Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Smith finally coughs up cash to Mendocino county

By Linda Williams/TWN Staff Writer
Posted: 04/13/2011 11:42:47 AM PDT

District Attorney David Eyster delivered a check Monday to the county from Kendall Smith, chairwoman of the Mendocino County board of supervisors, to repay excessive travel expenses she claimed in 2005, ending a nearly six-year struggle by the Mendocino County grand jury to force Smith to return the overpayment.

Even though Smith gave Eyster a check made out to the county for $3,087 the amount County Auditor-Controller Meredith Ford agreed Smith was overpaid Smith continues to deny any wrongdoing.

Eyster fulfilled his campaign pledge to look into the matter, resolving a festering issue that had stymied his predecessor Meredith Lintott.

Early in her term Lintott refused to pursue the overpayment because she failed to find sufficient evidence to file criminal charges. She then dropped the matter despite Section 932 of the California Code, which requires a district attorney to recover funds owed a county when directed to do so by the county grand jury. Lintott instead told the grand jury it could sue for the return of the funds in small claims court.

The next several grand juries refused to let the matter drop, filing different requests for intervention with the California Attorney General. The CAG refused to intervene.

Eventually as the campaign for district attorney heated up, Lintott issued a letter telling Ford to withhold the $3,087 from Smith's paycheck. Ford did not think she had the authority to withhold funds from a paycheck without a court order. Ford then requested a legal opinion from County Counsel Jeanine Nadel on whether Lintott's request was valid. Nadel had to recuse herself from the issue, referring it to the Sonoma County counsel for a ruling.

The ruling came back confirming Ford needed some kind of court order to withhold funds.

Lintott then claimed either the grand jury or the county could sue for reimbursement, but would likely lose. She took no further action.

This prompted Anderson Valley Advertiser owner Bruce Anderson to sue Ford and Smith in small claims court for the overpayment on behalf of county taxpayers. In January the small claims court tossed out the case, ruling it had no jurisdiction in the matter.

In January Eyster's office launched an investigation into the issue resulting in this week's final payment.

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