By Joe Wolfcale 5/27/15
Veteran attorney Michael Rains has defended peace officers in some of the most difficult cases in the state, the “Corcoran 8,” the “Oakland Riders” and the high profile trial of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle.
He has more than 25 years of experience in the Northern California courtrooms and is the principal and founding member of Rains Lucia Stern of Pleasant Hill.
So when asked to weigh in on the Marin County District Attorney’s Office investigation into allegations against the Novato Police Officers Association, Rains offered his opinions on what the POA called ‘criminal malfeasance’ by select past Board members in a press release issued Saturday, May 16.
District Attorney Ed Berberian confirmed earlier his office was investigating actions of the POA brought first to the attention of Police Chief Jim Berg Jan. 1, 2015. The allegations were then forwarded to the DA’s office.
Rains said it would not be unusual for the investigation to take several months since securing forensic data from banks and other institutions can be lengthy and must be done in a methodical fashion.
He said the case will hinge on whether the DA’s office finds sufficient evidence to charge someone in the case and whether it can be prosecuted successfully.
“The bottom line is the retracing of financial records, payment books and checks over the course of years can’t be done quickly, it has to be tedious, methodical and has to be done very carefully,” Rains said. “Then, it’s a matter of if the DA decides to charge or not.”
Rains, who once was a member of the Santa Monica Police Department and served as the Santa Monica Police Officers’ Association president, said if the DA decides not to charge anyone in the case, the police department would likely hold the next move.
“Just because the DA decides not to prosecute doesn’t mean the matter is concluded,” Rains warned. “That would likely stimulate an investigation by the department and a probable internal affairs investigation.
“I’ve had situations where the DA said we don’t think we can get a conviction, but an internal investigation found enough misconduct to impose serious discipline, including termination.”
Rains said if the individuals are charged in the Novato case, the outcome could likely end in termination for the officers involved.
“If the allegations are proven to be true, they can result in termination. The issue has to be clear. The DA’s office is going to have to conduct an exhaustive, tedious look at all the records to be truly objective whether there’s any evidence of wrongdoing.”
The NPOA represents the police officers, detectives, corporals, dispatchers and records staff. The association donates on a regular basis to community projects, student sporting events and charities. Association funds are also used for legal representation and legal fees.
A criminal investigation which results in charges being filed is never a good thing for an officer or a police department, Rains said.
“It has the potential of eroding the integrity of the department,” Rains said. “It’s never really good when it happens.
“People will begin to ask if we can now trust an officer who comes to our door to take a report of a burglary. Unfortunately, they all get smeared with the same broad brush. That’s the worst of it all.”
According to the City of Novato website, the police department has a staff of 78 employees, including 59 sworn personnel which is divided into two divisions, operations and administrative services.
The association is governed by a board of directors who serve two-year terms. A separate association — the Novato Police Managers Association — represents the administrative side.
According to the NPOA’s statement dated May 16, the new board of directors uncovered alleged financial improprieties when the new officers came on board.
“The members of the NPOA have and will continue to assist the Marin County District Attorney’s office with its impartial investigation into these matters,” the press release read.
The board declined to elaborate and referred all inquiries to its legal counsel.
Rains said sometimes these types of inconsistencies are related to sloppy bookkeeping and the long hours officers often times work.
“In some cases, it’s just plain sloppiness,” Rains said. “Some officer is trying to keep the books of the association accurate and they don’t get the attention they deserve. The books should still be maintained. That shouldn’t occur.”
The following are the major cases Rains has worked over his lengthy legal career.
• In 2000, eight Corcoran prison guards were acquitted for allegedly creating inmate gladiator fights.
• The Oakland Riders case involved four rogue Oakland police officers.
• And Mehserle, who shot an unarmed man Jan. 1, 2009, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Oscar Grant. The California Supreme Court denied Mehserle’s appeal in September of 2012.
Last year, a federal civil jury ruled Grant’s death was accidental and denied damages to the 22-year-old man’s incarcerated father.