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Judge recommends disbarment for Del Norte DA

By Amy Yarbrough
Staff Writer

Noting that for 20 years he had “repeatedly violated his ethical and professional duties,” a State Bar Court hearing judge has recommended Del Norte County District Attorney Jon M.  Alexander be stripped of his law license.

Alexander [bar # 129207], 64, was also placed on involuntary inactive status as a result of Judge Lucy Armendariz’s April 4 disbarment ruling. Armendariz found Alexander culpable of communicating with a defendant without her attorney’s consent, withholding evidence from the defense and acts of moral turpitude. The disbarment does not go into effect until it is approved by the California Supreme Court.

It was the first time in recent memory that an elected district attorney was the subject of a disciplinary trial. According to published reports, Alexander was suspended without pay by the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors following the decision.

In her ruling, Armendariz wrote that Alexander’s misdeeds were aggravated by the fact he refused to acknowledge his wrongdoing, and that he had failed to uphold his duties as a district attorney.

“Respondent’s misconduct frustrated the administration of justice,” she wrote. “His abuse of his prosecutorial power has negatively impacted the reputation of the district attorney’s office and the public’s trust in the justice system.”

A controversial figure who overcame methamphetamine addiction and other personal struggles to win the district attorney election in 2010, Alexander had a string of State Bar disciplinary problems prior to the case that now threatens his law license. In 1996, he received a private reproval for failing to abide by agreements that were made in lieu of disciplinary prosecution, and for two misdemeanor convictions for driving with a suspended license. In 2003, he received a six-month actual suspension for failing to return unearned fees to a client and for the unauthorized practice of law while he was suspended for not paying his bar dues.

Alexander then received a 60-day actual suspension for misconduct in four matters, including failure to perform services competently, failure to communicate with clients, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and engaging in an ex parte communication with a judge in a criminal case in order to influence the sentence. He was still on probation for this disciplinary action in 2011, when the conduct that triggered the current case against him occurred. 

In the current case, Alexander was initially charged with seven counts of misconduct in three matters, although Armendariz found him culpable in only three of the charged counts. She found that he had talked with a defendant privately in his office about her drug case, despite knowing that the woman had an attorney. During the conversation the defendant recanted statements she made at the time of her arrest, in which she implicated her co-defendant and admitted to Alexander that the drugs at issue in the case actually belonged to her. Alexander failed to tell the defense attorneys about the conversation and did not share the woman’s incriminating statement with her co-defendant’s lawyer until after he learned their conversation had been tape-recorded.

During Alexander’s misconduct trial, 31 witnesses testified on Alexander’s behalf, attesting to his good moral character and extensive community service, much of it to help others struggling with substance abuse problems. Although Armendariz said that testimony carried some weight, she noted that Alexander’s community service had already been considered a mitigating factor in his third State Bar discipline case.

“The court finds that these character witnesses represent a demonstration of respondent’s good character attested to by a wide range of references in the legal and general communities. But they invariably dismissed respondent’s misconduct as either insignificant or not at all unethical,” she wrote. “Many did not comprehend its egregiousness.”