Bradley breathes sigh of relief
Sam Bradley was caught in a closed-door meeting when he heard the news he had been eagerly anticipating for the last two years. He bit his tongue, left the room and let out a sigh of relief.
The El Dorado County supervisor was victorious in a California Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday, which upheld a previous appellate court decision in his favor. The top rung on the state’s judicial ladder ordered District Attorney Gary Lacy to file a grand jury accusation against an elected El Dorado official for misconduct.
“This is an area of law we needed to define,” said Bradley. “We took it to the highest level and I’m absolutely thrilled. This supports the checks and balances of our democratic system and I think it was worth our time.”
A 1994-95 grand jury investigation discovered that a board supervisor – purported to be Mark Nielsen – violated the state’s open meeting law by discussing government matters in private and failed to mention a potential conflict-of-interest over a county lawsuit with fellow supervisors. When Lacy was handed the accusation in July 1995, he refused to file it, citing the document didn’t have any merit.
“I took a certain action I felt and still feel was appropriate under the law,” Lacy said in a February interview with the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Lacy was unavailable for comment Thursday.
The state Attorney General’s office has supported Lacy’s decision and intervened after Bradley filed a lawsuit against the DA earlier this year. Bradley cited the grand jury has the legal right to independently bring charges against government officials and it’s a part of the DA’s job. Bradley wasn’t discouraged when a Superior Court judge ruled against him. He took his fight to the Court of Appeal, Third District in Sacramento, where three judges found merit in his case. The Attorney General, in turn, submitted an appeal petition.
“This could have a negative impact on future relationships between grand juries and district attorneys,” said Scott Thorpe, deputy attorney general who handled the Bradley vs. Lacy case. “The decision could give the greater potential of grand juries filing improper accusations.”
The state Supreme Court ruling sets a precedent in the legal arena. Thorpe said a DA’s refusal to file a grand jury indictment has never been challenged in California.
The repercussions from the decision could be enormous in El Dorado County. Lacy will be required to file the accusation with the Superior Court and serve the intended supervisor with the legal papers.
The public official could face prosecution for the allegations and, if found guilty, removed from office. There is currently a recall effort under way by a grass-roots organization with the same mission.
Bradley is expected to recoup out-of-pocket expenses for the lawsuit. He said he has spent somewhere between $6,000 to $8,000 in the last few months.
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