David Alkire: Time for change in Nevada County District Attorney’s office
How can a nice guy be so corrupt? This is what perplexes many voters in Nevada County when they think about the District Attorney election.
The incumbent has admittedly made decisions over the years that violate the ethical standards that all prosecutors must live up to. But the bland public face of the incumbent District Attorney is confusing to many citizens, who in good faith cannot understand how a respectable-looking politician is so deficient.
One focus in the present campaign is on the incumbent’s efforts to shut down an investigation into dishonesty within the Sheriff’s Office narcotics unit, and his attempted cover-up of an effort to inquire into them.
Those of us with longer memories recall an entirely different effort to prevent the investigation and prosecution of a friend of the District Attorney, with whom he had a close and questionable financial relationship. I refer to the hard money mortgage lending fraud that resulted in convictions of two defendants on dozens of felony charges. These convictions occurred only after the Attorney General’s office stepped in and took over the investigation.
Victimized investors started bringing their complaints to the District Attorney’s Office with the justifiable expectation that they would be investigated. In order to help out his friend, the incumbent District Attorney sat on those complaints. But when a reporter from the Sacramento Bee, who had been examining these allegations, called the District Attorney to inform him that they were going to publish an exposé of what was going on, the incumbent immediately called the Attorney General’s office and referred the case there for prosecution. This was his only option at that point, as he could no longer cover up the wrongdoing of his business associate.
There is only one accurate description of these abuses of the power of the District Attorney’s Office: corruption.
In both cases, the incumbent knew that he was behaving unethically, and there are particular actions that prove this fact. In the case of the mortgage lending scandal, that moment came when the reporter from the Bee made his call to the incumbent, who knew all along that his personal conflict of interest created an ethical conflict that required him to recuse himself. But until that moment he had failed to refer the investigation out of his office, because doing so would take away his ability to protect the target of the investigation. Once he knew that there would be a published exposé of his inaction, he immediately passed along the investigation.
The proof that the incumbent knew that shutting down the investigation of the Sheriff’s narcotics unit was wrong came when he went to his assistant district attorney, Glenn Jennings, and presented him with a statement for his signature. That statement contained two lies: (1) that a thorough investigation had been conducted, and (2) that no wrongdoing was found. As of that moment, the investigation had only just gotten underway, and three Sheriff’s deputies had already provided information about misconduct that required follow-up. Obviously, no conclusion had been reached exonerating anyone.
If he had succeeded in obtaining Mr. Jennings’ signature on that false document, the incumbent would have been shielded if the truth ever came out. When Mr. Jennings quite properly refused to sign, he was forced to resign. The fact that the incumbent tried to get his top assistant to sign a false document demonstrates that the incumbent knew that he was doing wrong. He had both an ethical duty and a Constitutional duty under the Brady decision to get to the bottom of the problem.
When the truth finally came out, criminal cases were dismissed, and others were plea bargained away. The integrity of the Sheriff’s Office and its hard-working deputies took a gratuitous hit as a result of the incumbent District Attorney’s attempt to prevent inquiry and suppress the truth.
Some people with whom I have cordial relations support the reelection of the incumbent. These are good-hearted people who simply cannot imagine that a seemingly pleasant person could be guilty of such serious misconduct. But the people most familiar with the operation of the District Attorney’s Office do not share this illusion, and are fed up with the moral vacuum of the top of the office.
These are some of the reasons why I support Glenn Jennings for District Attorney. I think it is time to clean house. We do not know what challenges will face the future top prosecutor, but we should have confidence that a person with integrity will hold that office when those challenges arise.
David Alkire, who lives in Nevada City, has been a California lawyer for 45 years and four years ago was a candidate for Nevada County District Attorney.
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