Amid storm, Douglas confident
Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas wants to be remembered as a good boss and a “fair, ethical prosecutor who was a voice for crime victims and who held criminals accountable.”
He hopes his 18-year career as elected prosecutor won’t be overshadowed by recent controversies, including the release of sexually charged e-mails he exchanged at work with former employee Marina Kalani.
Douglas said the past two years have been stressful. In that time, the juvenile court program that Kalani supervised fell apart, she and Douglas confronted allegations of an affair, his No. 2 prosecutor quit following accusations of sexual harassment in the workplace, and the Idaho Supreme Court ordered the release of hundreds of e-mail messages that Douglas and Kalani had argued were none of the public’s business.
“I wouldn’t be honest if I said it was not a distraction,” said Douglas, who has described his e-mails as joking, sarcastic banter. “I think defending against speculation and innuendo was difficult.”
But Douglas, who turned 60 Friday, said his performance as prosecutor, and the work of his employees, has not been affected by the controversy.
“During the last two years we have prosecuted some of society’s worst offenders,” Douglas said, noting the convictions of Joseph Duncan and serial rapist Paul Hawkins. “I’m very proud of our staff. We have a fine staff. We’re trying to move on.”
The impact of the e-mails has yet to be fully realized. Only 290 of nearly 900 exchanges The Spokesman-Review sued to obtain had been released as of Friday.
So far, those with the potential to do the most damage – politically and professionally – are comments Douglas made about judges in the e-mails he exchanged with Kalani, who supervised the Juvenile Education and Training (JET) Court.
The Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit attorneys from making statements with “reckless disregard” about a judge or a judge’s qualifications. Punishment can range from private reprimand to formal sanctions, including public reprimand or disbarment, according to Idaho State Bar counsel Brad Andrews, who said he could speak only in general terms and not about specific cases.
Another potential hurdle for Douglas and his office is the 2008 election. Until recently, Douglas insisted he would run for a sixth term. Now he says he likely won’t announce a decision until later this year, saying the delay is in part to keep politics out of his office.
Comments about judges
In the first batch of e-mails, released July 3, Douglas expressed distrust of Magistrate Eugene Marano, who was president of the nonprofit Kootenai County Court Inc. that solicited donations for the youth court program. The judge wanted to know why Kalani’s was the only name on the group’s checking account when three names were required.
“Neither I nor many others trust Marano as far as I can spit,” Douglas wrote Kalani on March 3, 2005. “I have to assume he has an agenda of some type.”
A printout of that e-mail as released by 2nd District Judge John Stegner blacks out Marano’s name. Yet the same e-mail, without the redaction, was leaked to the newspaper in 2005. Both Douglas and Kalani confirmed earlier this month that Marano was the judge in question, and Douglas asked that the comment not be published.
“I have every confidence that the court realizes that in every office, and I’m sure amongst the judges themselves, there were comments made that aren’t meant to be public,” Douglas said Wednesday. He also said he hadn’t talked with Marano.
On Thursday, Douglas changed his statement and said he now wouldn’t confirm that the comment was about Marano “or any other judge” because Stegner had redacted the name. Douglas said he could be held in contempt for discussing information Stegner had redacted.
Marano couldn’t be reached for comment last week but said recently he was “disturbed by the comment made by Mr. Douglas.”
“I can’t think of a reason why he would say that,” Marano said.
Andrews, with the state bar, said there has been one case in Idaho where an attorney was publicly disciplined for criticizing a judge. The state Supreme Court in 1996 upheld the Idaho State Bar’s finding that Bonner County attorney John Topp violated his profession’s rules of conduct by suggesting that a ruling by 1st District Judge James Michaud was politically motivated.
At issue was a statement Topp made to a reporter in 1993 following a hearing in Bonner County court. According to the Supreme Court decision, Topp said a similar petition to the one Michaud rejected had been granted by a judge in Shoshone County. Topp said that judge “wasn’t worried about political ramifications.”
