March 15, 2012

The People vs. Deputy DA Allison Worden and Traffic Division Sergeant Friedman, or is it Former San Diego District Attorney Paul Pfingst vs. Current District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis?

dumanis_bonnie-8933.jpg sides_03.19492800_std.jpg
Mr. Paul Pfingst, former San Diego District Attorney unseated by current San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis in 2002, is Deputy District Attorney Allison Worden's attorney. You can imagine that there is no love loss between the two lawyers. And in this situation, it may ultimately serve to benefit Worden. When Worden was arraigned, her time to plead guilty or not guilty, Pfingst talked with the press and began the side battle associated with this case- Pfingst vs. Dumanis. Aside from the comments already discussed here, Pfingst discussed an internal investigation that took place in the District Attorney's Office.

According to Pfingst, the San Diego District Attorney's Office completed a personnel investigation over the summer. While Worden and Maund were cited on May 28, 2011, an investigation was performed by the District Attorney's Office in June. That investigation ultimately resulted in a September 9, 2011 "Final Order of Discipline." The internal investigation determined, and Worden admitted, that calling Friedman was in poor judgement but that there was no "ticket fixing" arrangement. In the letter, Worden given a five day suspension. At the time, Bonnie Dumanis, the San Diego District Attorney herself, shook Worden's hand and said that this would not affect her future promotions or step grade increases (salary increases within her grade as a Deputy District Attorney III).

According to Pfingst, "She was cleared by the DA and shook hands with Bonnie Dumanis, who assured her it was behind her and the slate was clean." However, when news of the ticket destruction was leaked to the media, things began to change. In November, the case was leaked as a "ticket fixing scandal," and ire was directed at Bonnie Dumanis and the District Attorney's Office as a whole. When the Attorney General filed charges, Dumanis completely changed her tune. When the charges were filed by the Attorney General's Office, on January 27 of this year, Worden was placed on paid administrative leave. An office wide email was sent out by Dumanis claiming that the District Attorney's Office has a "zero tolerance" police on unethical behavior. The entire District Attorney's Office was required to participate in ethics training.

Pfingst, at Worden's arraignment, had a take on this exchange- "When the Attorney General filed charges months later, she (Dumanis) forgot that handshake, forgot the assurance, and put out an email slamming my client pretending she knew nothing about it," Pfingst told reporters. According to Pfingst, Dumanis acted in an under-handed manner by not acknowledging that the District Attorney's Office looked into the matter, found that there was no "scandal," and already issued a "Final Order of Discipline." According to Pfingst, "That self-serving memo threw Allison under the bus and then backed over her again."

The battle lines are being drawn. The statements by Pfingst foretell the positions being taken by Worden - that Dumanis, in an election year where she is seeking a new office, would rather toss a young, bold Deputy District Attorney than stick up for her according to their own prior investigations. And Pfingst, based on his prior position, is the perfect attorney for this role. First, he has the media experience to be able to talk to them and give them the one liner soundbites we (the media consumers) like. Second, he has the stature as a prior District Attorney to make such strong arguments- it takes a former-District Attorney to take down a District Attorney. Finally, being unseated by Bonnie Dumanis herself, there is this beautiful side-story of old vs. new, revenge of the defeated, or just a plain old chip on the shoulder. Regardless, it is a side-story that pulls the attention away from the real purpose of a jury trial - to determine the guilt or innocence of Worden.

The District Attorney's Office issued a statement stating that it "does not comment on pending criminal cases or personnel matters, including any findings or disciplinary actions." So it won't comment because it's both a pending criminal case and a personnel matter. But, again, this is an election year, and Dumanis is running for mayor. If Pfingst keeps up the full accusatory press, she may be forced to respond to defend her character.

From a legal perspective, Dumanis and the DA's Office is in a safe place. If Worden is found guilty, she is fired from their office and they did right thing- they got rid of someone that manipulated the system from the inside. They can defend the internal investigation as simple- that they did not have the full extent of information that the Attorney General had. If Worden is found innocent, than she is restored to her previous position, already disciplined by the District Attorney's Office.

Ultimately, from a defense perspective, it is a brilliant move to hire Pfingst. It creates a very intriguing side story that moves the focus away from the ultimate goal of a jury trial- to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. Worden could not have selected a better defense attorney for this case.