Calaveras County Counsel Megan Stedtfeld on Wednesday said that she has reviewed allegations of unethical or inappropriate behavior on the part of several of her staff attorneys and found there was no misconduct.
Anti-marijuana industry advocates Bill McManus and David Tunno made the allegations and delivered written documentation for the review of the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors during the Nov. 8 board meeting.
Among other things, the written allegations accused Deputy County Counsel David Sirias of harboring “a very pro-marijuana position.” McManus and Tunno cited as evidence a blog post Sirias allegedly wrote as well as the title and lyrics of a song he composed that the duo found on the internet.
The dossier prepared by McManus and Tunno also questioned why Deputy County Counsel Julie Moss-Lewis’ name appears (as well as the names of Planning Director Peter Maurer and Calaveras County Board of Supervisors Chairman Cliff Edson) on a list of Facebook friends of Calaveras Cannabis Alliance President Caslin Tomaszewski.
“Little things like this can have a huge impact on how the public views its government and once you create even a hint of inappropriate behavior, it will be difficult to restore the trust of the people,” McManus and Tunno wrote in the dossier.
Stedtfeld said in her letter that she found “no misconduct” and “no reason to believe that any of my staff’s privately held views, beliefs, off-duty creative endeavors or associations in any way impact their ability to perform their duties or to provide zealous advocacy on behalf of the county or the Board of Supervisors.”
During the public comment portion of Nov. 8 meeting, McManus said, “We are not accusing anyone of wrongdoing.” He also, however, said, “Some of the actions need to be reviewed for appropriateness of conduct.”
McManus said it was during several months he spent collecting signatures for a proposed ballot initiative to ban commercial cannabis that various residents approached him and asked questions about what some perceived as bias on the part of staff in the County Counsel’s Office. He said he looked online and discovered both the Facebook friends list and a song written by Sirias titled, “Cannabis for You.”
The dossier McManus and Tunno prepared described the song recorded in either 2010 or 2011 as the “anthem of the pro-marijuana movement.”
McManus and Tunno said another incident that provoked their suspicion was a statement made during a public meeting by Arthur Hodge, an attorney representing cannabis growers, that Hodge “had an open dialogue” with Stedtfeld during the time that Hodge was assisting cannabis regulation advocates to write the voter initiative that later became Measure D.
Stedtfeld did not directly address that allegation in her letter.
However, in a document written by Deputy County Counsel Sarah DeKay in response to a public records request by McManus, DeKay wrote, “Measure D is an initiative placed on the ballot by a group of private citizens. The Office of the County Counsel did not work with that group to draft Measure D or place Measure D on the ballot. The urgency ordinance and draft permanent ordinance were discussed and shared with the public at multiple Board of Supervisors meetings; they are public documents and the county therefore lacks the ability to prevent members of the public from using or borrowing language for their own separate purposes.”
Stedtfeld also said in her letter that all the attorneys in her office are trained to advocate for their clients’ positions regardless of their privately held beliefs about their clients’ choices and views. “Some have faithfully and effectively done so for over a decade regardless of the prevailing political wind or who happens to be sitting on the Board of Supervisors,” she wrote.
Stedtfeld concluded that she believes most members of the public support the constitutional right of free expression and choose their lawyers based on skill and performance rather than on their privately held views.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Tunno and Mr. McManus appear to believe that an attorney representing the county should not be permitted to express or publish their personal opinions outside of work or to vocally participate in the political process and that doing so would or should erode the public trust in their work to the extent that the public has different views or tastes,” she wrote.