California district attorney faces stiff punishment after conversation with drug defendant
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) A California district attorney is facing possible disbarment after a judge found that he committed three acts of misconduct related to a conversation he had with a drug defendant without her lawyer present.
Del Norte County District Attorney Jon Alexander failed to "recognize the heavy burden of his job and his responsibility to ensure that 'justice shall be done,'" State Bar Judge Lucy Armendariz said in a filing on Thursday.
She recommended that Alexander be disbarred after finding him culpable of improper communication with a defendant, moral turpitude and suppression of evidence in connection with the July 2011 conversation.
In addition, the judge ordered him placed on inactive status, meaning he will not be able to practice law in California as of Sunday pending a possible appeal, said Laura Ernde, a spokeswoman for the State Bar of California. The state Supreme Court has final say on the matter but generally approves State Bar court decisions, she said.
In the meantime, Assistant District Attorney Katie Micks will run the District Attorney's Office, county administrative officer Jay Sarina told the Del Norte Triplicate (http://bit.ly/ZcXRx0). Micks has the authority to make decisions and sign documents while an elected district attorney is out of the office
In a statement issued on Friday, Alexander said he is considering his options, including giving up his job.
He said he was "persecuted" and accused the Bar's Office of Chief Trial Counsel of going after him with "petty charges, discredited complaints and witnesses, and prejudicial statements and leaks to the media."
"This case has unfortunately evolved into a loss, both for me and the people of Del Norte County," Alexander said.
Alexander was accused of having the improper discussion with drug defendant Michelle Taylor on July 8, 2011. Taylor taped the exchange.
Taylor had gone to Alexander's office to talk about the felony drug possession and sale charges she and her boyfriend were facing, according to court documents. Alexander did not stop talking to her when he learned she had an attorney, although the lawyer was not present and had not given Alexander permission to discuss the criminal charges with Taylor, the judge found.
Alexander lied to another prosecutor when asked whether he had had a conversation with Taylor, and falsely declared that any prior discussions with Taylor were immediately disclosed to the defense, Armendariz said.
Additionally, he was accused of failing to disclose evidence that could have cleared Taylor's boyfriend, Damion VanParks, who was subsequently taken into custody. Taylor allegedly told Alexander the drugs that officers found belonged to her, not her boyfriend.
"Respondent had a legal obligation to reveal to VanParks and his defense attorney the incriminating statements Taylor made to him on July 8, 2011," Armendariz said. "Yet, he intentionally concealed these statements until he discovered there was a tape of their conversation."
Alexander has said Taylor appeared at his office unannounced, wearing "an undisclosed wire," and spontaneously started speaking about the case. He said the defendant's lawyer had previously authorized him to speak to her alone, and that the conversation lasted two or three minutes and focused on the defendant's participation in a drug diversion program in place of a criminal prosecution.
Alexander was a recovering methamphetamine addict when he was elected to office in 2010 after running a campaign with the slogan "death to meth." He has previously said he was a victim of small-town politics and political enemies made during the contentious and close election. He defeated the incumbent and another candidate by 93 votes in a run-off after spending $100,000 to his opponents' $20,000 for a job that pays $84,000 annually.
"Throughout this ordeal I have worked 18-hour days doing the job I was elected to do by the voters of Del Norte County, which included the successful prosecution of a capital murder case, while also devoting time to my defense," Alexander said in his statement. "This persecution has taken a toll on my health, my finances and my time. But it has not sapped my spirit."
Alexander was tried last year, and State Bar officials said at the time they believed he was the first sitting district attorney to face such a disciplinary trial.
Alexander also faced charges related to a $14,000 loan to a probation officer preparing reports for two of his clients when he was a public defender, and a $6,000 loan he received from a defense attorney before dismissing charges against the attorney's client when he was district attorney.
Armendariz cleared Alexander of charges related to the two loans, although she said the "appearance of his impropriety clearly harmed the integrity and reputation of the judicial system."
Alexander had three prior records of discipline, and that played a role in the decision to recommend disbarment, Armendariz said.