County can’t censure DA if found guilty of harassment allegations

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No policies on the county’s books would allow penalties against District Attorney John Sarsfield if he’s found guilty of sexual harassment allegations against him for an alleged affair with a subordinate, and a voter recall would be the only way to remove him from office.

The state government code doesn’t allow a Board of Supervisors to censure or otherwise penalize an elected official, according to San Benito County personnel director Liz Brown.

Furthermore, the State Bar of California and Fair Political Practices Commission also don’t have regulations specifically addressing the outcome of sexual harassment claims, according to representatives from those agencies.

“There really isn’t anything that’s spelled out that jumps out at me,” Brown said after examining the government code. “It kind of makes sense because they’re elected by the people. The only real thing, if the people are not happy they can of course do the extreme.”

No residents have pulled the appropriate documents needed to spearhead a recall of Sarsfield, according to Clerk John Hodges.

Two women working under Sarsfield filed a complaint with the county June 9 alleging he’s having an affair with office manager Nancy Leon that has created a hostile and discriminatory workplace. The two longtime employees, Katie Fancher and Julie Roybal, make up the Victim Witness division of the office that counsels victims of crimes.

They claim he has shown favoritism toward Leon and has discriminated against other employees, according to their lawyer Bill Marder. They’ve threatened a lawsuit, but it’s on hold because both sides have been considering settlement talks.

A county investigation is under way, officials have confirmed. But even if the investigator finds wrongdoing, the county is limited in how it could proceed, Brown said.

“With elected officials our goal in any type of investigation on a claim is to make sure that whatever the allegation is, is not occurring,” Brown said, “or if it is occurring, that we find resolution for the alleged victim.”

The FPPC does regulate actions of elected officials. But its purview mostly includes campaign finance and lobbying issues, according to an FPPC spokesperson. Sexual harassment is outside of the commission’s scope, he said.

The State Bar of California, which regulates actions of all attorneys in California, gets involved when attorneys who are found guilty of criminal charges, a spokesperson said.

The bar does address sexual relations between attorneys and clients. But it doesn’t maintain specific rules on sexual relationships between office supervisors and subordinates, she said.

If Sarsfield eventually faced a judgment in a civil suit, he would be required to report that to the bar, she said. But she said it likely wouldn’t result in action against Sarsfield, who has no public record of discipline from the bar, according to a bar database of attorneys.

Supervisors reached Tuesday had little to say about the allegations or the county’s lack of authority over the district attorney.

Supervisor Reb Monaco acknowledged he doesn’t know what power the county has over elected officials, especially for such an uncommon allegation. He also said he’s shocked the scandal has reached this point. Officials in other counties Monaco recently talked to, he said, were also surprised at what’s happening here.

“None of them ever remember having their district attorney in this type of situation,” Monaco said.

Supervisor Ruth Kesler has no problem with the allegations because, she said, “That’s his personal life.”

“I think he’s done a good job as long as he’s been here,” Kesler said.

Kollin Kosmicki can be reached at 637-5566, ext. 331 or at

[email protected]

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