come to an agreement regarding allegations that Khanna's campaign manager stole donor information from the Honda campaign while working for the congressman during a previous election cycle.
Honda was in court on Tuesday to bar Khanna from using emails and information Honda says his opponent gleaned illegally.
"I think you should meet and confer because some of the things you want are not far from what the other side indicated they were willing to do," Davila told Gautum Datta, an attorney for Honda's campaign.
Ultimately, both sides cinched an agreement as the 3 1/2-hour hearing stretched into the early evening.
Per the agreement, Khanna's campaign team will turn over its email list, which the Honda campaign can then cross-check with its own list. The agreement also stipulated the Khanna campaign won't use the roughly 418 names found on both lists and will disclose the process by which they obtained those names.
Both candidates attempted to spin the compromise as a victory for their side.
"I am really gratified that the process has put in place that will have Ro Khanna's campaign turn over all his email information to our attorney and the final agreement also says he can no longer pursue our donors," Honda told reporters outside the courtroom after the hearing concluded.
Honda said his campaign had a duty to protect his donors and their information from seizure by the opposing camp.
Khanna also held court outside the courtroom, saying that not only did no such seizure occur but the entire case amounted to a gambit undertaken by a desperate candidate hoping to distract voters from his own ethics problems.
"This whole thing is an abuse of the judicial process by Mike Honda," Khanna told reporters. "He's at the final days of his political career and he wants headlines."
Khanna attempted to explain the resignation of his campaign manager Brian Parvizshahi - within 6 hours of the time Honda sued - by saying Parvizshahi offered to resign so as not to become a distraction to the campaign.
He said Parvizshahi's resignation does not indicate any admission of impropriety, but instead was a strategic maneuver designed to put the focus back on the issues.
"When there was the slightest hint that we had taken data we took immediate action to assure the public we had not," Khanna said.
Honda's attorney Gautum Datta told reporters after the hearing that the evidence and statements in the pleadings indicate otherwise, and that Parvizshahi illegally accessed Dropbox folders maintained by Honda's campaign containing the names and private email addresses of thousands of the Democratic congressman's donors.
"Personal information of our supporters was compromised," he said. "It was illegally obtained and illegally disseminated."
Datta added that "we got what we wanted, the agreement will prevent the Khanna campaign from harassing our donors."
David Berger, attorney for Khanna, said the characterization that sending election-related emails to people asking for their vote amounts to harassment was meritless.
He said the Khanna campaign's willingness to turn over all material related to the supposed information theft was a demonstration of innocence and good faith.
This is the second go-around for Honda and Khanna, who faced off for the same congressional seat in 2014. Honda prevailed then, but Khanna has whittled the already slim margin of victory, actually prevailing in the June primary election.
However, that election only decided the top two candidates to run in November. As the next 30 days figure to be particularly combative, both candidates are attempting to use the lawsuit as demonstration of their fitness.
Khanna has been hammering Honda over alleged ethical violations. Honda is under investigation by a congressional committee, with the most serious accusations claiming he sold favors such as fast-tracking visas in exchange for political support.
Honda's lawsuit has been viewed by some as an attempt to show that Khanna himself is not free of some ethically questionable motivations and practices.
Davila said the agreement is better than a preliminary injunction and it ensures that if Khanna continues the practices claimed by Honda, they can come back with an agreement ratified by a federal court.
"If anyone misbehaves, we will be spending a lot more time with each other," Davila said.
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