The California State Bar, in a rare decision, disciplined former Yolo County prosecutor Clinton Parish for falsely accusing a sitting judge of a corporate bribery and fraud scheme during his unsuccessful 2012 bid for the Yolo judiciary.
Ruling in what it called a “case of first impression,” the State Bar Court said Parish showed “reckless disregard for the truth” in his failed 2012 campaign. The public reproval order goes into effect Feb. 26. Parish, 43, must undergo ethics training but can still practice law.
“We find Parish’s reckless statement implicating a judge with bribery requires public discipline to maintain the integrity of the legal profession and to preserve public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary,” the State Bar Court Review Department said in a statement.
Floyd F. Feeney, a longtime UC Davis law professor who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, said he understood the sentiment behind the State Bar’s decision.
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“If part of the purpose is deterrence and to encourage honesty, all of that resonates,” Feeney said Tuesday. “It’s a public rebuke. For somebody with public ambitions, it’s a meaningful sanction. Will this get candidates’ attention? Yes.”
State Bar attorneys in 2013 lodged ethics charges against Parish for campaign mailers accusing opponent and Yolo Superior Court Judge Daniel Maguire of corporate bribery while working for a Colorado law firm in the 1990s. So rare was the Parish misconduct case that at the time it was one of only two since 2000 to proceed to a hearing, State Bar officials said.
Parish, representing himself, had sought an order of admonition – which is not considered discipline – from the State Bar saying he unknowingly made the false charge. After a State Bar hearing judge in 2013 recommended admonition, Parish and State Bar attorneys called for a review. A three-judge State Bar review panel later decided instead on the public reproval.
The mailer’s false accusations in May 2012 were a bridge too far for many of Parish’s supporters. The mailer “was controversial, and the fallout was immediate,” the State Bar Court’s Feb. 5 opinion read.
Parish’s backers, including Yolo County’s sheriff and district attorney, and the Yolo County Republican Party, fled in droves.
Parish later admitted he hadn’t fully vetted the mailers, sacked the operative who drafted them and told State Bar officials that the mailers’ statements, though false, were unintentional.
Maguire went on to win the election in convincing fashion. Parish, who had been a deputy district attorney in the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office, left the office in November 2012 and now practices criminal defense law in Sonora. Parish did not immediately return a call to The Sacramento Bee.
Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.