Gallegos sidesteps questions about possible conflict of interest in Bowman charges
A large contribution to the successful 2006 re-election campaign of Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos has raised questions the DA has so far declined to answer, after it was learned that the son of the man chiefly responsible for the contribution subsequently escaped punishment on numerous criminal charges, including one alleging the statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl.
According to Fair Political Practices Commission filings, the donation, in the amount of $10,000, was the single largest monetary contribution received by the campaign of the incumbent DA from any contributor whose last name was not Gallegos.
FPPC documents indicate that the contribution was recorded April 29, and attributed to the Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria, which is chaired by Leonard Bowman, father of Derek Bowman, 25, both of Loleta.
The younger Bowman’s association with law enforcement spans two states and 11 years, and includes as many as 40 criminal charges ranging from assault with a deadly weapon as a juvenile to three charges alleging violence against one adult and two juvenile females in 2006.
But on July 19, less than six weeks after Gallegos was re-elected, the DA’s Office gathered nine felonies and a handful of misdemeanors pending against Derek, and dismissed or suspended sentence on all of them in a single day.
According to publicly available court documents, recent charges against Derek included felony statutory rape, five counts of felony check fraud against local businesses, felony burglary, felony threats, felony battery, misdemeanor battery and misdemeanor resisting arrest.
Restitution orders for the check fraud cases were part of the July 19 deals, but the documents show that no jail time for any of the alleged offenses was requested by the DA’s Office.
For violation of probation on a previous charge, Derek was sentenced in July to 180 days, less time served, in the Humboldt County jail.
FOLLOWING THE MONEY
In a declaration in support of an arrest warrant on one of the charges against Derek, Humboldt County Sheriff’s Deputy Troy Garey wrote on June 26 that Cheree Bowie, the mother of Derek’s 17-year-old wife, told him that Derek had “been bragging that even if he was arrested, his dad would get him out of jail.”
In his report, Garey stated that he asked Bowie how she knew this.
“Bowie said the suspect’s father, Leonard Bowman, is the tribal chairperson on the Bear River reservation,” Garey wrote, “and he and the tribe and the Bear River Casino gave District Attorney Paul Gallegos $10,000 in his recent re-election campaign for DA. Bowie then hung up the phone.”
When The Eureka Reporter attempted to contact Bowman at the tribal office, a woman who answered the phone said that Bowman had no comment when he was told the call was regarding campaign contributions.
In all, the Bowmans, the tribe and an attorney employed by the casino contributed $11,100 to Gallegos’ campaign coffers, just under 10 percent of the total of all funds raised by the incumbent during the campaign, according to FPPC filings.
In addition to the $10,000 contribution in the name of the Rancheria, Leonard and his wife personally contributed $100, the FPPC documents show.
The same documents indicate Bear River attorney Michael Acosta contributed $1,000.
Contained in the court records is a letter to the Humboldt County Probation Department, dated Aug. 7 and written on Bear River Gaming Agency letterhead, in which Acosta requested that Derek be granted probation in lieu of the 180-day sentence.
Acosta stated in the letter that he would recommend reinstatement of Derek’s employment in the casino’s surveillance department should probation be granted.
Court documents state that Derek has been charged with violating the terms of his probation seven times in the past nine years.
FOLLOWING THE RULES
While there is no direct evidence that indicates Derek was treated differently because of the contributions, neither did Gallegos exercise any of the options available to him to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
The simple explanation may be that he was not legally required to do so.
According to Del Norte County District Attorney Mike Riese, there is no rule requiring the removal or “recusal” of a DA from cases in which a possible conflict of interest is perceived.
Riese, who has no involvement in the Bowman cases and spoke only in general terms about recusal, said, “District attorneys have unfettered discretion under the government code. If we choose, we can recuse ourselves, we can ask the attorney general to come in or we can appoint a special prosecutor.”
But Riese reiterated that no district attorney in California would be under any legal obligation to choose any of those alternatives.
It is not known if Gallegos attempted to recuse himself from Derek’s criminal cases, but none of the 232 pages of court documents contained in the court files makes reference to a recusal.
Neither does Gallegos appear to have referred Derek’s cases for prosecution by the California State Attorney General’s Office, which retains concurrent jurisdiction in all cases prosecuted by California district attorneys and their deputies.
