Home News & Opinion News Ex-DA Didn’t Tell Grand Jury About Payout

Ex-DA Didn’t Tell Grand Jury About Payout

Ex-DA Didn’t Tell Grand Jury About Payout
Michael Gressett. Credits: Chris Duffey

Contra Costa County prosecutor Michael Gressett is asking that rape charges against him be dropped because the top three attorneys in the District Attorney’s Office withheld critical information from the grand jury that indicted him.

Gressett is claiming that in 2009, county prosecutors should have told the grand jury that his alleged victim, a former deputy district attorney known publicly as “Jane Doe,” was about to receive a settlement of $450,000 from the county, which was based on a complaint stemming from her rape allegations.

The settlement gave Ms. Doe a substantial reason to misrepresent her grand jury testimony, according to Gressett’s attorneys, and that jurors indicted Gressett without being allowed to consider that possibility. Gressett’s attorneys argued before Superior Court Judge Thomas C. Hastings on Monday that county prosecutors had a duty to make the grand jury aware of the settlement.

Hastings will hear arguments on the motion throughout this week. Ms. Doe, who now works as a public defender in Florida, is expected to testify on Wednesday or possibly Friday depending on a family emergency and East Coast flight schedules, which have been disrupted by Hurricane Irene. Hastings is expected to rule on the motion sometime within the next two of three weeks.

Former District Attorney Robert Kochly and his top two administrators, Brian Baker and Paul Sequeira, testified on Monday that they were aware Doe was involved in settlement mediation before the grand jury was convened in October of 2009, but none of them took the step to notify the California Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting Gressett and, at the time, was in the midst of presenting its case to the grand jury.

Former Chief Assistant District Attorney Brian Baker testified that he sat in on portions of the mediation and that he was aware of the proposed settlement amount of $450,000. But he said he never thought to notify Deputy Attorney General Peter Flores, who was presenting the case to the grand jury. “I didn’t think there was anything to notify the AG of,” Baker said.

Gressett attorney Michael Kotin suggested there was a coordinated effort to keep the settlement secret and that it only came to light when Mark Peterson was elected district attorney in November over Kochly’s chosen heir, former judge Dan O’Malley, who now works as a criminal defense attorney.

Flores pointed out in his questioning of the three top prosecutors that the settlement was not officially finalized until after the grand jury was discharged.

Deputy District Attorney Jill Henderson, a former co-worker and friend of Ms. Doe’s, testified that Ms. Doe had told her she did not care about the settlement. “She was worried that people would think it was about the money,” Henderson testified. “She said that money could not make her whole after what he (Gressett) did to her. This was not about the money; she said it over and over and over again.”

But Ms. Doe sought a settlement of somewhere between $1 million and $10 million, according to Deputy County Counsel Janet Holmes. Ms. Doe hired civil rights attorney John Scoot and filed a complaint with the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission claiming that Kochly, Baker, and Sequeira subjected her to a hostile work environment by making her work in the same office with Gressett after she had notified them of the alleged sexual assault. She also claimed she was denied permanent employment because she made the allegations. The $450,000 settlement was reached with the county through a mediator.

The case against Gressett, who admits having consensual sex with Jane Doe but denies raping her, has been troubled from the start. Doe notified Sequeira of the attack in May of 2008, but no action was taken, not even an internal administrative review, until September when Gressett was arrested. Then Sequeira led the investigation, which created the appearance of a conflict of interest because he mostly interviewed deputy district attorneys who worked under him.

Ms. Doe has given varying accounts of the alleged attack, and, despite describing a violent assault, doctors found no supporting medical evidence. In addition, Ms. Doe sent a pornographic photo to Gressett a few days after the alleged attack.

Sequeira and Baker also may have made a dodgy agreement with Jesse Deguzamn, a methamphetamine addicted prostitute to testify at Gressett’s job arbitration hearing that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with her in 2006. In exchange for the testimony, Deguzman would win the release of her jailed boyfriend Roy Gordon, a registered sex offender with a long criminal record, whose bail was set at $130,000 for allegedly attacking a man with a sledgehammer. Gordon was released under questionable circumstances only to be re-arrested within weeks for his involvement in botched home invasion robbery during which more than 35 gunshots were fired. But on the day Deguzman was scheduled to testify at Gressett’s job arbitration hearing, she showed up only to recant her story.

Arbiter Norman Brand ultimately dismissed all six charges against Gressett and ordered the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office to immediately rehire the longtime prosecutor with back wages and health benefits. Brand also wrote in his decision that the Contra Costa County DA’s Office was more interested in prosecuting Gressett for political reasons rather than any crimes he may have committed.

The controversy generated by the case also contributed to longtime Deputy District Attorney Mark Peterson’s election win in November and the undoing of the power structure that ran the office for more than thirty years.

The most recent embarrassment occurred last week when Sequeira spent several hours running and hiding from Mark Harrison, a member of the Gressett defense team who was trying to serve him with a subpoena for this week’s hearing. When Harrison finally served Sequeira, a scuffle ensued that resulted in minor injuries and the police being called.