For years Clinton Parish practiced a very ruthless brand of prosecution in Yolo County and whether it was throwing the book at a cheese thief or courtroom theatrics, Mr. Parish was rather universally despised by his adversaries on the defense bar.
While Mr. Parish is not a particularly sympathetic figure, his demise comes in a manner that might want to shine light on the problems of the system. There is increasing concern in the system about prosecutorial misconduct and immunity.
The 2010 report funded by the Northern California Innocence Project documented more than 800 instances of prosecutorial misconduct, including 107 where the prosecutors were found to have committed misconduct more than once – two were cited for misconduct four times, two were cited five times and one prosecutor was cited for misconduct six times.
We have the 2011 cases that overturned sanctions against the New Orleans Prosecutors Office in the John Thompson case, and the recent prosecution against prosecutor Ken Anderson in the Michael Morton case as counterbalancing examples that point in the same direction.
As John Thompson, who spend years in custody only to learn that the prosecutor had hidden and then destroyed exculpatory evidence, and saw the courts award him damages only to see the Supreme Court overrule them, last year told Radley Balko, “This isn’t about bad men, though they were most assuredly bad men… It’s about a system that is void of integrity. Mistakes can happen. But if you don’t do anything to stop them from happening again, you can’t keep calling them mistakes.”
Locally the story of Clinton Parish and another story about former Deputy DA Sulaiman Tokhi illustrate the problems that we face.
Clinton Parish showed appallingly poor judgment in 2012, when he authorized attacks against incumbent Judge Dan Maguire. Even if those attacks had been accurate, it is questionable for one to play that sort of politics in a judicial race that is supposed to be about experience and neutrality, not politics.
Following his overwhelming defeat by the incumbent judge, however, the California Bar Association – one that was singled out in the “Preventable Error” report for not disciplining prosecutors who engaged in willful prosecutorial misconduct, threw the book at Clinton Parish for admittedly falsely engaging in out-of-court political attacks in his race for judge.
That report finds: “Of the 4,741 public disciplinary actions reported in the California State Bar Journal in a nearly thirteen-year period—from January 1997 to September 2009—only ten involved prosecutors, and only six of these were for conduct in the handling of a criminal case.”
Mr. Parish has suffered far more consequence than most prosecutors who engage in abuse of their official charge. Following his 75-25 defeat in which he essentially stopped campaigning after losing almost all of his political supporters, Mr. Parish took leave from his position as Deputy District Attorney in Yolo County.
In the fall of 2012, we reported that Mr. Parish was hired as a Deputy DA in Tuolumne County.
However, the paper there reported in December that he is no longer with that office, as he failed to pass his one-year probationary period. While his office declined to specify why he failed to pass probation, we know it came right around the time that the bar association finally ruled in his case.
In October 2013, a hearing judge for the State Bar found Mr. Parish “culpable of making a false assertion in a campaign mailer, with reckless disregard for the truth” and has recommended admonishment, which according to State Bar Communications Director Laura Ernde, “is not considered discipline.”
The bar association is actually appealing that ruling, which amounted to a slap on the wrist.
The Enterprise this week reported that Mr. Parish is now working as a defense attorney in Sonora, located in Tuolumne County.
“I now use this experience as a defense attorney to prepare strong case strategies aimed at reducing or eliminating my clients’ charges, or minimizing the penalties they might face,” the law office’s website tells us. “I protect my clients’ rights at all times and work hard to get them out of their difficult situations.”
It is beyond irony that the system caught up to Mr. Parish, not in the courtroom where defense attorneys were alarmed by his conduct and antics, but rather on the campaign trail. The bar, which has been criticized for looking the other way at prosecutorial misconduct, threw the book at him based on his attacks on a judge.
It is ironic that it took less than a year for Tuolumne County to do what it took ten years for Yolo County to do: figure out that they were better off without the services of Mr. Parish.
The story of Clinton Parish should serve as a cautionary story about the misaligned priorities in the legal system. Further illustrating the problem is the case of former Deputy DA Sulaiman Tokhi.
Tokhi, as he was called, was a relatively young deputy district attorney in Yolo County who often carried water for the DA’s office. One of his more recent cases was his prosecution of Regina Roxanne Perez for allegedly lying under oath when she testified that she did not speak to her imprisoned son about the Marco Topete death penalty case.
Ms. Perez would be acquitted. Defense attorneys would often complain about Mr. Tokhi’s courtroom antics as well, his attempts at deception, and his overall lack of morals. On more than one occasion, Vanguard Court Watch Interns noted that cases that should have been straightforward slam-dunk wins for the prosecution were almost lost by the sheer incompetence of Mr. Tokhi.
Last fall Mr. Tokhi was forced to resign from the DA’s office. Again, not because of his poor record as a prosecutor. Instead his downfall resulted from out-of-court activities.
In this case, he was arrested in October in Solano County at a 2 am traffic stop where he was found to be driving under the influence of alcohol.
He would represent himself and ultimately did what his office so often refused – get a reduced plea agreement to take what is known as a “wet reckless” charge resulting in probation, a $953 fine, and his enrollment in a 12-hour alcohol education course.
A week later he resigned from his position as Deputy DA. While the charge would not have been sufficient to get him in trouble with the bar because it was not a crime of moral turpitude, it was enough that it would have made it even more difficult for Mr. Tokhi to prosecute cases.
Once again, a Deputy DA is out of a job at Yolo County, but not because they were a prosecutor of questionable integrity, but rather because of out-of-court errors.
As Radley Balko wrote last fall, “Prosecutors and their advocates say complete and absolute immunity from civil liability is critical to the performance of their jobs. They argue that self-regulation and professional sanctions from state bar associations are sufficient to deter misconduct. Yet there’s little evidence that state bar associations are doing anything to police prosecutors, and numerous studies have shown that those who misbehave are rarely if ever professionally disciplined.”
The experience here in Yolo County bears that out.
—David M. Greenwald reporting