FOLLOWING COURT PRECEDENT
There is no evidence in any of the files that Gallegos was personally involved in Derek’s prosecution. However, according to numerous legal precedents, in cases in which there exists a possible conflict of interest, an entire DA’s Office is commonly recused.
In a recent example that presented a possible conflict for the Los Angeles County District Attorney, Deputy DA Matthew Monforton wrote a memorandum to county officials demanding recusal of all L.A. County prosecutors and referral of the case to the attorney general.
When a district attorney suffers from a conflict of interest, Monforton wrote, “appellate courts have imputed the conflict to all deputy district attorneys in the same county.”
Monforton cited People v. Lepe, a 1985 Imperial County case in which a conflict was perceived between District Attorney Thomas Storey and a defendant he had once represented as a defense attorney. The California Court of Appeals disqualified Storey, but didn’t stop there.
“As the deputies are hired by Storey, promoted by Storey and fired by Storey,” the court concluded, “we cannot say the office can be sanitized such to assume the deputy who prosecutes the case will not be influenced by the considerations that bar Storey himself from participation in the case.”
Again, in People v. Choi, Monforton wrote, San Francisco County District Attorney Terrence Hallinan recused himself to avoid a potential conflict, but the California Court of Appeals went further, stating that Hallinan’s entire office should have been recused because prosecutors are “hired, evaluated and promoted by the district attorney.”
The court documents indicate that Derek was at various times defended by what is called “conflict counsel,” meaning an alternative defense attorney was assigned to a particular case after the original public defender disclosed a possible conflict in handling the case.
But the same documents show that similar steps were not taken by prosecutors. Derek’s charges were handled by several prosecutors in the DA’s Office, including Assistant District Attorney Wes Keat, Deputy District Attorneys Maggie Fleming and Max Cardoza and former Deputy District Attorneys Nicole Hansen and Heather Gimle.
Gallegos declined to return repeated phone calls requesting comment for this report, and also declined to answer questions about the matter by e-mail.
In response to several specific inquiries regarding the $10,000 campaign contribution and the subsequent handling of Derek’s criminal cases, Gallegos stated in an e-mail only the following: “This office operates without fear or favor.”
During the 2006 DA campaign, former Deputy District Attorney Worth Dikeman, Gallegos’ opponent, called on the incumbent to recuse the DA’s Office in the Cheri Moore homicide and refer the case to the attorney general, accusing Gallegos of “making political hay” of the investigation.
“(Gallegos) has a history of rewarding his allies and punishing those who oppose him,” Dikeman said at a May 25 press conference.
“His history of questionable practices, his failure to expeditiously resolve this matter and his strained relationship with the rest of the law enforcement community, including the Eureka Police Officers Association, make this an appropriate case for the attorney general to exercise his discretion under the government code and take full charge of the investigation,” Dikeman said.
Dikeman has acknowledged that one possible factor in his most recent defeat by Gallegos was the extended protest in front of the Courthouse staged by Ellie Bowman, who is Derek’s mother and Leonard’s wife.
“It certainly isn’t helping,” Dikeman said in June.
Ellie was protesting comments Dikeman had made about prospective Native American jurors in the now infamous 1992 murder case against former Fortuna resident Richard Kesser.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found Sept. 11 in a six-to-five vote that some of Dikeman’s statements contained racial bias, and Kesser’s conviction could be headed for retrial as a result.
But Dikeman said at the time that Ellie had another reason to protest his candidacy. The deputy DA successfully prosecuted Ellie’s other son, Jeffrey Bowman, for the 1999 murder of Trinidad Rancheria member Julius Aubrey.
Jeffrey is currently serving a prison term of 25 years to life.
Jail officials said Friday that Derek was no longer in custody. Technically still booked, he was released Sept. 11 to serve the balance of his 180-day sentence in the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program.
(Diane M. Batley, Rebecca S. Bender and Megan McCulloch contributed to this report.)
By Heather Muller, The Eureka Reporter
Published: Sep 26 2006, 12:19 AM · Updated: Sep 26 2006, 9:38 AM
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ER - Gallegos sidesteps questions about possible conflict of interest in Bowman charges
ER - Questions without answers hinder our newsgathering
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ER - Contribution made because Gallegos was the better of the two
ER - Questions remain in DA's handling of Bowman charges
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ER - Tribe's contribution to DA's campaign was made by the Tribal Council, not Bowman
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ER - It's telling that Gallegos witch hunt didn't start until firing of Dikeman
ER - Writer appreciates editor's note that identifies writers
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