Hemet also hires an assistant city attorney
■ Mary Ann Morris / Editor
Hemet Police Chief David Brown, in an address to the Hemet City Council on Dec. 13, recommended the implementation of a city prosecutor position. The part-time position, which was approved and budgeted at $100,000 annually, has been filled by Attorney James C. Eckart from the law firm of Dapeer, Litvak, & Rosenblit, LLP, based out of Los Angeles, for code enforcement services and to serve as the city prosecutor.
“It’s very similar to the relationship between the police department and the district attorney. Once we finish an investigation and our case has been prepared, we hand it to the city prosecutor,” said Brown. “It’s not uncommon for the district attorney to communicate back with our officers about additional investigation or information. It’s an interaction between the law enforcement branch and the prosecutor that creates the case for the prosecution team.”
“I have a problem with this. Sounds to me like you are describing an expediter,” said K. Paul Raver, who resigned his seat on the Hemet City Council after the meeting during closed session. “A prosecutor is a legal counselor, correct?”
“Yes, under the existing government code, the city has two positions, the city attorney and the prosecutor” said Vail. “The city attorney can fill the role, but it can also be a different person. This person will prosecute municipal code violations.”
“Is he an officer of the court?” asked Raver.
“Yes, and this attorney will have the same client that I do, which is the Hemet City Council, the lead legislative body of the city. [This person will be ] beholden to and work for and hired by the city council, not the police department, city manager or my office [Burke, Williams & Sorenson LLP],” said Vail. “It is a common structure and there is a separation as the chief has described it between the office of the prosecutor and the police department. The prosecutor makes the decision to file criminal prosecutions, not the police department. The prosecutor would report to the city council.”
Raver said that he asked Riverside’s city manager to look into their city prosecutor and they said it was not cost-effective, and that Riverside ultimately declined to hire a city prosecutor.
“We are asking the city prosecutor to prosecute city of Hemet municipal code violations, which are not criminal misdemeanors,” explained Brown. “We aren’t replacing the DA’s office.”
Vail said Riverside declined the city prosecutor because it received pressure from the county, but Brown said he has not experienced any pushback from the district attorney’s office.
“I’ve met with [Riverside County District Attorney] Mike Hestrin many times about this and he has always been supportive of this,” said Brown.
Additionally, an assistant city attorney has been added to the Hemet payroll. Thomas D. Jex, a partner out of Burke, Williams & Sorensen LLP’s Riverside office, has been hired to serve as the city’s assistant attorney. His compensation was not immediately available at press time. Vail remains contracted as the city’s main attorney.