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California: Del Norte County DA Described as “Idiotic”

Attorney Jon Michael Alexander, 63, has been a meth addict. He’s spent time in jail, he’s been homeless, he’s contemplated suicide, he’s been suspended by the State Bar several times, he’s been investigated by the FBI and is presently awaiting the outcome of yet another bar complaint. He’s also the District Attorney of Del Norte County, California, and his questionable behavior has been dubbed “idiotic” by Stanford University law professor Robert Weisberg, a legal ethics scholar.

As far back as 1989, Alexander was suspended from the practice of law for failing to pay his bar dues. Undeterred, he continued to practice law. For that, as well as for taking money from clients without performing legal services, he was later disciplined. The bar cited him for “moral turpitude, dishonesty or corruption.”

In 1996, while managing a successful criminal defense practice in Orange County, Alexander again ran into trouble. The stress of taking care of his mother, an Alzheimer’s patient and insomniac, overwhelmed him, he said. Deprived of sleep, he “started chipping away on meth, just to stay awake during the day.”

Alexander was ultimately arrested and spent time in jail. He was suspended, again for taking money from a client without providing legal services. He was also suspended for failing to pay bar fees in 2002 and 2003, then was placed on probation by the State Bar in 2004.

The following year, Alexander was hired as a Del Norte County prosecutor. He was defiant and meddlesome; a colleague, then-Senior Deputy DA Karen Olson, described him as “a liability.” She also said “He will lie, manipulate, and attack when he feels it will benefit his own agenda.” He was fired after less than six months on the job.

Undaunted, Alexander ran for DA in 2006. He lost. A few weeks later he was suspended from the practice of law for having sent an ex parte communication to a judge in a criminal case.

Alexander then re-invented himself as a public defender. He renewed his volunteer efforts, helping others to overcome addiction. In November 2010 he again ran for DA; citing his commitment to 12-step recovery programs, he ran on a platform of “death to meth.” Surprisingly, he won.

Since becoming DA, Alexander has continued to court trouble. He dropped child kidnapping charges against the client of a defense lawyer who had loaned him $6,000 that he allegedly used for hair transplants, resulting in an FBI bribery probe. And twice he allegedly tried to sell or trade his endorsement for the position he once held as a public defender. He said such claims were “false allegations” by embittered former colleagues.

In May 2011 Alexander received a two-year suspension from the State Bar, which was stayed after he was placed on three years’ probation with “a 60-day actual suspension.”
He stipulated to “failures to perform legal services competently, respond to reasonable client status inquiries, return a client file, refund unearned fees or inform a client of significant developments in his case,” and to improper communications with a judge and engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

Alexander, who is likely on a first-name basis with State Bar disciplinary counsel, faced additional misconduct charges in October 2012 related to giving and receiving improper loans and speaking with a defendant without her attorney present. Current and former Superior Court judges provided testimony during the proceedings, involving a $14,000 loan Alexander made to a deputy probation officer and the $6,000 loan he received from a defense attorney for hair transplants. The misconduct hearing lasted into January 2013.

The State Bar has not yet issued a ruling in this latest of Alexander’s legal and ethical travails, in which he could face disbarment. Meanwhile, Alexander has filed a civil suit against the Bar, arguing that the misconduct charges are politically motivated and based on incorrect facts and bias.

According to the State Bar, this is the first time in the state’s history that a sitting district attorney has faced such misconduct proceedings – which is apparently a testament to a high tolerance for unethical conduct and misbehavior by California prosecutors.

Sources: Sacramento Bee,, ABA Journal,

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