The sudden resignation of Humboldt County deputy district attorney Allan Dollison earlier this month leaves an office described by insiders as over-burdened and under-staffed, short a senior prosecutor, while also raising questions about the handling of cases and what prompted his exit.
District attorney Paul Gallegos declined to discuss the circumstances surrounding Dollison’s decision, but said his staff is “committed to making necessary adjustments to make sure offenders will be held accountable, victims will be heard, and the community will be protected as much as is possible under the law.”
Dollison also declined to discuss his reason for leaving, but called his resignation “voluntary” and the best decision “for my career and ultimately my family” in a column he submitted to the Times-Standard, which appears in this issue of the Redwood Times.
His resignation comes shortly after a mistrial was declared on Dec. 13 in one of his cases following opening statements. The judge granted the defense request when it came out that a police interview had taken place with the defendant outside of the scope agreed upon by her defense attorney at the time, and that the information she gave about her pending case was not turned over to the defense until the trial had started.
The burglary defendant’s attorney Gregory Elvine-Kreis, who heads the county’s conflict counsel office, has since submitted a motion to dismiss the case, citing Dollison’s conduct. The motion was heard Wednesday, Jan. 23.
In an opposition to the defense’s motion to dismiss, deputy district attorney Zachary Curtis wrote that Dollison’s actions “do not amount to misconduct.”
”Prosecution is responsible to inform the defense of all statements given to law enforcement in a case, and particularly where law enforcement has contacted and gotten statements from a defendant,” Curtis wrote. “Yet in the context of this particular case, the error amounts to negligence - not misconduct.”
Elvine-Kreis declined to comment on the specifics of the mistrial, but said documentation relating to Dollison’s actions in the case - and one other - have been submitted to the district attorney’s office for review. At this time, Elvine-Kreis said he has no plans to submit any information regarding the mistrial to the state bar for review. “I am waiting to see what the district attorney is going to do,” he said.
Dollison declined to comment, saying it was a current matter before the court.
In his column, the United States Army veteran who served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq described a strained working environment where prosecutors were over-burdened with heavy caseloads, creating a “difficult environment.”
”I highlight my cases and my work to show that even amongst all of these impediments you can have success (and yes I had my share of failures too),” he wrote.
Dollison prosecuted violent felonies and other cases for the district attorney’s office for more than six years. His cases included the murder conviction of Brian Cole Fiore, a Bay Area resident found guilty of killing his friend after a marijuana heist while the pair led law enforcement on a 20-mile high speed chase on State Route 299 in 2009.
Early in his career, Dollison was disciplined by the state bar.
In August 2000, he received a 60-day suspension of his law license and was placed on two years’ probation after stipulating to 16 counts of misconduct in four consolidated cases, according to the state bar.
Those included failing to perform legal services competently or respond to client inquiries; improperly withdrawing from representation; failing to return client files and unearned fees; and two counts of failing to cooperate with the bar’s investigation.
The state bar report stated as a mitigating factor that Dollison started a solo law practice soon after passing the bar, but due to a lack of experience and business acumen, he accepted difficult cases for relatively low fees.
Hastings University law professor David Levine said while it is impossible to know the exact reason for Dollison’s departure, given the circumstances of Dollison’s early career and the recent court incident, a resignation would not be unexpected.
”In the general run of things, if you have something that has happened that is dissatisfactory, a resignation often takes care of it from the district attorney’s standpoint,” he said. “That wouldn’t be an abnormal response.”
Levine said while that might be the end as far as the district attorney’s office is concerned, it is plausible that the state bar could be interested in pursuing the matter. He said that would first require a referral to the state bar from the Gallegos, Elvine-Kreis or the judge.
In an email to the Times-Standard last week, Gallegos stressed that under-funding is a major issue in his office. He has stated on a number of occasions that prosecutors’ workloads are unsustainable, given the low staffing levels.
In May 2012, Gallegos told local law enforcement officials that his office might not be able to continue prosecuting nonviolent misdemeanor cases for charges like drunk in public or driving without a license.
At the time, he told the Times-Standard, “I’m breaking people.”
According to assistant district attorney Kelly Neel, the district attorney’s office currently has nine funded attorney positions, eight of which are currently held by full-time employees, not including herself and Gallegos. The office also has two part-time attorneys, whose positions are grant funded.
Neel said when she first started at the district attorney’s office in 2007, there were - or almost were - double the current number of attorneys on staff. Neel said many of the prosecutors in the office now wear multiple hats and carry substantial caseloads - including Gallegos.
”We do the best we can with what we have,” she said. “But it certainly is not without its challenges.”