Judge recommends DA be disbarred

By Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate April 05, 2013 09:26 pm

Supervisors suspend Alexander without pay

State Bar Court Judge Lucy Armendariz has recommended the disbarment of Del Norte County District Attorney Jon Alexander — a first for a DA in California.

The judge also ordered Alexander transferred to “involuntary inactive status” as of Sunday, meaning he cannot practice law for the time being.

“It’s unprecedented. This hasn’t ever happened to a sitting DA in the state of California,” said county administrative officer Jay Sarina on Friday.

Acting upon Armendariz’ decision, the Board of Supervisors called an emergency meeting Friday afternoon where it unanimously decided to place Alexander on unpaid administrative leave.

For now, the DA’s Office will be run by Assistant District Attorney Katherine Micks, who has the authority to make decisions and sign documents while the DA is out of the office, Sarina said.

“There is a structure in place that will allow the DA’s Office to continue,” said Sarina. “We’ve anticipated a lot of this.”

With a new budget looming, county officials will meet with Micks to see if she would need an additional prosecutor to help with the case load, Sarina said.

The county will await the result of an appeal to the State Bar Court Review Department — which Alexander is likely to file — before making any further decisions regarding the DA position, Sarina said.

“We don’t know how long it will be,” said Sarina.

Alexander has 30 days to file an appeal, according to the State Bar.

“The Review Department will independently review the record and may make findings, conclusions or a decision or recommendation different from those of the hearing judge,” wrote State Bar Spokesperson Laura Ernde in an e-mail. “Under the Rules of Procedure, the findings of fact of the hearing judge are entitled to great weight.”

She added the California Supreme Court must approve any disbarment.

 

Read the judge's full decision: 

 

Fateful conversation

Armendariz’ decision came two and a half months after the conclusion of a San Francisco trial in which Alexander faced seven charges of misconduct.

“Sadly, but consistently, neither I nor my attorneys were notified of the decision, having to receive it from media sources, with the Bar distributing it before affording us the courtesy of review or even receipt,” stated Alexander in a prepared release.

The main hearings of the trial occurred over eight days last October with half of them dedicated to character testimony presented by Alexander including judges, defense attorneys, deputy district attorneys, community leaders, politicians, social workers and law enforcement.

He denied any wrongdoing, but three of seven charges against were upheld.

“(Alexander’s) refusal to recognize his misdeeds and the severity he had harmed the administration of justice and the integrity of the legal profession concerns this court,” wrote Armendariz. “For 20 years, respondent’s ethical and professional violations have continued to occur, beginning from 1991.”

Alexander was found to have violated State Bar rules against communicating with a represented party, moral turpitude and suppressing evidence.

Those charges all relate to a conversation he had with Michelle Taylor, a woman who walked into his office unannounced and initiated a conversation while she had a voice recorder in her pocket. Taylor was represented by Defense Attorney Darren McElfresh on methamphetamine-related charges.

The timing of the conversation has been debated by all parties, but sometime around June or July of 2011, Taylor went to Alexander’s office to speak about her case. In a jailhouse interview with the Triplicate last October, Taylor said she wanted to take the blame for the meth found in a car she was riding in with her then-boyfriend, Damion Van Parks. Taylor later refused to be deposed by Bar prosecutors while she was serving a jail sentence related to the meth-related case.

On the day of the conversation, Van Parks had driven her to Alexander’s office and gave her a jacket to wear, she said. She claimed the voice recorder was slipped into the jacket without her knowledge.

Alexander and Taylor had about a four-minute conversation. When a CD copy of the conversation surfaced about two months later, Alexander claimed he had permission from McElfresh to speak with Taylor, but McElfresh testified during the State Bar trial that he did not give Alexander permission to speak to his client in his absence.

A fourth charge against Alexander in connection with the conversation — failing to perform legal services with competence —  was ruled unfounded because the essence of his misconduct was his failure to perform ethically rather than competently, Armendariz’ decision states.

 

Loan charges don’t stick

Alexander had also been accused of violating State Bar rules by giving a loan to a court employee and two counts of moral turpitude and corruption related to him receiving a loan from a local defense attorney and giving a loan to a local probation officer. The judge ruled he did not violate those rules.

One of the loans was given in 2009 to probation officer Linda Sanford in the amount of $14,000 to help pay her mortgage. Alexander was a public defender at the time, and the two failed to notify the court of the loan while continuing to work on cases that involved both of them, court documents state.

The second loan for $6,000  was given to Alexander by defense attorney George Mavris in December 2010 and repaid about a week later. Alexander was sworn into office in January 2011, and later dismissed a child-stealing case defended by Mavris and filed by former District Attorney Mike Riese. Again, both parties failed to notify the court of the loans, court documents state.

In her ruling, Armendariz did chastise Alexander for failing to mention the loans to the court.

Alexander’s defense hinged on the stance that the State Bar was discriminatorily prosecuting him based on complaints filed against him by a contingent of local attorneys who had a vendetta against him.

“I said months ago that the stakes in this prosecution were high,” stated Alexander. “I said that if liars, defeated opponents and discredited attorneys could conspire with an already embattled (Bar prosecution team) to bring down a sitting DA, no prosecutor in California would be safe from similar persecution.”

Armendariz addressed the defense in her decision by stating, “(Alexander) demonstrated lack of insight into his wrongdoing. He blames others for his ethical and professional relapses, including outside political forces and the State Bar.”

Former-District Attorney Mike Riese has been alleged to be one of the people with a vendetta against Alexander.

“It’s a sad day for the residents of this community,” said Riese on Friday. “They put their faith and trust in Mr. Alexander, he was given yet a third chance in life in getting elected as DA and he squandered it. I take no joy in that revelation.”

“This action by the Bar has nothing to do with me,” Riese said.

Alexander was elected district attorney in 2010. He was admitted to the bar in 1987 and has since had three instances of discipline prior to the latest decision.

“Given his history with the Bar, he was lucky to have gotten probation on his third offense,” said defense attorney Leroy Davies, who testified at Alexander’s trial.

Davies said he hopes that business can go back to normal in the court system following Alexander’s highly publicized battle with the State Bar.

“I’m sure we’re the laughingstock of the 58 counties,” said Davies. “The county has a history, more often than not, with issues from that office. I don’t think we’ve had a decent DA that hasn’t caused a controversy since Scott Hoxeng.”

Hoxeng served as district attorney in the 1980s.

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