“This statement clearly implies that Judge Michaud was worried about political ramifications,” Idaho’s Supreme Court justices wrote in the decision.
‘A storm is brewing’
One of Douglas’ e-mails also suggests that Magistrate Benjamin Simpson, who quit the Juvenile Education and Training Court in February 2005, lacks certain good traits.
On Dec. 2, 2004, Kalani wrote to Douglas that “I fear a storm is brewing” and asked to talk with Douglas. Yet the e-mail isn’t specific about the circumstance. That same day Douglas wrote that he was typing a letter to Simpson that “expresses my disappointment, yet is courteous and positive (all the traits a judge should have).”
Simpson said this week that he quit because of the judicial canons, the rules guiding the conduct of Idaho judges.
The Idaho Code of Judicial Conduct states a judge shall “require staff, court officials and others subject to the judge’s direction and control to observe the standards diligence that apply to the judge and to refrain from manifesting bias or prejudice in the performance of their official duties.”
Simpson said, “I was aware of some of the issues that came to light through the e-mails. Ethically, I was required to remove myself from the organization (JET Court) based on the judicial canons, and I did.”
Simpson said he could say no more, other than that the e-mails speak for themselves. After his departure, no other judge volunteered to take his place, and the program collapsed.
Simpson’s comments last week are consistent with the e-mail he wrote the JET Court team Feb. 10, 2005, stating that he had “strong concerns about several personnel issues and staff issues. These concerns are both legal and procedural. These concerns cause me to seriously doubt the continued viability of the JET Court Program.”
In a Feb. 14, 2005, memo, J.T. Taylor, manager of the District 1 Juvenile Detention Center that covers the five northern counties, wrote to Simpson that he questioned Kalani’s “inappropriate, unprofessional and unethical conduct.” He also wrote that “the disrespect that she has demonstrated toward you and Judge Marano is unacceptable.”
That memo ultimately resulted in Kalani receiving a $69,150 settlement from the county’s insurer.
Kootenai County commissioners say they haven’t heard much from the public since the 290 e-mails were released, other than people are ready to move on.
“People are pleased that the Supreme Court did what it did and are glad that it’s now completed and we can move on,” Commission Chairman Rick Currie said.
Commissioner Todd Tondee said the e-mails don’t put the county or any government body in a good light. He said in general people already distrust government.
The commissioners wouldn’t comment on how Douglas’ behavior and the e-mails might affect the performance of the prosecutor’s office.
“That’s a question that’s going to have to get answered at the ballot box,” Tondee said, adding that the commission doesn’t have oversight over Douglas or his office.
Democratic Party leaders in the county said they have no position regarding Douglas and his potential re-election bid. Thom George of the Kootenai County Democratic Central Committee said the party is busy recruiting candidates for all races, not just prosecutor.
George said Douglas and the e-mails haven’t been a “topic of concern” for the party, and he doesn’t think the average citizen has much awareness of the controversy. The interest is mostly reserved for the legal community and people who enjoy reading and posting on local political blogs, he said.
“If you walk out on Sherman Avenue and ask the first six people you saw who Bill Douglas or Marina Kalani are, most would look at you and say ‘Who?’ ” George said.
Former Republican state lawmaker Gary Ingram recently commented that Douglas would not be the Republican nominee. George said that might indicate the local GOP is looking for someone to replace Douglas.
If that were the case, Douglas could switch parties or run as an independent. It wouldn’t be the first time he changed his political affiliation. Douglas decided to run as a Republican in 2000 after serving his first three terms as a Democrat.
Brad Corkhill, chairman of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, said the party doesn’t usually get involved until after the primary. Corkhill said the committee hasn’t met since the e-mails were released July 3, and he declined to speculate on a potential Republican candidate for prosecutor.
As for Douglas, Corkhill said the prosecutor showed a lack of leadership and set a bad example for his employees along with disrespect for the office.
“For a man his age, he acted in a somewhat adolescent manner,” Corkhill said. “As far as I’m concerned, the only real issue here is being between Mr. Douglas and his wife.”