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Eyster Hires Outside Prosecutor In Cubbison Case

In a surprise move, Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster has hired an outside prosecutor to oversee a felony case targeting suspended County Auditor-Treasurer Chamise Cubbison and former county Payroll Manager Paula June Kennedy.

Traci Carillo

Traci Lewis Carrillo, a former Sonoma County deputy district attorney now in private practice, is taking over the case as special prosecutor, according to a brief notice Eyster filed on March 22 with the Mendocino County Superior Court.

At what expense to taxpayers is unknown, as is the duration of Carrillo’s contract.

Eyster did not respond to a written request for comment on his move. The County Counsel’s Office said it is reviewing a request for information on how much and for how long Carrillo will be paid.

In his brief court filing, Eyster offered no reasons for removing himself from the prosecution of a case that rocked Mendocino politics and embroiled Eyster in the most severe political crisis of his 13-year tenure. 

Last Fall, Eyster filed a single felony charge of misappropriation of funds against Cubbison and Kennedy, two longtime county employees he accused of using an obscure pay code so Kennedy could collect about $68,000 in extra pay during the Covid pandemic. Cubbison and Kennedy contend the pay was for work related to sick leave and overtime. Cubbison, who was Assistant Auditor when the alleged misappropriation occurred, contends the extra pay was authorized by now retired Auditor Lloyd Weer. Kennedy claims Cubbison authorized the use of the pay code but never put that in writing.

Cubbison’s attorney, Chris Andrian of Santa Rosa, dismisses any criminal intent, arguing that the DA has presented no evidence that the suspended Auditor-Treasurer personally benefitted from the extra money paid to Kennedy. 

Eyster’s move to hire an outside prosecutor is unexpected because, in January, the DA successfully fought a defense bid to recuse him from the case because of his past conflicts with the Auditor over his asset forfeiture spending practices.

Superior Court Judge Keith Faulder, at the time, denied the defense motion, saying the evidence presented during a recusal hearing was “too thin.” The state Attorney General’s Office, which typically opposes moves to recuse local DAs in disputed cases, backed Eyster.

Eyster’s decision to hire an outside prosecutor is the latest twist in a politically charged case involving two elected county officials, some members of the county Board of Supervisors, and county administrators who tipped the DA off to the payroll discrepancies. Eyster’s decision to prosecute Cubbison triggered an uproar, embroiling the DA in the most severe crisis yet to his 13-year tenure.

Besides fighting the criminal case, Cubbison has filed a civil lawsuit accusing the county Supervisors of denying her due process and damaging her professional reputation after the board abruptly suspended her within days of the DA filing his criminal charges without offering her an opportunity to respond. 

Eyster’s hiring of an outside prosecutor now is raising questions about whether a preliminary hearing scheduled in less than three weeks for Cubbison and Kennedy can proceed.

Cubbison attorney Chris Andrian of Santa Rosa was not available for comment on Tuesday, nor was Mary LeClare, the Mendocino County public defender appointed to represent Kennedy.

Carrillo, however, said Wednesday she is prepared to proceed with the hearing.

“Unless the defense requests more time or wants time to discuss the case with me as I get up to speed, I intend to be ready,” she said. “I look forward to fully reviewing, evaluating, and assessing the case and presenting the evidence in court if it is unable to be resolved prior to the hearing.”

Carrillo was a deputy district attorney in Riverside County before taking a similar position in Sonoma County in 2008. Until leaving the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office in 2015, Carrillo was a senior trial prosecutor managing high-profile and complex trials, including a four-defendant gang murder case.

In 2017 Carrillo left the Sonoma County DA’s Office and opened a private practice before joining the Santa Rosa law firm of Perry, Johnson, Anderson, Miller, and Moskowitz.

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