DA suspension: County responds

By Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate August 30, 2013 06:17 pm

Two sides differ on what can be done without law license

Suspended Del Norte District Attorney Jon Alexander will have to get past the county’s opposition in order to be reinstated.

The Board of Supervisors filed its response this week to Alexander’s petition seeking to overturn the board’s April decision to suspend him. That came after the State Bar rendered him unable to practice law as he appeals a judge’s recommendation that he be disbarred.

Alexander’s petition contends he is still able to perform administrative duties of the DA’s job.

He is seeking to be reinstated to his elected position with pay, as well as back pay with interest. He is also seeking attorney fees.

The response outlines the justification for the suspension and the duties Alexander would and wouldn’t be able to perform if he were reinstated.

Prepared by County Counsel Gretchen Stuhr, the response cites government codes in contending the board is responsible for supervising all county officers’ official administrative actions, and therefore has the ability to suspend the DA from performing even budgetary functions in the case of misconduct.

It pulls from the State Bar’s finding that Alexander committed moral turpitude to support the board’s concern regarding  Alexander’s ability to handle public funds and make appropriate decisions in personnel matters.

On April 4, following a lengthy State Bar trial,  a Bar judge placed Alexander on inactive status for practicing law after she recommended he be disbarred. The judge ruled that Alexander violated State Bar rules against communicating with a represented party, moral turpitude and suppressing evidence. 

The violations stemmed from a conversation he had with a woman facing drug-related charges after she went into his office with a voice recorder in her pocket, which was later used to prove Alexander had a conversation with the woman. 

Alexander’s appeal against his recommended disbarment may not be resolved until next year. It is uncommon for a disbarment recommendation to be rejected, according to a spokesperson for the State Bar.

The county’s response outlines duties Alexander is expected to perform that would be prohibited while he is rendered inactive to practice law.

The district attorney is dutifully bound to aid in prosecutions, file charges, establish hearings for people suspect of committing crimes, act as advisor to the grand jury, represent the court or judges upon request and render legal services to the county and school district, states the response, citing government code.

It also states Alexander is unable to supervise any attorneys in his office without an active license and if any attorney aided him in his mandatory duties that attorney would risk disciplinary action from the State Bar as indicated by its rules.

It states that Alexander would be allowed to perform preparatory legal work, direct communications with clients for scheduling, billing, update and correspondence purposes. He could also be a clerical assistant at depositions for an attorney, it states.

The activities would require notice to the State Bar, the response sates.

Alexander’s petition stated it’s due to his suspension by the board that he cannot contact attorneys in the DA’s Office and cannot make policy decisions regarding the responsibilities and duties of his office. He also contended county voters are being denied the right to have the person they voted into office make decisions regarding the DA’s Office.

Alexander’s petition contended the board violated the Brown Act by failing to provide notice of a closed session in deciding his fate.

The board’s response states Alexander was provided the opportunity to come to the closed session and discuss how he would manage the office since he was not allowed to practice law.

It was partly Alexander’s response during the closed session that led the board to suspend him,  the response states. It states there were also concerns about possible litigation against the county if Alexander remained in office while prohibited from practicing law.

Alexander declined to comment on the county’s response, as did Board Chairman Mike Sullivan. 

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