TS - Grand jury issues scathing DA critique

Grand jury issues scathing DA critique
By Kimberly Wear, The Times-Standard
Wednesday, June 29, 2005

EUREKA -- The grand jury released a scathing critique of District Attorney Paul Gallegos on Tuesday, calling into question his leadership skills and issuing a list of recommended changes for his office.

In response, the district attorney said he agrees with several suggestions and some are already in progress, but Gallegos called other criticisms "untrue."

"A lot of these things, they just beat us to it, because in government things can take time," Gallegos said.

The grand jury said its investigation of the District Attorney's Office was prompted by "citizen complaints and the fact that there had been no formal grand jury review of any division of the DA's office in 10 years."

Acknowledged in the report are some difficulties faced by the office, including severe budget cuts, high staff turnover, adjustments after Gallegos replaced a 20-year veteran of the job and the disruption caused by the recent, failed DA recall attempt.

"However, the informed, well-organized, diligent leadership essential during difficult times is missing," the grand jury report said. "Operations are neither as efficient nor as effective as they must be."

Gallegos said the District Attorney's Office has done more with less during his tenure. He said the number of felony filings and defendants sent to jail are up the last two years despite a 25 percent decrease in staff.

At the same time, the antiquated system of keeping case information on 3-by-5 index cards was replaced with a computerized record-keeping system, the district attorney said.

"There's no one at the helm, but suddenly there's an increase in performance?" Gallegos asked. "That's sort of an odd response to nobody being at the helm."

The report said that the past two and a half years "have been stressful for the DA's office. Staff has had to adjust to a newly elected DA with no experience as a prosecuting attorney, who was not accustomed to administering a complex department with many employees, and whose management style is radically different from that of the previous DA."

Despite those problems, the report said, the grand jury found the staff to be "very hard-working and dedicated to the services they perform for the community."

Gallegos was elected in 2002 after beating long-time District Attorney Terry Farmer with 52 percent of the vote. Gallegos said he's certainly not the only attorney to switch from the defense to the prosecution or vice versa. He was a criminal defense attorney before becoming the county's top prosecutor.

"The difference is I've got the evidence and the burden of proof," he said. "The technicalities of it and presenting a case -- there's no real difference."

The forewoman of the grand jury that wrote the report, Darlene Marlow, was highly critical of Gallegos and his assistant district attorney's handling of the Debi August case, according to documents released during a series of discovery hearings earlier this month.

Marlow also served on the 2003-2004 grand jury that brought the accusation case against the Fortuna councilwoman. That case was dismissed with prejudice last week.

The current grand jury report also called into question the high staff turnover.

"The district attorney has shown a willingness to eliminate positions held by experienced deputy district attorneys and to replace them with newly graduated attorneys, and he has fired a long-term experienced prosecutor with no comparable replacement available."

Gallegos disagreed with the assessment. He said he lost several positions due to budget cuts or grant losses. One position was a firing and he said it was done for cause. Gallegos pointed out that Deputy District Attorney Worth Dikeman is running against him and he still has a job.

"There has been no intent to brain drain this office," Gallegos said. "Far from it."

The grand jury also said it found that "weak leadership and poor managerial practices have led to problems in communication within the office itself, and, more seriously, with law enforcement agencies, the Board of Supervisors, and the general public."

Gallegos said that he does regularly communicate with his deputy district attorneys and law enforcement. He said his second in command often attends meetings that he can't and a lot of discussions take place through e-mail.

"Communication is the easiest thing these days if you reach out and avail yourself," he said. "I would say I am pretty accessible."

He said "at will" employees are given performance evaluations by their immediate supervisors and the practice was implemented under his watch. Gallegos agrees there should be a policy and procedures manual for the office and he's been working on it.

He said he would be more than happy to implement many of the grand jury's suggestions if the Board of Supervisors was able to give him the money. Several others are in the works. Gallegos said he simply disagreed with some.

"We're actually punching out the work," Gallegos said.

See the complete list of the grand jury's findings and recommendations at the link below.

Findings and Recommendations

TS - Grand Jury Findings and Recommendations
ER - 2004-05 Humboldt County Grand Jury Report 6/29/2005
TS - Grand jury issues scathing DA critique June 29, 2005
"However, the informed, well-organized, diligent leadership essential during difficult times is missing," the grand jury report said. "Operations are neither as efficient nor as effective as they must be."

McK Press - Grand Jury Report: D.A. guilty of 'weak leadership'
ER - 2004-05 Humboldt County grand jury releases its final report

The Grand Jury Report on the DA's office
The Grand Jury Report on CAST
TS - Gallegos responds to grand jury findings
CAST Response/Grand Jury Report

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