Sheriff Matt Kendall was in court last Friday represented by Ukiah Attorney Duncan James. The Sheriff was seeking approval to hire Duncan James as his legal counsel due to a conflict of interest. County Counsel Christian Curtis, arguably the cause of the conflict, was present to explain why Duncan James should not be appointed. One of Curtis’s concerns — that James would run up a bill — seems to be supported by the 52 page (!) brief that was filed on behalf of the Sheriff’s request for independent counsel.
Only page one of the brief was available online at print time. The AVA has the full brief on order at a mere 50¢ per page, a handsome price that the courts extract in order to make public documents available to the public.
The brief begins with a statement from the Sheriff that following his appointment he began having difficulties with CEO Carmel Angelo and Fifth District Supervisor Ted Williams. The “difficulties” culminated with threats to hold the Sheriff personally accountable if he goes over his structurally underfunded budget, which he is certain to do. And the Board’s stated intent to merge the Sheriff’s IT department with the rest of the County’s computers.
This is a fight the Board of Supervisors should not be in and one the Board can’t win. The law seems clear to everyone except County Counsel that the Sheriff can’t be billed for overtime or other necessary expenses needed to fulfill his constitutionally and statutorily mandated public safety duties — including maintaining his own IT department, something that is understandable, especially in light of confidentiality requirements and the current Grand Jury report taking County IT to task for a long list of ongoing deficiencies.
On Friday, Presiding Judge Ann Moorman wanted proof that a conflict existed. County Counsel Curtis, Duncan James and Sheriff Kendall all agreed a conflict existed. But Judge Moorman wasn’t satisfied. Had the Board of Supervisors voted to acknowledge the conflict? No, they had not. Judge Moorman stated that her reading of the law required a vote by the Board of Supervisors affirming a conflict existed. Knowing the Board was scheduled to meet August 3, Moorman told Curtis she wanted him back in court on Wednesday, August 4 with the results of such a vote. Curtis demurred that the agenda for August 3 had already been published. Not one to entertain lame excuses, Moorman said she was making it a court order that the Board vote to decide if a conflict exists or not.
Which explains why an amended agenda was hastily issued late Friday afternoon with a closed session item for existing litigation, the dispute between the Sheriff and the Board, with the newly assigned case number.
In addition, a second closed session item was added to allow the Board to decide which of four out-of-county law firm alternatives to Duncan James ought to be selected instead.
County Counsel appears to be under the naïve assumption that Kendall can somehow be persuaded to accept someone other than Duncan James as his attorney. That won’t happen. Kendall was clear on that point at the last Board meeting.
What is to be hoped is that cooler heads will prevail and the Board of Supervisors will emerge from Closed Session to say that no conflict exists, that they are rescinding the threat to bill the Sheriff for budget overruns or to merge his IT department with that of the County. At the Board’s last meeting on July 20 three Supervisors signaled a clear interest in extricating themselves from the mess County Counsel and CEO Angelo has led them into. Only Supervisor Williams persisted in badgering the Sheriff in an attempt to shame him into accepting a structurally unbalanced budget imposed by CEO Angelo.
It’s clear that a conflict exists, something County Counsel acknowledged on July 20, finally advising the Board that the Sheriff was entitled to legal counsel even to respond to the questions being posed by the Board.
In light of that, it seems likely at this point that even if the Board backs away from its previous threats, Sheriff Kendall will insist on independent legal representation prior to even considering any agreement to let bygones be bygones.