Mike Geniella’s incisive voice and watchful eye have been aimed at Mendocino County for many decades as a long-standing reporter for the Press Democrat and the spokesman for Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office. Now retired, Geniella finds the writing habit hard to shake. We’re excited to host a column from him sharing his thoughts, comments, and concerns about life here in Mendocino County.
So, DA Dave once again has flipped his ‘bright lights’ on a high-profile animal abuse case on the Mendocino Coast.
Even though DA Dave acknowledged late Friday that he lost his bid in a state Court of Appeal to overturn a judge’s sentencing in the case, he is brashly claiming victory in his ‘Hail Mary’ legal challenge. DA Dave had hoped to embarrass Superior Court Judge Clayton Brennan further publicly, even though the associated costs of the DA’s appeal outweighed the chances.
No doubt DA Dave is righteous in his beliefs about the 2019 case of ‘Thunder the Wonder Dog.’ He has pursued it with as much vigor as any criminal prosecution.
DA Dave is cruising toward a fourth term in office unopposed (the filing deadline is early March), which will make him only one of two DAs in county history to have served as long. Eyster sees this as widespread public endorsement of his prosecution policies, and management of the county’s top law enforcement office. Indeed, the DA’s office is one of the few stable operations in a county facing administrative turmoil, and sharp divisions in leadership.
Yet it is no surprise to long-time observers that DA Dave sometimes gets in the way of his own self. The dog case is an example.
DA Dave believed Judge Brennan mishandled the sentencing and was too lenient on the defendant, who had pled no contest to shooting the dog and leaving it to die in the woods. Thunder survived and returned to health under new care. The defendant in 2020 entered her plea felony animal cruelty. She was sentenced to unsupervised probation for 36 months, court imposed counseling, and a ban on owning animals during her probation. She also was required to serve 500 hours of community service.
Animal lovers on the coast and across the nation were outraged with the outcome of the widely publicized case. DA Dave knows how to seize on public sentiment about animal abuse and turn it into political force. He publicly launched a follow up attack on Brennan.
The truth, however, is DA Dave’s fight with Brennan is not about Thunder.
It is really about Brennan’s audacious challenge a decade ago of the DA Dave’s ‘marijuana restitution’ program. The judge then dared to publicly challenge DA Dave by suggesting the program was tantamount to extorting defendants unless they agreed to pay hefty fines for illegally cultivating marijuana in exchange for lesser criminal charges. DA Dave’s program was unique in the state. It cleared up a court backlog of marijuana cases, and eventually raised $7.5 million for county coffers before voter legalization of marijuana made the program moot.
DA Dave was livid after Brennan’s denunciation from the bench of his pot plea deal program. He then forced the Superior Court to keep Brennan in exile on the coast court by refusing to let him try cases at the courthouse in Ukiah. Other judges reluctantly went along with Brennan’s exile to avoid a public bloodletting.
It is important to remember that DA Dave, even if unopposed in his bid to be re-elected, needs checks and balances. In an era when the news media has collapsed, and there are no longer ‘court reporters’ roaming the halls of the courthouse and monitoring the legal process, DA Dave has free rein.
As it is DA Dave has taken to writing his own press releases and massaging his message in his own style.
Case in point is the official press release on dismissal of DA Dave’s legal challenge by the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District in San Francisco.
DA Dave claims victory, and he has the audacity to pretend he was interviewed in a press release he wrote himself.
“When asked for comment on today’s decision,” he writes, ‘‘While my attorneys and I respect the decision of the Court of Appeal, that decision will not affect the safeguards that I put in place last year. Those safeguards will remain in place as a long as I have any say in the matter.’”
Perhaps the bright lights need to be kept on DA Dave as he struts unopposed into a fourth term.