Disclosure: This writer is the same as the defendant in this case even though the DA’s office was inexplicably unable to correctly spell the name.
In just 47 minutes, a jury handed a stunning defeat to the DA’s office and ADA James Clinchard, and a vindication of the defendant’s claims that the charges were without legal merit, by returning a not guilty verdict on every count. Not only was the verdict returned quickly, it was returned by a unanimous vote of 12 to 0 voting not guilty.
Protest at DA Vern Pierson’s Placerville office
Three years ago the Pioneer Fire Protection District hired Dan Dellinger Consulting to help solve a problem of a revenue shortfall caused from declining revenues related to the decline in local property values. After analysis and public informational meetings, the consulting firm delivered the message from the local fire district residents: let them vote on a parcel tax of $85 per developed lot in order to save the independence of local fire services and to keep emergency response times to a minimum. In November of 2011, the self-imposed tax was overwhelmingly passed by the local voters.
Prior to the passage of the parcel tax, the county Auditor objected to the payment to Dan Dellinger Consulting saying, “”Routinely, I do not look at disbursements for small special districts. A member of my staff brought this to me and said, ‘This seems way out of line.’ ” Harn said his office raised concerns about certain payments to Dan Dellinger Consulting based on a June 2011 consulting contract with the fire district that appeared to contain services for illegal campaign activities and what appeared to be a promise of a $12,000 bonus for the firm if the measure passed. After meeting directly with the Auditor-Controller, the verbiage of the contract was altered at Joe Harn’s direction. After that, the initial payment was made by Harn.
Dan Dellinger acquitted
This was not the first time the consultant, or the fire district, had run into conflict with Joe Harn. Dan Dellinger and Cris Alarcon were instrumental in assisting candidates in local races win. Candidates that were running against candidates endorsed by, and monetarily supported by Joe Harn. The fire district, as well as many other fire districts, have complained of Joe Harn’s arbitrary, and capricious control of local agencies funds that are collected and administered by the county through the Auditor-Controller’s office.
Cris Alarcon acquitted
Tangentially, Cris Alarcon was involved with the vetting of a new young man that declared he was interested in entering local politics while the two were independently attending a Board of Supervisors meeting in the spring of 2010. In the process, Alarcon discovered that the young man had a boyfriend that was twice his age that had been declared a sexual predator by state psychologist in prior court proceedings leading up to his conviction for sexually assaulting boys in his care. Alarcon sat on this information until the older man indicated that he would volunteer to supervise a local boy scout overnight event. At that point Alarcon objected and threats of legal action was brought against Alarcon by the man accusing him of interfering in his ability to make a living. Although Alarcon invited the twice convicted pedifile to charge him, the man declined to do anything more than make threats.
Unbeknownst to Alarcon, was that the younger man in that couple was soon to be seated on the 2011 Civil Grand Jury. Details of this event are cronicalled here. In that story, the last line is, “Small County Politics can be ugly.”
The story contained an indictment of the young man’s intent. “Somehow, Ryan Donner made his way onto the Grand Jury about a year after the public outing of his boyfriend Kevin Hurtado. Ryan Donner served on the 2011 El Dorado Grand Jury. Not coincidentally, they recommended prosecuting Cris Alarcon and Daniel Dellinger over a local ballot measure campaign. Alarcon and Dellinger have an air-tight case. It appears that Vern Pierson knows this, but is using the ‘Grand Jury Made me do it’ defense. And Pierson’s rampage is based on a Grand Jury that could easily have been influenced by the young boyfriend of a publicly outed pedophile?”
Regardless of how the Grand Jury came to its conclusion, the DA’s office received the Grand Jury’s report and investigated the allegations and case law. On July 27, 2012, the DA issued a press release which, in part, read: “Today, the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office filed a civil Complaint against Defendants Dan Dellinger and Christopher Alarcon for fraudulently obtaining taxpayer financed contracts with the Pioneer Fire Protection District (PFPD) related to illegal campaign activity to expressly advocate a position in favor of the passage of a tax increase (Ballot Measure F) which voters approved in November, 2011.”
Dan Dellinger responded on Aug. 5, 2012 saying, “his firm acted properly, providing to the district only informational materials and handling the paperwork necessary to place the measure on the ballot. Voter outreach activities that the firm conducted were covered by private donations to a campaign committee, Save Pioneer Fire.”
