From meth addict to Del Norte County DA, Jon Alexander has courted trouble

Sacramento BeeFebruary 26, 2012 

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. -- On his redemptive journey from meth addict to district attorney, Jon Alexander carried one constant companion: a magnet for trouble.

After a methamphetamine habit nearly destroyed him, Alexander resurrected his career and devoted himself to helping other addicts recover. In 2010, running on a platform of "death to meth," he surprised many in Del Norte County, a remote corner of northwest California – known for illicit drugs, salmon fishing and the feared Pelican Bay State Prison – by winning election as district attorney.

Alexander has undermined his efforts to reinvent himself with numerous lapses, now resulting in an FBI probe and State Bar of California investigations on top of prior suspensions of his law license. The district attorney's story resembles the Greek myth, in which Zeus forced Sisyphus to push a boulder up a hill for eternity, except Alexander's recurring troubles seem to be his own doing.

Alexander, 63, wages his war against meth far from the glare of big city jurisprudence, often ignoring common-sense ethical tenets and allegedly acting improperly to gain legal advantage or make a buck.

The FBI has launched an inquiry into Alexander for possible bribery. Among the 46 lawyers practicing in this county of fewer than 30,000 residents, the DA has the singular distinction of having been sanctioned by the State Bar for misdeeds, including multiple suspensions. He practices under bar probation until May 2013.

Since Alexander's election in November 2010, the bar has launched at least two new probes into his behavior and he has been implicated in numerous alleged legal or ethical lapses, including:

-- In December 2010, a local lawyer loaned Alexander $6,000 for hair transplants. Alexander later dropped all charges against the lawyer's client, accused of stealing a child from a day care center. Alexander said he repaid the loan before he took office and denied showing favoritism. A State Bar investigation and the FBI probe have focused on that case.

-- In 2010 and 2011, according to emails obtained by The Bee, he tried to sell or trade his endorsement for one of the county's public defender jobs, a slot he vacated to become DA. "That's Rod Blagojevich territory," said Rex R. Perschbacher, professor and former dean of the UC Davis School of Law, referring to the Illinois governor, sentenced to prison in an extreme case of trying to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate. Alexander denied any wrongdoing.

-- During 2011, Alexander's office charged at least a dozen of his former defense clients, court records show. To prevent conflicts of interest, DAs generally have the state attorney general's office pick up such cases. Bar spokesman William Chiang said he could not recall any recent DA who violated that precept, which can lead to disbarment. Alexander said he never knowingly prosecuted a former client, and that if such cases occurred they would have been due to record-keeping errors.

The bar does not does discuss investigations in process. But an internal email suggests that the agency has grown weary of Del Norte drama.

"I do not believe for a second that Alexander should be DA (because) I think his mental abilities continue to be adversely affected by his long time meth use, even though he appears to be sober now," wrote State Bar deputy trial counselor Cydney Batchelor, in a message obtained by The Bee. "No doubt the AG agrees."

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