MY WORD by Allan Dollison
I write this in response to the recent story that was published in the Times-Standard and the Redwood Times on the fact that I had departed the district attorney’s office after six years and four months ("Deputy district attorney out after 6 years," Times-Standard, Jan. 16, Page A3).
It is true that I have left. Mr. Gallegos accepted my voluntary resignation effective Jan. 11, and this part of a chapter of my life is now complete. It was a difficult decision, but in the end, I felt it was best for my career and ultimately my family.
The article pointed out that I was trying serious and violent felonies. Most recently, I was known for the successful prosecution and conviction of Brian Fiore, one of the worst crime sprees that this county had ever seen. Mr. Fiore received 68 years and 8 months and then three consecutive life sentences on nine felony convictions. I was actually in Iraq, serving my country when I read about it online, and I said, "Whoa, I really need to get back." Three months later after completing my mission in Iraq, I reported to work eight days after returning from war.
You don’t just have one case that you handle in six years and four months. During my career, I negotiated two guilty pleas to murder. Guilty pleas to murder are rare, in that being convicted of murder carries what is called an indeterminate sentence, and the governor has to ultimately approve any parole, and being convicted of murder is generally the worst thing that can happen, yet I accomplished that twice.
Joaquin Fitzgerald murdered a homeless man who was celebrating his birthday, and he received a sentence of 15 years to life in prison for second-degree murder. I also handled the James Stanko murder case, another terrible crime spree, where six robberies culminated in the murder of cancer survivor and army veteran Andrew Pease. Mr. Stanko received 26-years-to-life in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree murder and the six robberies.
I personally gave my Bronze Star Medal (awarded for combat in Afghanistan) with my card to Mr. Pease’s widow, as I thought it was an appropriate thing to do. I still see her around town, and always give her a big hug, and get emotional about her husband’s case.
In 2007, I successfully tried and prosecuted Robert Canfield in a home invasion robbery of a single mother and her child in their west Eureka apartment. He received a 14-year sentence. Later that year, Johnny Randall was held accountable for resisting arrest by the now chief of Hoopa Tribal Police, Robert Kane, who was injured in the melee. Randall was convicted by a jury, and later sentenced to prison for four years and eight months. I also successfully tried a sexually violent predator case, that of Jerome Franz Gonzales, who had twice been convicted of molestation incidents in El Dorado and Del Norte counties. He received an indefinite term at a state hospital until he is cured.
In 2010, I tried the very difficult Roy Stevens murder case, that of a blind man who had gotten in a fight with his brother. He reached a point of safety, but came back with a gun and killed his brother. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, even though one of the sheriff’s detectives said that he thought the jury would never convict the man of anything.
Part of this process, what I always thought and believed was my duty, was to prove the cases to best of my ability beyond a reasonable doubt, which also insured the victims had their day in court, a process that some in the criminal justice field believe can be a cathartic process for victims of crime.
This is not always true, and many victims never want to have to go through the court process at all, and see the defendants. I did my level best to achieve an appropriate balance of those competing interests.
During these times, in our local newspapers there is lots of coverage about the DA’s office. Admittedly, not all of it is positive. The basic overriding fact was spelled out last year in an excellent series of articles by Thaddeus Greenson - that the office is woefully under-funded, and that this causes too many cases, in excess of the American Bar Association recommended guidelines.
With my departure there are three attorneys who handle the four misdemeanor trial courts (and one of those handles special grant cases as well). There are now three attorneys who handle the four felony trial courts. (These are the same four courts; they just shuffle on a daily basis between felonies and misdemeanors.) We also have a juvenile prosecutor, and a Fish and Game prosecutor, and then the assistant DA and finally Mr. Gallegos.
We also have a retired prosecutor who works part time. Mr. Gallegos’ own trial schedule has dramatically increased to help make up for this difference.
I used to run a contract public defender’s office in a rural county called Amador in between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. That county’s DA’s office is the same size as Humboldt’s, but the population disparity is profound - they have 38,091 people to Humboldt’s 134,623. I can report to you that the staff of the Humboldt County DA’s office is dedicated, and are all really good lawyers, who all choose to work in what is obviously 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). However the elected leaders of Humboldt County together with its populace must have a discussion, and decide if they want this situation to continue, where the office is dramatically under-staffed and under-resourced. Mr. Gallegos was even quoted as saying (in Mr. Greenson’s article), "I’m breaking people." There has certainly been a large staff turnover over the years, and all people leave for different reasons, but no community should want their government servants to be "broken." The stakes are too high, as the basic function of the district attorney’s office is to protect all of this community’s citizens.
Allan Dollison resides in Eureka.
Opinions expressed in My Word pieces do not necessarily reflect the editorial viewpoint of the Times- Standard or the Redwood Times.