Scorecard needed to track DA spat

By Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate September 27, 2013 03:24 pm

Supervisors vote to declare position as officially vacant

A scorecard may be needed to keep track of the legal bouts suspended Del Norte District Attorney Jon Alexander is embroiled in.

There’s Tuesday’s unanimous decision by the County Board of Supervisors to declare the Del Norte District Attorney position vacant.

Meanwhile, his petition to overrule the Board of Supervisor’s decision to place him on unpaid administrative leave last April will be heard Oct. 10.

And he filed a rebuttal last week to the State Bar’s response regarding his appeal of a State Bar Court judge’s recommendation last April that he should be disbarred.

“I’ve been bulldozed by the State Bar, the Board of Supervisors and just about everybody but Inspector Javert,” said Alexander. “But the people of this county have stood by me and I am tremendously grateful. I’ve been very disappointed by the State Bar system I’ve seen and the Board of Supervisors, but I don’t quit.”

One thing is clear: The county is looking toward the future without him.

Declaring the DA position vacant will open up the pool for an interim replacement to run the office until next year’s election, said County Counsel Gretchen Stuhr.

Since Alexander’s suspension, Assistant District Attorney Katherine Micks has been leading the office.

Any attorney, who has an active bar license could apply for the position, which will be advertised for at least a month, said county Administrative Officer Jay Sarina.

“Normally a recruitment is anywhere from 30 to 60 days, then an interview process is set up,” said Sarina. “That was requested from the board due to the inability of that elected official to fulfill the duties of the office.”

Supervisors based their latest action on Government Code 1770, subsection G, that states an office becomes vacant before the expiration of a term when an official has ceased to perform the duties of the office for at least three months.

Alexander was placed on unpaid administrative leave after an inactive status was placed on his law license until his appeal of the disbarment recommendation is concluded.

“He has passed his three months that he hasn’t been able to do his statutorily mandated duties,” said Stuhr. “We need to do something with that position beside leave it languishing.”

Alexander’s attorney sees it differently. 

Rudy Nolen of Sacramento called the supervisors’ action illegal and refused to acknowledge there is a legitimate vacancy.

“The action they took yesterday is a misunderstanding of California law,” Nolen told the Triplicate on Wednesday.

The subsection cited by the county actually calls for the public official to voluntarily cease his duties in office, Nolen said. 

“In my opinion, the action taken by the board is premature and it is in violation of the government code,” said Nolen. “Jon didn’t abandon his job.”

Alexander’s claim in the petition is that supervisors acted beyond their authority by suspending him. The matter could be resolved Oct. 10 at 9 a.m., when it will be heard at the Del Norte County Superior Court House.

“If we’re successful the court order will put him back into his job as district attorney,” said Nolen. 

Stuhr doesn’t think that will happen. 

Alexander, if victorious in his petition, will likely be awarded back pay with interest and attorney’s fees, but not his position back, Stuhr said.

Since the Board of Supervisors have declared the position vacant, Alexander’s appeal must go through the state Attorney General’s Office, Stuhr said.

“At this point that position is considered vacant,” said Stuhr. “It’s unprecedented.”

She added that attorneys who have found themselves on the wrong side of the bar have usually resigned.

All of these recent maneuvers — by the county to keep Alexander from his post and by him to regain it — are smaller battles until his State Bar troubles are settled.

Alexander was found to have 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 talked to her. 

He has most recently filed a rebuttal with the State Bar Review Department arguing that he should not be disbarred. A spokesperson for the State Bar said that disbarment recommendations are hardly ever overturned by the review department.

An oral argument will be the next phase of Alexander’s appeal. That hearing has not been scheduled. A ruling would be given within 90 days of that hearing.

“It doesn’t look like there’s going to be a speedy resolution for at least four more months and maybe up to eight,” said Stuhr, adding that once the review department decides, the disbarment recommendation goes before the California Supreme Court.

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