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Sonoma County supervisors reject sheriff’s request for outside attorneys on oversight measure

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors rejected a request from Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick on Wednesday to hire an outside lawyer for a review of a law enforcement oversight measure that the board added to the November ballot last week.

The supervisors’ decision came during a virtual public meeting in which the board considered Essick’s request for $50,000 to hire the outside counsel to provide him advice on the measure, which he described as having some legal defects.

Sonoma County Counsel Bruce Goldstein determined there would be a conflict of interest to advise both the Sheriff’s Office and the board because there was a possibility that Essick may chose to file a lawsuit against the county’s five supervisors over aspects of the oversight initiative.

The measure, called The Evelyn Cheatham Effective IOLERO Ordinance, would boost the authority and funding for the county’s law enforcement auditor’s office. Essick said parts of the measure might inhibit the duties granted to him and his deputies by state law.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Goldstein explained that state laws allow Essick to seek outside counsel if such a conflict exists as long as that legal advice was needed for him to carry out his duties as the county’s sheriff.

Essick further explained that the money he was requesting was already in his office’s budget.

“This is money that is already earmarked within the Sheriff’s Office budget for legal services, so this is not taking something away from some other program that’s in the county, as some people have mistakenly stated,” Essick said.

Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Lynda Hopkins each shot down Essick’s request, with Hopkins saying that she believed Essick’s request was motivated by politics rather than duty.

“I don't believe opposing the democratic process is part of the sheriff’s official duties,” Hopkins said. “To me the request appears to be a part of a personal political agenda, not the official duties and the capacity as the sheriff of Sonoma County.”

Board Chair Susan Gorin and Supervisor James Gore each voted to approve Essick’s request, with Gore adding that he couldn't ignore Goldstein's comments despite his own support for the measure.

“I have a county counsel that comes forward and states on the public record that there is a conflict of interest, and despite my not liking that determination, that is on the public record,” Gore said.

Essick’s needed four of five supervisors to approve his request. Supervisor David Rabbitt was not present for Wednesday’s meeting.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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