Del Norte District Attorney Jon Alexander has been suspended without pay following the recommendation of a California State Bar judge that he be disbarred.
The Daily Democrat reports that State Bar Judge Lucy Armendariz recommended Alexander’s disbarment after concluding that he had violated three rules of ethical conduct: “communication with a represented party, moral turpitude and suppression of evidence.” More specifically, The Los Angeles Times says Alexander was reprimanded for meeting with a defendant in a drug case without the knowledge of her attorney, then lying under penalty of perjury that he had immediately informed the defendant’s lawyer and failing to disclose to another lawyer that the woman had provided exculpatory evidence about his client.
Armendariz issued her 26-page ruling on Friday, April 5, ordering Alexander’s transfer to involuntary inactive status. She said of Alexander’s conduct:His lack of candor and truthfulness in his dealings with the court and opposing counsel demonstrate that he did not comprehend his special duty as a prosecutor to promote justice and seek the truth, and not merely to convict…(Alexander) clearly and convincingly committed acts involving moral turpitude, dishonesty and corruption.
It is up to the California Supreme Court to decide if it wishes to hear the case, assuming Alexander appeals the ruling. The Associated Press says he maintains that he has been persecuted and that the accusations against him are false.
Following the issuance of the State Bar Court’s opinion, the Del Norte Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place Alexander on unpaid leave during a closed session on April 5. The Times-Standard reports that Assistant District Attorney Katherine Micks will take over the duties of the district attorney for Del Norte County.
History of Misconduct
The San Francisco Chronicle says the current allegations against Alexander are not the first:Alexander has been a lawyer in California since 1987 and was a public defender in the North Coast county before his election as its top prosecutor. Three months after taking office in 2011, he was suspended for 60 days by the state Supreme Court for a variety of past misconduct, including incompetent performance and improper communication with a judge in a pending case. He is still on professional probation for those violations. He had also been suspended for six months by the state Supreme Court in 2003 for practicing law after failing to pay his bar dues, and was privately reprimanded by the State Bar Court in 1996 after two convictions for driving with a suspended license. In the current case, Armendariz said, Michelle Taylor, charged in May 2011 with drug possession and sale, went to Alexander’s office two months later to talk about the case. Rather than halting the conversation after he learned she had a lawyer, Armendariz said, Alexander questioned Taylor and was told the drugs belonged to her and not to a man who was arrested with her. He did not tell Taylor’s lawyer or a lawyer for her male friend, who was arrested after a hearing in which Alexander remained silent, Armendariz said. Taylor, however, had secretly recorded the conversation, and her friend was freed after his lawyer obtained the tape. Alexander then falsely declared, under oath, that he had immediately reported his discussions with Taylor to her lawyer, Armendariz said. She said his conduct, when revealed, damaged “the reputation of the district attorney’s office and the public’s trust in the justice system.”
The Courthouse News Service further reports that Alexander is weathering two lawsuits. One is a federal lawsuit mounted by parents who say that Del Norte County and Alexanders himself failed to prosecute a child molester who contributed to his campaign. The other lawsuit was instigated by former Del Norte County District Attorney Michael Riese, whom Alexander defeated in the 2010 election, for trying to frame him for child endangerment and driving under the influence.
In the current case, Alexander was charged with seven counts of misconduct and found guilty by the State Bar Court of three.
An Unlikely Result
The Times-Standard reports that Alexander will be California’s first sitting district attorney to be disbarred if the state supreme court does not reverse the ruling. University of California Hastings College of Law professor David Levine commented in the Times-Standard story that the sanction is not only unprecedented in California, but rare across the nation.