Grand Jury Faults DA Office, Gallegos Responds – October 2, 2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – The county’s Grand Jury has found that problems continue to “plague” the District Attorney’s Office, including poor management, failure to claim grant reimbursements and nepotism.

District Attorney Paul Gallegos has responded extensively to the findings, asserting that management of his office has actually improved and that members of the Grand Jury do not understand how grant reimbursements work.

Responses to the latest installment of the Grand Jury report were recently filed and among them are Gallegos’ retorts to another critical investigation of his office.

The Grand Jury found that “poor office management practices and communication continue to plague the District Attorney’s Office, after first being noted in the 2004-05 Grand Jury report” and that “these ongoing problems have been corroborated by the testimony of several witnesses.”

The witness testimony described “job-related frustrations,” including “needing to re-do tasks previously completed,” “delays in the timely completion of routine tasks” and “failures in communications between office staff.”

District Attorney’s Office staff also complained about “nepotism and favoritism toward relatives of supervisors,” according to the report, which described nepotism as a “problem” in the DA’s Office.

“Current county policy that nepotism occurs only when there exists a direct line of supervision is ineffective,” the report states. It adds that “favoritism can transcend multiple levels of supervision” and nepotism “creates tension” and “becomes a source of morale and retention issues.”

The Grand Jury also found that the DA’s Office failed to file for at least two quarters of grant fund reimbursements for the Victim-Witness program in the 2006-07 fiscal year, resulting in “substantial funds being reverted to the state.” Problems with timely submission of grant reimbursement claims “resulted in the loss of revenue for the county,” which had to cover the program’s expenses with General Fund money, according to the report.

It also states that personnel evaluations of DA’s Office staff are “not being done routinely” as required. Interviews with DA’s Office staff revealed that “evaluations were either done sporadically or not at all.”

The report also points out that this year’s investigation picked up unfinished work from the previous Grand Jury. “That Grand jury could not bring the case to a conclusion before its term expired, largely because the principals from the District Attorney’s Office delayed responding to the Grand Jury requests for information,” the report states.

The Grand Jury’s recommendations to fix the alleged problems include creating a grant management committee, implementing revision of the county’s nepotism policy, establishing an ordinance that sets a definite schedule for employee evaluations and demanding that Gallegos “recognize the ongoing responsibility of his department to abide by the administrative, finance and personnel policies of the county.”

On Dec. 8, 2009, using a metal detector in the woods outside Blue Lake, citizen Danny Walker located the remains of Curtis Huntzinger, a 14-year-old who went missing in 1990. Last week, Walker was rewarded with a $5,000 check from the FBI Reward Fund. Left to right, DA Investigator Mike Hislop, Curtis’ mother Nancy Huntzinger, Walker and District Attorney Paul Gallegos.

DA: ‘Effective leadership’

Gallegos disagrees with most of the findings. He states that the alleged delays in getting responses to Grand Jury inquiries are due to their being simultaneously submitted to the County Counsel’s Office. Another problem, Gallegos continues, is that the inquiries were submitted to DA’s staff instead of Gallegos himself.

On the finding of poor office management – an allegation that has persisted throughout Gallegos’ two-term tenure – the DA states that the opposite is true. Management of the office has “improved substantially,” he responds, due to his “effective leadership.”

Gallegos describes the improvements he refers to. “The District Attorney has strived to bring the current office into the 21st century, has established departmental policy and procedures that had been lacking, revamped the criminal division by establishing felony/misdemeanor mentorship, developed more efficient and effective procedures for getting work accomplished within budget constraints and developed partnerships with local organizations to maximize our services to the people in our community,” he states.

According to Gallegos’ response, his office reviewed over 11,000 new incident reports each year and over 67 percent have resulted in criminal charges. But Gallegos allows that “as with all organizations, there are occasions when work must be redone due to the receipt of new information.” Delays in completing routine tasks are “caused by increases in the work flow.” He adds, “There are also times when there are failures in communications between office staff.”

On the allegation of failing to capture Victim-Witness program reimbursements, Gallegos says that the Grand Jury has got it wrong. “All quarters were submitted,” he states, adding that documentation was provided to Grand Jury on June 2, 2009, along with copies of cancelled checks from the state and revenue deposits into the Victim-Witness account.

He does agree with the recommendation to establish a county grant management committee, however.

On the nepotism finding, Gallegos describes the situations he believes the Grand Jury is referring to. Drew Duncan, the DA’s archives clerk, is the son of Jeannie Duncan, the office’s legal business manager. But Gallegos states that Duncan works under another supervisor and not his mother.

Jim Dawson, an Auto Insurance Fraud Investigator for the office, is supervised by his son-in-law, Chief Investigator Mike Hislop. But he “takes most of his direction from the State Insurance Fund, since the agency sends him their investigations,” Gallegos states. “While he is not a ‘relative’ as defined by county policy, his employment and assignment was approved by the personnel director in compliance with county policy.”

The county’s nepotism policy does not include in-laws in its definition of “relatives.” It also allows exceptions, as approved by the personnel director, if a position requires extraordinary qualifications.

Dawson is paid through an annual $50,000 State Auto Fraud Grant and works three days a week. Gallegos emphasizes Dawson’s “40 years of experience as a law enforcement officer,” including 10 years of work as a chief investigator in the DA’s Office.

“Neither position is a permanent position,” Gallegos states. “Neither of them is seeking permanent employment or advancement. Neither is afforded favoritism.”

The DA “agrees, in part” with the finding on personnel evaluations, however. Personnel evaluations have not been done “consistently and systematically” since 1991, he states. Evaluations of administrative and Victim-Witness staffers was done in 2009, but “there have been gaps between 1991 and present and some employees did not receive consistent employee evaluations or there is not record in the employee file to differ,” Gallegos adds.

He points out that verbal evaluations are given, and “attorneys get regular feedback.”

The County Administrative Office responded to some of the recommendations, stating that a grant management committee can’t be implemented because it would require additional staffing, and that the revision of the nepotism policy and establishment of a personnel evaluation ordinance are not necessary because current policies suffice.

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