Table turns: DA is on trial

By Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate October 15, 2012 05:53 pm

Jon Alexander fights for his career in SF proceeding

Del Norte County District Attorney Jon Alexander  will begin the fight for his legal career Monday in San Francisco in the face of seven counts of misconduct alleged by the California State Bar.

 Alexander is the first elected DA to have disciplinary charges filed against him that State Bar officials can recall. If he is convicted, prosecutors have said they will seek to have him disbarred.

The trial is expected to last nine days with a majority of witnesses forced to make the trek to San Francisco after a change of venue motion to bring at least part of the trial to Del Norte was denied. Local defense attorneys, probation officers, an assistant DA, a deputy DA, a DA’s Office attorney investigator, judges, a sheriff’s detective and deputy and several private citizens are among the 45 witnesses expected to testify.

State Bar witnesses will be given lodging and meal money, but all of the witnesses for Alexander’s defense are paying their own way.

 

The likely impact on local criminal proceedings will be continuing hearings to later dates, Alexander said.

The proceeding will be a bench trial heard by State Bar Court Judge Lucy Armendariz, who will have 90 days after the conclusion of the trial to form a decision.

From the onset of filing disciplinary charges against Alexander in May, the Office of Chief Trial Counsel announced it would be seeking disbarment if Alexander if he is found guilty of the counts — an intention usually made public in pretrial statements filed close to the trial date. The Rules of Procedures of the Bar state if an attorney has a record of two prior Bar convictions, another conviction will result in disbarment “unless the most compelling mitigating circumstances clearly predominate.”

Alexander has had his bar license suspended twice since 2003.

Thirty-one witnesses are expected to testify, including local politicians, attorneys and business owners called to speak about Alexander’s character for mitigation purposes. In addition, 198 statements have been collected from people who will not be able to travel the distance to support Alexander.

The charges against Alexander include three counts of corruption, failure to perform with competence, suppressing evidence, communicating with a defendant and lending to an official, which all stem from three complaints.

Pretrial documents turned in by prosecutors and defense give an outline of their stances on each complaint and a brief summary of what witnesses are anticipated to say.

The first complaint revolves around a $14,000 loan given to Linda Sanford, a Del Norte County assistant chief probation officer, in 2009.

State Bar prosecutors contend the loan was unsecured and remains unpaid. Sanford has written probation reports about defendants Alexander had represented during his time as a public defender or prosecuted as a DA. 

The State Bar prosecutors state it is unclear how many probation reports she delivered in cases involving Alexander. 

Prosecutors claim the loan was never divulged to judges, Sanford’s supervisors or opposing counsel in the cases.

Assistant District Attorney Katie Micks will be called to testify that she was shocked about one of the reports Sanford wrote while Alexander was a public defender and suspected the report was a result of Sanford and Alexander’s close relationship, according to the prosecution. Micks is also expected to be called as a witness for Alexander regarding a different complaint.

Defense attorney Leroy Davies will be called to testify he was dissatisfied with a report Sanford had written, the prosecution said.

Del Norte Superior Court Judge William Follett and retired judge Robert Weir will be called to testify they were unaware of the loan and that it is a matter of concern to them.

Alexander’s attorney, Kurt Melchior, acknowledges the loan  but claims prosecution for it is exempt under a Bar rule that states loaning is allowed if the two parties have a personal or familial relationship. Prosecutors have denied the existence of such a relationship.

Melchior claims Sanford has written only six reports that involve Alexander and they were not favorable for him.

Sanford will be called to testify that the loan was to save her house from foreclosure. She has a longstanding relationship with Alexander and they have both loaned each other money and gifts, according to the defense.

Chief Probation Officer Tom Crowell will testify how probation reports are assigned, and confirm Sanford did not provide favorable treatment to Alexander, the defense said. Crowell is also expected to testify he is familiar with their personal relationship and found nothing wrong with the loan when he found out about it.

The second complaint also refers to a loan, but one given by local defense attorney George Mavris to Alexander in December 2010 before he took office. The loan was repaid within days. It is also noted that Mavris has represented Alexander on two cases.

The prosecution is claiming that Alexander dismissed a 2011 case against Jackie Zlokovich, who was charged with child stealing, based on factors other than the merits of the case.

The prosecution also claims Alexander should not have been involved in the decision to dismiss the case considering his “conflict of interest” (Mavris represented Zlokovich) and should have recused himself.

Mavris will be called to testify for the prosecution, but it wasn’t specified in the pretrial statement what he is expected to say.

Melchior said that Zlokovich took a child from school after the child’s mother had been arrested on suspicion of a driving under the influence, and had the father’s consent to do so.

The defense said Alexander dismissed the case after his deputy district attorney, Lisa Specchio-Wolfe, told him she believe it should be dismissed and Judge Follett questioned why the case moving forward at all. The mother of the child subsequently filed a complaint that the case should not have been dismissed.

The defense also states there has not been a precedent set that an attorney should recuse himself from a case if he had been represented previously by an opposing counsel.

Micks will be called to testify for the defense in corroborating what Follett had said about the Zlokovich case, though her own view was that the case was prosecutable, but she does not believe Alexander acted improperly when dismissing it, the defense said.

Mavris is expected to be called for the defense to testify Alexander was not obligated to dismiss the charges.

Specchio-Wolfe is expected to testify for the defense, stating the dismissal of the Zlokovich case was proper.

The third complaint, which accounts for four of the counts of misconduct, stems from an instance when Alexander spoke to a defendant in a drug-related case who went to his office secretly wearing a recording device in 2011.

The prosecution claims Alexander spoke with the defendant about her case without her attorney present and failed to inform the attorney.

It claims an attorney for a co-defendant in the case approached assistant DA Micks about whether the conversation occurred. She then went to Alexander, who denied having the conversation, the prosecution said.

It also claims that Alexander offered the defendant plea bargains that went against his hard stance against drug trafficking.

The co-defendant’s attorney eventually produced an audio recording of the conversation that Micks played for Alexander, who said he didn’t remember having the conversation, the prosecution claims.

Melchior’s documents to the court claim Alexander had spoken to the woman’s attorney about persuading her to go into a drug diversion program, and that the attorney agreed to allow Alexander and the woman to speak about the program.

Some time later, the woman pushed herself into Alexander’s office and “accosted him,” the defense states. A couple of weeks later, he became aware of the illegal audio recording, made a copy of it and sent it to the woman’s attorney, the defense states.

He subsequently transferred the case to the California Attorney General’s Office, the defense states.

The defense is claiming the State Bar has a vendetta against Alexander and the charges are without substance.

“We started just thinking that an explanation would get them to  drop the thing,” said Melchior. “I must say I was shocked and surprised once they didn’t.”

Even if the allegations were true, they don’t justify disbarment, Melchior said.

Melchior’s defense fees already excee $200,000, though he has openly stated he does not expect to recoup them.

“We think it’s a worthwhile cause,” he said. “We think the Bar is totally out of line. “It’s costing a lot of money. There’s no way someone with Jon’s salary could defend himself, which tells you something about when the government goes after somebody.”

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