|San Bernardino County Dist. Atty. Dennis Stout acknowledged Wednesday that he violated his own ethical standards and made “errors in judgment” when he secretly aided the political opponent of a county supervisor he was investigating.|
Consequently, Stout has stepped down from the prosecution of San Bernardino County Supervisor Jerry Eaves, one of several officials tangled in a pervasive corruption and bribery scandal. State Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer has agreed to take over the case against Eaves, starting this morning, Stout announced Wednesday.
“As an elected representative of a law enforcement agency, the public should expect much of me,” Stout said in a statement. “They should expect that I would avoid even the appearance of bias or favoritism in the conduct of my office. And in this matter, I let the public down.”
Stout, however, remained defiant in an interview hours after releasing that statement.
An Ontario native who was a prosecutor for 17 years and has been San Bernardino County’s district attorney since 1994, Stout pointed out that his office has not been accused of violating any laws. He pledged to run for reelection next year and scoffed at demands from critics that he resign.
“I don’t listen to people like that,” he said. “The only people I care about are the voters of this county and the people that work with me. I think we run a very good office here.”
Court documents released in February indicated that Stout and two top lieutenants secretly aided political candidate Ed Scott last year, when he was challenging Eaves for a position on the county Board of Supervisors. Stout and Scott are Republicans and Eaves is a Democrat–the only Democrat on the five-member board.
Scott, though he had been Stout’s friend and ally for years, cooperated with FBI and Sheriff’s Department officials in an investigation into the district attorney’s conduct. During his campaign against Eaves–which he lost–Scott secretly tape-recorded his conversations with the district attorney’s office. The U.S. attorney’s office will decide whether charges will be filed.
Transcripts show the district attorney’s chief investigator Barry Bruins told Scott that “Dennis doesn’t mind us helping you. In fact, you know, he likes the idea.”
For Stout, though, Eaves was not merely a political rival–he was also the target of a corruption investigation, and Stout’s office was prosecuting the case.
In charges loosely connected to bribery and kickback schemes that led seven county officials and business executives to enter guilty pleas in 1999, Eaves was accused of taking gifts from companies seeking county contracts.
Investigators say Eaves did not report the gifts on disclosure forms, and he was indicted last year on two felony perjury charges and 17 misdemeanor misconduct charges.
Eaves’ supporters say the charges against him have been motivated by politics. Eaves, who did not return phone calls Wednesday seeking comment, has pleaded not guilty, and three of the misdemeanor charges have been dropped.
Stout said he made his decision to withdraw from the Eaves investigation after seeking a “thorough review” of his office’s conduct–a probe that included legal and ethical analyses from the attorney general’s office and other district attorneys’ offices. His office also reviewed more than 700 pages of transcripts of recorded conversations.
Stout declined to release the review of his conduct, calling it part of the ongoing Eaves investigation, though he did say he found the report “disturbing and personally embarrassing.”
And, though he does not believe the case against Eaves has been damaged by the recordings, Stout conceded that his office’s relationship with Scott should have ended once last year’s campaign got underway.
“Since Ed Scott was the political opponent of the target of an investigation that my office was conducting, it was ill-advised and improper for us to continue this relationship,” he said.
Lockyer agreed, said Gary Schons, the senior assistant attorney general who runs the department’s criminal division in San Diego.
Starting this morning, at an evidentiary hearing in the Eaves case, Deputy Atty. Gen. Scott Taylor, who works out of the department’s San Diego office, will assume prosecution of the case.
Stout “explained to the attorney general what his concerns were with continuing the prosecution,” Schons said. “We looked at it, and we agreed with him that he had legitimate concerns about his office continuing with the case.”
— UNPUBLISHED NOTE —
Jerry Eaves is also referred to as Gerald Eaves or Gerald R. Eaves in other Los Angeles Times stories.