The Del Norte County Grand Jury should investigate the county's District Attorney's Office to determine how many employees have had charges dismissed by their colleagues.
Earlier this month, Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Olson asked that a $158 speeding ticket issued to Deputy District Attorney W. Jon Quinlan be dismissed. Fortunately, Del Norte County Judge Robert Weir denied the request.
If Weir hadn't, an employee of the district attorney's office would have received a free pass from a colleague in a clear conflict of interest. The job of the district attorney's office is to prosecute on behalf of the state, not to serve as judge.
The argument that filing the charge against a colleague also represents a conflict of interest is a red herring to say the least. When a district attorney's office employee is charged with any crime, no matter how minor, the duty falls to the state Attorney General's Office to handle prosecution.
What is most troubling about the request for a dismissal, however, are hints that this has occurred before. If so, it's a poor policy that needs to be changed. The grand jury is the proper venue for determining how widespread the practice might have been, then with that knowledge determining what specific corrective action needs to occur.
District Attorney Mike Riese, to his credit, has been critical of the dismissal from the start and is taking disciplinary action against the employees involved. "This is something that I take seriously," he told The Daily Triplicate on Tuesday. "We don't do this; we don't dismiss isolated speeding tickets."
No, we don't. A district attorney's office must follow the very laws it purports to uphold. Anything less, and its authority to perform that duty is undermined.
Anything less, and the very foundations of our justice system crumble.