SAN FRANCISCO -- The fight over a district attorney's career got under way Monday in a tiny courtroom in the downtown San Francisco high rise that serves as headquarters for the State Bar, the agency that licenses and disciplines California's 176,000 lawyers.
State Bar prosecutors have charged Del Norte County District Attorney Jon Alexander with seven charges of corruption and other alleged ethical transgressions. He faces disbarment. State Bar officials believe he is the first sitting district attorney to face such a disciplinary trial.
Alexander is charged with making a $14,000 loan to a probation officer preparing probation reports for two of his clients when he was a public defender, receiving a $6,000 loan from a defense attorney then dismissing charges against the attorney's client and improperly discussing a case with a drug defendant without her lawyer present.
Alexander says he is a victim of small-town politics and his many political enemies made during the contentious and close election for district attorney in 2010 when he defeated the incumbent and another candidate by 93 votes in a run-off after spending $100,000 to his opponents' $20,000 for a job that pays $84,000 annually.
"They have all been contentious," Crescent City defense attorney Leroy Davies testified from the witness stand Monday when asked about the last district attorney's election. "But, yes, this was a contentious election."
Davies was the first of several witnesses State Bar prosecutors plan to call over the next two weeks of trial. Two others witnesses testified Monday, including a tribal judge called by Alexander's lawyers who said she believes the punishment of disbarment to be too harsh even if all of the charges are proved.
A third witness, defense attorney Darren McElfresh, also testified about his interactions with Alexander.
McElfresh testified Alexander was a "hard worker" who put in long hours in the District Attorney's Office.
McElfresh said the loans were the subject of ongoing "scuttlebutt" discussions at the Del Norte County Courthouse in Crescent City.
He said the loan to the probation officer "had the appearance of impropriety."