Melissa McKowan, a San Mateo County deputy district attorney and the subject of a March 2013 sanction by the state bar over dishonesty in connection with the prosecution of psychiatrist and convicted child molester Dr. William Ayres, is again facing sanctions by the state bar over a charge of dishonesty.
In a complaint filed in March 2017 with the State Bar Court in San Francisco, Robert K. Sall, special deputy trial counsel for the bar, alleges that Ms. McKowan was dishonest in a May 2013 email to the father of one Dr. Ayres' victims. In the email, Ms. McKowan wrote: "Every agency that has been forced into investigating this case by (Victoria) Balfour has found that her accusations are entirely false and have no bases whatsoever."
In the complaint, Mr. Sall says that neither the DA nor the state bar found that accusations by Ms. Balfour, a victim's advocate, to be "entirely false" or to have "no bases whatsoever," adding that Ms. McKowan "willfully violated Business and Professions Code ... by engaging in dishonesty and moral turpitude."
If the court finds that Ms. McKowan's conduct "poses a substantial threat of harm to the interests of (her) clients or to the public," she could be relegated to the status of an inactive member of the state bar and could be required to pay the costs of the investigation, hearing and review of the matter, the complaint says.
The parties met for a settlement conference on May 15, according to bar association records. A pretrial conference is set for today (May 22).
The case in question was that of Dr. William H. Ayres,
Ms. McKowan prosecuted the case against Dr. Ayres, a San Mateo child psychiatrist alleged to have molested boys during examinations in the 1980s and 1990s. The result was a hung jury and mistrial in 2009.
Facing a retrial in 2013, Dr. Ayres, 81 at the time, pleaded no contest to the charges against him. He died of natural causes in prison in April 2016 at the age of 84.
In her complaint to the state bar about the first trial, Ms. Balfour accused Ms. McKowan of unethical and inappropriate behavior, including lying to a victim's mother, Barbara Ross, about having contacted a potential witness who could have undercut Dr. Ayers' defense that his physical examinations of patients were appropriate.
In August 2011, Ms. McKowan admitted to San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti that she had not contacted the potential witness. After investigating the accusations against Ms. McKowan, the DA's Office in August 2012 took disciplinary action against her, including a suspension "for an act or acts of dishonesty," the complaint says.
Ms. McKowan's attorney Paul F. DeMeester described the discipline by the DA's Office as three days of suspension without pay and a written reprimand.
The state bar issued Ms. McKowan a private reproval in March 2013, the "most minor" of the sanctions that the bar issues, according to previous reporting by the Almanac.
The sanction included a requirement that she attend a one-day state bar ethics school, according to a letter from the state bar to Ms. McKowan that was made public by Ms. Balfour.
The county DA's office did its own investigation based on the complaint against Ms. McKowan, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told the Almanac. "We took appropriate action," he said in March 2013, noting that regulations precluded him from describing the action. "We don't wait to see what the state bar decides" when there is a complaint against a prosecutor, he said at the time.
Responding to the bar association's recent complaint over Ms. McKowan's assertion to a victim's father that "Every agency that has been forced into investigating this case by (Victoria) Balfour has found that her accusations are entirely false and have no bases whatsoever," Ms. McKowan's attorney, Mr. DeMeester, argues that the investigations by the DA and the state bar of the 2010 allegations against Ms. McKowan were based on complaints by Ms. Ross, the mother of a victim, not on complaints by Ms. Balfour.