Dellinger maintained that the complaint was politically motivated. County Auditor-Controller Joe Harn requested the grand jury investigation. Dellinger said Harn and District Attorney Vern Pierson are trying to put him out of business because he has conducted successful campaigns for several political candidates that they did not support.
“This is Chicago-style politics at its worst,” Dellinger said. “The public will see through this.”
Nearly two years later, a jury indeed did, “see through this” as Dellinger had predicted. In contradiction to the tainted Grand Jury and the DA’s allegations that there were violations of law, the trial jury came to a different opinion after hearing the facts presented in a court of law.
Both Alarcon and Dellinger accuse two elected county officials of using the power of their office to pursue political agendas at the taxpayers expense. Not only in this case, but also in the DA’s case against Supervisor Ray Nutting, a client of Dan Dellinger Consulting.
The case against the sitting Supervisor was a high-profile defeat for the DA’s office. In a twist of timing, both the Auditor Joe Harn, and District Attorney, were served subpoenas for the Dellinger/Alarcon case on the same day as the jury refused to convict Nutting of any of the charges made by the DA’s case in prme. In that case, Mary-Beth Moylan, a McGeorge School of Law professor specializing in political law, said after the verdict that it was unclear whether prosecutors made a good decision to pursue criminal charges. “I think the basic problem with this case is that it really doesn’t call for a legal commentary as much as it appears to be a political circus up there,” said Moylan.
Although the DA did make a motion earlier this week to delay the Dellinger/Alarcon case until after the election, the motion was denied by the presiding El Dorado County Superior Court Judge James R. Wagoner. The ADA argued that Dan Dellinger had used unfair influence in obtaining the contract because Dan Dellinger had a track record of winning (the contract was awarded in an undisputed open bid process with other bidders). The DA’s complaint said Dan Dellinger Consulting, “cited to an impressive list of former local politicians. Information later provided to the PFPD by Defendants gave a detailed list of nine local politicians as references for Dan Dellinger and Christopher Alarcon, which included several El Dorado County Elected Officials (including a judge and a county supervisor) and two members of the California State Legislature.” [The judge noted above was not Wagoner and neither have Alarcon or Dellinger ever worked on a campaign for Wagoner]
This, as well as all other arguments made by the DA’s office, were uniformly and unanimously rejected by the trial jury.
The jury has spoken and the issues of law are settled, but as always maintained by the defendants, this is a case of politics, not law, and the politics are not settled. Not settled at all.
The cost to taxpayers in a failed attempt to convict Nutting, Alarcon, and Dellinger is unknown but may sideliners have estimated it in the millions. The personal costs to the three are more than just dollars. The cost in stress and damaged reputations are inestimable. Nutting and Dellinger have outstanding bills with their lawyers, although Dellinger was represented by Anthony Palik after his resources ran out to pay his local lawyer. Alarcon had no legal bills but had a $100,000 judgement pending against him if the case was not resolved in his favor.
Although Nutting continued to get paid as a Supervisor, both Alarcon and particularly Dellinger were financially devastated by the charges. Few politicians were willing to hire political consultants under a cloud of professional wrong-doing. Elections are largely about appearances and every candidate understands that the opposition will use associations with consultants being prosecuted against them during an election. This resulted in a total loss of income for Dellinger at a time when he had unjustified legal expenses. This has exhausted all of Dellinger’s savings.
Fortunately, Anthony Palik agreed that the charges were unfounded and agreed to take on the case. Without legal representation against any charges made with the weight and power of the DA’s office, it is unclear if justice would have prevailed.
For Alarcon’s part, he has been an outspoken critic of the use of the Auditor’s office by Joe Harn, and the DA’s office by Vern Pierson, for what he calls a gross misuse of taxpayer’s money and government prestige to pursue political agendas unrelated to the respective offices.
Both Alarcon and Dellinger pledge that the legal questions, although costly and time consuming, are just a step in a battle that will be renewed at the ballot box.
In addition to the local news service owned by Alarcon, he also has provided a residence for the DA’s current political challenger, Judson Henry. Although Alarcon never asked Henry to run for the office, he was happy to provide him a residence to meet the requirement of county residency to run for the DA’s office. In addition, Alarcon is actively volunteering in a number of other campaigns for candidates challenging those that he feels are, are will, abuse the office for which they are running.
Regardless of the outcome of the elections this June, it is certain that Alarcon and Dellinger will take the forefront in recruiting and consulting candidates for what they call “clean and transparent” government in El Dorado County that does not waste the precious resource of citizen’s taxes.