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Answering the critics 

District Attorney hopefuls identify the largest criticism of their candidacies

There's the candidate with a state bar complaint, another who's only practiced law for six years, the one who may be too cozy with law enforcement for the taste of some voters and the man who some see on the wrong side of his 70th birthday. Together, they comprise the field of Humboldt County's district attorney candidates.

As a part of its coverage of the race, the Journal recently sat down with each of the four attorneys vying for the job — Allan Dollison, Elan Firpo, Maggie Fleming and Arnie Klein — and had them weigh in on the largest issues looming over the race ("Crime Fighters," May 1). An extended version of the story went up on www.northcoastjournal.com that included a question asking the candidates to respond to what they see as the biggest criticism of their candidacy. Here's what they had to say.

Dollison identified the largest criticism of his campaign as his sanctioning by the California State Bar in 2000, when he stipulated to 16 counts of misconduct in four cases and saw his law license suspended for 60 days. Dollison admitted that he failed to perform legal services competently or respond to client inquiries, that he improperly withdrew from representation, failed to return client files and unearned fees and that he failed to cooperate with the bar's investigation. He also lied to at least one of his clients, fabricated a notice of ruling and forged signatures on documents. Shortly after being hired on by the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office in 2006, he told the Times-Standard that he'd gotten in over his head as a new attorney and taken on more than he could handle.

Dollison later resigned his post with the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office under unusual circumstances, after a mistrial was declared in a case he was handling and he was accused of lying to a judge. The motion to dismiss the case — a 2012 burglary case against Sandra Adams — was later denied, with Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Bruce Watson determining Dollison hadn't committed prosecutorial misconduct. However, Watson noted that Dollison's answers to questions under oath about his handling of the case — specifically his failure to disclose an interview between Adams and police — were "a bit convoluted, to perhaps say the least," and that what he'd told the trial court "didn't appear to even pass muster on making sense at the time and seemed to be — my terms — a misstatement, a cover up, of some sort."

At a recent debate, Dollison said he chose to resign his post after Gallegos lost faith in him but noted the case against Adams was not dismissed and that she's currently serving a prison sentence. In his interview with the Journal, Dollison addressed his sanctioning by the state bar.

"I learned my lessons from my bar discipline," he said. "These issues have been widely reported but the people who see me practice and know me know that's not me anymore and that I've learned and moved on."

Firpo said a perceived lack of prosecutorial experience was the biggest criticism of her campaign, as she was admitted to the state bar in May 2008 and has less experience in the courtroom than her opponents. Firpo said she's spent much of her career in the private sector, where she's worked as engineer and managed people, once having to hire 40 people in two months. "We're trying to find a district attorney — someone who will lead the office and manage the budget," she said. "I'm the only one with private industry experience, and it's experience nobody gets in law school and you certainly don't pick up in a courtroom."

Fleming said critics feel that her endorsements from a variety of law enforcement groups could impact her ability to run the district attorney's office. Fleming has received the endorsement of police officers associations throughout the county, as well as those of individual officers. During debates, some candidates implied those endorsements might influence Fleming's independence in the office and her ability to check and balance law enforcement. One candidate suggested that Fleming has shied away from criticizing the sheriff's office's policy allowing the release of jail inmates in the middle of the night because she's been endorsed by Sheriff Mike Downey. (Downey is not listed as an endorser on Fleming's website.)

"I am a very independent person," Fleming told the Journal. "I completely disagree with that notion." Fleming said she's proud of her endorsement by law enforcement, as officers spend more time in local courtrooms than the average citizen and she believes the endorsements reflect that officers have found her to be prepared, knowledgeable and devoted to every case she's handled. Fleming added that she's prosecuted officers in the past and wouldn't hesitate to do so again if warranted.

Klein identified his age — 71 — as the largest criticism of his candidacy. But, he said, his age should be an advantage as it's reflective of his depth of experience. Klein pointed to Jerry Brown — California's 76-year-old governor — as evidence that folks "a lot older" than him can be productive leaders: "If it's not a 100-yard dash, age doesn't make a difference."

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