County D.A. responds to charge from Nielsen’s attorney
El Dorado County District Attorney Gary Lacy filed a response Monday detailing why a grand jury accusation against Supervisor Mark Nielsen is valid.
Lacy’s statement refuted allegations made by Nielsen’s attorney that the accusations against his client were inadequate.
The county’s top prosecutor believes the case against Nielsen has entered uncharted territory. Even though the grand jury’s findings on Nielsen are “criminal in nature,” they do not need to meet the same criteria as a formal indictment.
Nielsen’s attorney, Michael Sands, has already requested that Judge Allen Fields, the visiting magistrate presiding over the case, dismiss the charges. Fields is scheduled to rule on the matter on Tuesday.
“This request made by the defense is purely on the accusation itself,” Lacy said. “As far as I can tell on prior cases, accusations aren’t as stringent as an indictment.”
An objection to the charges filed by Sands on July 29 essentially pokes holes in the grand jury allegations against Nielsen. The document claims that the accusations aren’t signed by the grand jury foreman and the names of the witnesses who testified before the grand jury aren’t listed.
Lacy has also questioned why neither himself nor Sands have received transcripts of the evidence compiled by the grand jury. The judge is expected to address this matter at Monday’s hearing.
Nielsen stands accused of failing to disclose an attorney/client relationship with a county employee and, on several occasions, violating the state’s open meeting law, the Brown Act.
The 1994-95 El Dorado grand jury submitted three counts of misconduct against Nielsen. If convicted of the charges, he could be removed from office.
Some people got suspicious when Lacy was presented the charges and refused to file the claims. He released a nine-page memo in 1995 stating his reasons.
Supervisor Sam Bradley filed a lawsuit that eventually compelled Lacy to file criminal charges against Nielsen over the objections of the Attorney General’s office.
Bradley currently seeks to recoup his out-of-pocket costs for the lawsuit.
The situation has put Lacy in the awkward position of prosecuting a case in which he was initially reluctant to file charges.
Fields has already ruled that Lacy can handle the case even though he had previously stated that the accusations didn’t have legal or factual merit.
The hubbub about Lacy’s involvement has stirred a hornet’s nest of controversy in El Dorado County. He defends his previous actions and believes that in the next couple of weeks, the fog will disappear on the issue.
“I’ve been accused of being in cahoots with some officials when all I’m trying to do is follow the law,” Lacy said. “This case is fraught with irregularities, factually and legally.”
Lacy added that a 1996 state Supreme Court case in Orange County will support his stance. Two board supervisors were handed grand jury accusations regarding the county’s bankruptcy case. The supervisors were charged with not monitoring the activities of the auditor and treasurer who allegedly mismanaged the county’s budget. The court ruled that the claims didn’t violate the penal statute and called the case unconstitutional.
“If we are under similar circumstances and it’s unconstitutional, how can we prosecute?” Lacy said.
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