El Dorado County Supervisor Mark Nielsen was vindicated by a judge Friday on three counts of misconduct claimed by the 1994-95 grand jury, ending a two-year legal feud.
Visiting Superior Court Judge Allen Fields upheld an order by defense attorney Michael Sands to dismiss the case. In his six-page ruling, Fields explained his judgment but also had some strong words for the appointed body that brought forth the charges.
“It is time for the petty bickering to be set aside,” Fields said. “The taxpayers expect that their resources can be better utilized in solving the legitimate problems facing this community.”
The Nielsen fiasco has sparked political turmoil over the last three years. The District 3 supervisor has been scrutinized for his bravado, in-house fighting with fellow supervisor Sam Bradley and the backing of large developers.
Friday was a day of reckoning for Nielsen, who has three years remaining in his term of office.
“Today’s judicial decision concludes a battle that started three-and-a-half years ago, a battle that squandered energies and smeared my good name,” Nielsen said. “I sincerely hope that persons caught up in the hostilities triggered by these falsehoods will now reflect on the warped origins of the 1994-95 grand jury ‘accusation,’ recognize its total invalidity and move on to productive, credible efforts.”
The ’94-’95 grand jury two years ago alleged rampant misbehavior among the Board of Supervisors but set their sights on Nielsen.
They found Nielsen violated three sections of the government code. They claim he stood in conflict-of-interest when he didn’t inform other supervisors about conversations he had with a former county employee who was suing the county. He also was charged with breaking the state’s open meeting law, the Brown Act, by trying to gain consensus from other supervisors on agenda items prior to a vote.
When District Attorney Gary Lacy refused to file the accusation, saying it lacked merit legally, Bradley entered the fracas. Bradley took the prosecutor to court and after a series of rulings, the state Supreme Court said Lacy was obligated to unseal the papers that named Nielsen.
Fields, in his decision to dismiss, wrote “the allegations must refer to a specific statue,” which they did not. He continued by commending Nielsen for releasing to the media a letter that contained closed-door conversations about the employee’s lawsuit.
“It is important in our governmental affairs that we act publicly and not in secrecy,” Fields stated. “This should be encouraged and not discouraged.”
Furthermore, Fields indicated the grand jury documents were unsigned and undated. Three boxes, which contained all of the grand jury’s proceedings, supposedly don’t include any copies of the original transcripts. Neither Lacy nor Sands received the paperwork.
Elwood Moger, the foreman for the ’94-’95 grand jury, said he and other jury members followed instructions and at no time were malicious in their intent.
“We did an extensive investigation and we had a significant amount of evidence,” Moger said. “We were very careful in our voting and we were well advised. Unfortunately, that evidence will forever be sealed.”
The tempest isn’t over for Nielsen quite yet. A group calling themselves “Citizens for Ethical Government” have begun a recall campaign against him. The organization must collect 3,327 signatures before November 10 in order to place the recall on a future ballot. According to a CEG spokesperson, they have nearly half the signatures.
Nielsen said he will focus on governmental matters and not worry about the recall drive. He added his promise of an open government will continue.
“To the people of District 3 and the county who have been subjected to the fervor and excesses of a group of political vigilantes, I am happy that a court of law has corrected the abuses generated by the runaway ’94-’95 grand jury,” ended Nielsen.
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