DA writes personal check to pay SLO County legal bill

January 28, 2016
District Attorney Dan Dow

District Attorney Dan Dow

San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow wrote a personal check to pay a highly contested $2,874 county legal bill. Dow used his own money to pay the bill after the county board of supervisors refused to let him use district attorney’s office funds to cover the expense.

Dating at least back to last April, Dow has clashed with Supervisor Bruce Gibson, County Counsel Rita Neal and other top county officials over multiple issues relating to employee pay. The primary point of contention was a more than 30-year practice of deputy district attorneys receiving paid time off in exchange for on-call work in which they make themselves available around the clock to help law enforcement officers with search warrants.

The county received a whistleblower complaint last March about the paid time off issue. Several county officials say the compensation arrangement violates state law.

Last April, the board of supervisors met with Dow in closed session and ordered him to put a halt to the paid time off practice. Dow then discontinued the practice.

But, Dow later sought another legal opinion on the matter. Dow said he did so when county auditor Jim Erb said he was considering recouping some of the pay from deputy district attorneys.

Dow obtained an opinion from Fullerton law firm Jones & Mayer, which stated the pay arrangement is legal. Jones & Mayer billed the district attorney’s office $2,874.

Erb then told Dow he needed to get approval from the board of supervisors before he could use county funds to pay the legal bill. Erb recommended that the board approved payment of the bill.

But on Jan. 5, the board voted 4-1 not to approve the payment. Supervisor Debbie Arnold cast the lone vote in favor of paying the bill.

The Jan. 5 hearing also morphed into an hour-long debate, largely between Gibson and Dow. Gibson accused Dow of unethical conduct and persuaded the board majority to reveal what was said in closed session between the district attorney and the supervisors.

Many observers have said political leanings were at the heart of the feud. Dow, a Republican, has aligned himself with rivals of Gibson, a Democrat. Dow has endorsed the current supervisorial campaigns of Arnold and John Peschong, a Republican strategist vying to replace retiring Supervisor Frank Mecham.

Dow said he paid the legal bill using his family checkbook a few days after the board voted not to approve the payment. Dow said he disagreed with the board decision, but he paid the bill in the interest of moving forward.

Jorge Estrada

Good for Dan Dow, now his opposition can’t use this diversion from checking their own shorts.