The SEPTIC System

The DA’s Power to Disappoint

In District Attorney, ReElect Dumanis on January 9, 2010 at 12:48 am

RE-POSTED Part three of a five-part series from:

Originally Posted: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 4:25 pm | Updated: 6:12 pm, Tue Jan 5, 2010. By KELLY THORNTON

About This Story: The Rise of Dumanis
Part I
Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V
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Deputy District Attorney Richard Monroy told his boss, Bonnie Dumanis, that prosecuting San Diego Police Officer Frank White in an off-duty road-rage incident was a dead-on-arrival proposition since juries seldom convict cops.

Within months of those comments, which were made in front of colleagues, Monroy was transferred from his job as head of the prestigious Special Operations unit to a low-profile non-management position as liaison to the narcotics task force, doing mostly search warrants, according to several friends and colleagues of Monroy who are familiar with the situation. Since then he has been reassigned again, this time as ethics advisor of the office.

After Dumanis did decide to go ahead with the prosecution, White was acquitted after two days of deliberation.

Monroy declined to comment. But some colleagues saw his demotion as pure retribution.

“She sacked a supervisor because he disagreed with her on a major case,” said a senior deputy district attorney, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by Dumanis. “People not supportive of her decisions keep their periscopes down.”

Another veteran said: “There’s becoming a feeling in our office that she is petty and that she will react in ways like that if she’s crossed. There’s definitely that perception that is sort of growing.”  Read more

Some of the Blunders

Dumanis said she does not regret charging White, who shot and wounded an 8-year-old boy during a road rage incident with the child’s intoxicated mother. The mother was also shot during the March 2008 confrontation. White had been charged with a felony count of grossly negligent discharge of a firearm and a misdemeanor count of exhibiting a firearm.

“The jury is the conscience of the community. In my view they’re very thoughtful, and they kind of determine what level of behavior they’re willing to accept,” Dumanis said. “And he was off duty so it’s a little bit different than a police officer but generally speaking, people — and we knew this going in — usually support a police officer.

“But yet they did spend two [days] thinking about it, talking about it, which I think is really a good thing because it shows they really considered things. And they made a decision. We may not agree with it, but I respect the jury’s verdict.”

Another one of Dumanis’ biggest charging blunders: The prosecution of Chula Vista Councilman Steve Castaneda, who was acquitted of most perjury charges stemming from a corruption investigation that went nowhere. The jury deadlocked on a few other perjury counts.

The botched prosecution came after Dumanis had announced her new public corruption unit to much fanfare.

After that, the unit fizzled; its key prosecutor, Patrick O’Toole, was transferred. Dumanis said she needed his expertise elsewhere in the office — and there have been no high-profile corruption cases since.

The District Attorney's Office prosecuted Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Castaneda on perjury charges but none had the weight to secure a conviction. Photo: Sam Hodgson

The original case against Castaneda had developed from rumors that he had used his position to get free or reduced rent on a condo from a Chula Vista developer. Officials found no evidence of wrongdoing.  Read more

A Freed Widow and a Shunned Judge

There was the ill-fated case against Cynthia Sommer, the woman who was convicted in January 2007 of fatally poisoning her Marine husband with arsenic. During the trial prosecutors pointed out that Sommer used her husband’s life insurance money to pay for breast augmentation surgery.

Sommer was freed after more than two years in prison when evidence of botched crime lab results came to light. An examination of tissue samples that had not been tested showed there was no arsenic in Todd Sommer’s body. Charges were dropped.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Dumanis said at the time, noting that as soon as the mistake came to light, she moved quickly to dismiss the charges. She said the case is still under investigation.

Dumanis’ lawyers generally agree that the office did nothing wrong in the Sommer case and the mistake was made by the lab — and the jury. “We still don’t know if she was innocent or not,” one prosecutor said.

More recently, in a rare move seen as a political power play, Dumanis, has ordered her office to boycott the judge who presided over the Sommer case.

Since September, prosecutors have blocked cases from going to prominent Superior Court Judge John Einhorn by using a peremptory challenge.

In doing so they do not have to prove a judge’s bias, or even say why they believe a judge is biased, but they have to allege bias under oath.

Dumanis declined to say why she took that step. Read more

The Accused Teacher, Big-Time Political Flap and Medical Pot

A prosecution in 2004 against Thad Jesperson, a popular and respected teacher accused of molesting eight second and third grade girls, conjured memories of the Dale Akiki debacle. Like Akiki, the case against Jefferson was built solely on accusations by children, made after they’d been questioned at length by investigators. There was no other corroborating evidence.

Under then-District Attorney Ed Miller, Akiki was charged in 1991 with 35 felony counts of sexual and physical abuse of children at Faith Chapel in Spring Valley, where he volunteered with his wife in the preschool. A jury took just seven hours to acquit him after a seven-month trial in 1993. He later won a $2 million lawsuit against his accusers. Read more

The Demoted Deputy

Dumanis said she is aware of the perception that Monroy, the former head of the prestigious Special Operations unit, is being punished, but that’s not the case. She declined to say whether Monroy disagreed with her on the White case, though the sources said he did, and the result was a transfer.

“We transfer people regularly in this office,” Dumanis said. “The transfers are for the needs of the office. I’m aware that some people have thought it was a punishment, but it wasn’t a punishment in any way. I brought Richard in and asked where he would like to go.”

Dumanis she does not quash dissenting views.

“I encourage people to speak up and to have rowdy discussions just like any family does,” Dumanis said. “That’s the only way I know how to do this job is to have people be able to speak the truth, to be able to argue amongst each other about what they see in a case, what issues they see, and I value that, and that’s something I would always want to see happen because that’s the only way that I can avoid pitfalls.” Read more

RE-POSTED Part three of a five-part series from:

About This Story: The Rise of Dumanis
Part I
Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

Bookmark and Share


Bonnie Dumanis is being blogged at also known as The S.E.P.T.I.C. System.

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