Jeff Pelline: Judge’s decision to recuse the right thing to do
Though no doubt a tough decision, it was inspiring to hear that a local judge recused herself from the Linda Balch embezzlement case because of her personal ties to Balch’s husband, a former Nevada City mayor.
“I don’t think it would have affected her judgment,” District Attorney Cliff Newell said of Julie McManus’ decision. “She just felt it would be better to recuse herself for the appearance of propriety.”
McManus is a member of the 49er Breakfast Rotary Club of Nevada City. Tom Balch is also a member and served as past president, ringing many a bell at many a meeting.
Around here, Rotary Clubs are a major part of our social and business networks (including government). The 49er group’s members include well-known county public and law enforcement officials, besides the judges.
I agree with Newell’s assessment about McManus in the Balch case. I also agree it helps dampen the perception of a conflict.
Balch allegedly embezzled more than $100,000 from her homeowner’s association where she was treasurer and is expected to withdraw her not guilty plea next week. The case has stunned much of the close-knit Nevada City community.
We’ve written about conflicts of interest and perceived ones before ” at the courts, city councils, the Rood Center and nonprofits. In a small town, it’s hard to avoid them.
The question is, how do you handle them? If it’s legal, is it the right thing to do?
I was impressed to hear incoming Grass Valley City Administrator Dan Holler’s views on conflicts, or perceived ones, when he visited The Union for an interview on Monday.
“You have to ask yourself, would somebody else take a look at that and question it,” Holler told us. Even if it is deemed legal, it would be better to disclose a perceived conflict, he said.
Holler said he doesn’t plan to join any local service clubs, though he greatly emphasized their importance. He just doesn’t want to look like he has a favorite.
When I heard this, I recalled Holler’s longtime predecessor, who asked me to a Grass Valley Rotary Club meeting during my first week on the job and invited me to join. I passed, though I did coach my son’s T-ball team last year and support his school and church. I also appreciated winning a $100 Rotary scholarship 30 years ago in high school, a youthful memory.
In McManus’ case, this was a good outcome under the circumstances” no perceived conflict while still belonging to a very giving service club. (We sent our City Editor, Trina Kleist, to Mexico a year ago on a charitable dental trip, sponsored by the 49’er Rotary Club).
It’s also a win for the public: Building trust in government is now more important than ever. The same goes for disclosing political contributions during the time of public decision making ” again to avoid perceived conflicts.
If you follow the political polls, it also seems the trust issue is paramount in voters’ minds in this year’s elections. As the world becomes more complex, we have to change along with it.
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