David Alkire: Wrong man for DA’s job
The Nevada County Board of Supervisors will soon be choosing a replacement for the resigning district attorney. One of the applicants has announced that he is seeking the appointment and intends to run next year for that office. That person, Chris Walsh, is unfit to serve as district attorney.
I appear regularly in the criminal courts of Nevada County. I am familiar with all the cases described hereinafter, as I was counsel of record in each of them, although not necessarily for the named defendant. In each of these cases, Chris Walsh demonstrated poor judgment, or unethical conduct, or legal ineptitude, in a manner that negatively impacted the prosecution of serious cases:
1. Murder case dismissed mid-trial based on Walsh’s prosecutorial misconduct; double jeopardy prevents refiling; murderer gets away with it:
Case F16-256A, People v. Fultz
Originally a three-defendant case; two defendants accepted plea bargains and agreed to testify against the shooter. Thanks to multiple instances of Walsh’s prosecutorial misconduct, found by the judge, the case was dismissed mid-trial and the jury discharged. The constitutional doctrine prohibiting double jeopardy prevents the case from being retried. The dismissal has been on appeal for over two years.
2. Murder case dismissed; murderer gets away with it, based on Walsh’s inept filing decisions:
Case F18-154A, People v. Bancroft
Case originally filed against alleged killer, but also erroneously filed by Walsh against a woman who witnessed events surrounding the killing and was cooperating with sheriff’s deputies. After the preliminary hearing, the judge dismissed the case against the innocent woman, who now no longer cooperates with prosecuting authorities. (It is an extremely rare event when, as here, a charge of murder does not survive a probable cause hearing.) After a holding order against the alleged killer, Walsh inexplicably dismissed the case against him, claiming that a witness who testified for the prosecution at the preliminary hearing was actually the killer. The case was so mismanaged by Walsh that nobody will now be prosecuted for the murder.
3. Jury in attempted murder trial hangs in favor of acquittal:
Case F17-378, People v. Hoyt
Here, Walsh supervised the trial deputy. Everyone familiar with the facts of this case, from the investigating officer to the victim to the judge, understood that this mentally disturbed woman had committed an assault with a deadly weapon that showed that she needed mental health treatment. She never intended to kill her friend, the victim. Nevertheless, because the judge indicated she was considering a probationary sentence with appropriate treatment, the matter proceeded to trial as an attempted murder, for which conviction would require the woman to go to prison for at least seven years, with no possibility of probation and mental health counseling. The alternative charge of assault with a deadly weapon was dismissed before trial, which prevented the jury from considering that option. The result was that eight jurors voted to acquit the defendant. Only after these matters were about to be publicized in a Union newspaper article did Walsh authorize a plea to a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon. The defendant was promptly released from custody and successfully complied with the terms of her probation.
In addition to these examples of bad judgment, there are major systemic problems in the District Attorney’s Office, which Mr. Walsh (in his position as assistant district attorney, the second in command) has been effectively running for years.
Continual turnover among deputy district attorneys: When the roster of deputies from January 2018 is compared to now: Only one of the six deputies in the Nevada City courthouse three years ago is still with the District Attorney’s Office. This is not normal. Under the previous district attorney, Mike Ferguson, experienced deputies stayed and finished out their careers in Nevada County.
No mentoring or training of inexperienced deputies: Thanks to the revolving door, new young deputies are brought in and sent into court without guidance or adequate supervision. The result is an unacceptably low conviction rate in jury trials.
I believe the time has come to root out the problems with the leadership of the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office. For too long under Mr. Newell and his hand-picked successor, Mr. Walsh, our District Attorney’s Office has been a place from which experienced deputies flee, and where serious cases are too often mishandled.
Now, the Board of Supervisors has been granted an opportunity to clean house, which I respectfully urge the board not to miss.
David Alkire has been a California lawyer for 48 years, including over 10 years working as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles and Monterey counties. In 2014 he ran unsuccessfully for the office of Nevada County district attorney.
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I was a Republican for decades. The party chased me out with ideology that was good for the Republican Party but very bad for our country.