By Nicholas Grube
Triplicate staff writer
The prosecutor who recently attempted to dismiss a speeding ticket for a fellow employee says she did it because it was considered office policy.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Olson, the Del Norte District Attorney's Office second in charge, said she tried to dismiss a fellow attorney's $158 speeding ticket because that is what she was told to do according to policy laid out by her superior District Attorney Mike Riese.
"The short answer is it's office policy," Olson said. "Mike and I have had discussions in the past about how cases against D.A.s should be handled. During those discussions, Mike Riese made it perfectly clear that the only agency that could in fact file, or initiate, or prosecute cases against our employees is the Attorney General's office"
However, minor infractions, such as speeding and parking tickets, bypass the district attorney's office all together and go strait to the court for resolution.
"Once a case is in the system, it's the court's discretion on whether to dismiss or not dismiss (the case). Hence the reason why I filed a request for a dismissal," Olson said.
She said for the district attorney's office to refer felony and misdemeanor charges to an outside agency because of conflicts of interest and then not follow the same procedure for minor infractions would be unequitable.
"If we're not going to file (charges) on a felony because it's a conflict of interest and we're not going to file on a misdemeanor because it's a conflict of interest, then how are we going to file on an infraction and that not be a conflict of interest," Olson said.
Riese said Olson's policy interpretation was misguided since speeding tickets and other minor infractions don't pass through the district attorney's office.
"Policy is: If what (employees) do rises to criminal conduct, it gets forwarded to the Attorney General (for prosecution) and also the state bar," Riese said. "We don't have any involvement in an infraction. We don't see speeding tickets; they go straight to the court."
Because of this, he said, there was no reason for any involvement in the issue because his office does not exercise discretion with infractions.
"I'm angry that this is one isolated incident that didn't happen," he said, referring to Judge Robert Weir's denial of the dismissal request.
"All the good work that we do (as an office) is now hindered by one stupid event that had no reason to occur," Riese said. "Everything now is tarnished because of an isolated, one-time event."
The last time one of Riese's employees came through the court system, he said, was when one of his former investigators was arrested for two separate DUI incidents.
Riese said both times his office did not get involved with the prosecution and sent the cases to the Attorney General's Office for review and prosecution. The first DUI was not prosecuted, he said, but staff at Attorney General's Office assured him charges would come on the second.