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Corruption trial could affect entire county

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Posted: Monday, November 29, 2004 10:00 pm

The impending corruption trial of San Joaquin County Sheriff Baxter Dunn is expected to have a big effect on the county next year, supervisors said.

From a contract with the Deputy Sheriffs Association to Dunn's indictment to District Attorney John Phillips' health, all are expected to shape key issues in the county next year.

Dunn, along with former supervisor Lynn Bedford, former county marshal Monte McFall and former state justice department official N. Allen Sawyer, has been indicted on corruption charges and faces a court trial in January.

Supervisor Leroy Ornellas said the three issues are all important to the county.

"I wouldn't minimize any of them," he said.

For the county, Dunn's need to be in Sacramento to defend himself could put a strain within the county if a crisis arises.

"The fact that the sheriff is preoccupied for months does concern me," Ornellas said.

Even though the trial hasn't started, Dunn's indictment already has caused problems for the sheriff, Ornellas said.

During last year's budget crisis, the district attorney made an appearance to plead for his budget, Ornellas said. But Dunn never made it to the board, Ornellas said.

"I can understand it," he said. "He has a cloud over him right now and anywhere he goes he will draw attention."

It's not only Dunn's absence, but if the sheriff is found guilty of corruption, supervisors will have to appoint a replacement, Ornellas said.

And unlike other department heads, Dunn, who's an elected official, would have to resign immediately, County Counsel Terrence Dermody said.

Supervisor Steve Gutierrez said the Dunn indictment has cast a dark cloud over the county.

Without drawing the assumption that Dunn would be found guilty, Gutierrez said, the cloud shouldn't take away from what he said are the positives of the county.

But Gutierrez said if Dunn is found guilty, it would reveal whether the sheriff has been an effective manager.

"The organization should continue to function normally," he said.

But he said Dunn's absence and problems has had an impact.

"You can't have an organization go through something like this and not have an emotional impact on the employees," Gutierrez said.

If the board did have to fill the sheriff's position, Gutierrez said it would be a challenge that could be overcome by the board.

"It's already established in the system how it's to be done," he said.

As for a contract with the DSA, Gutierrez said it's a top priority.

"They're not happy," Gutierrez said. "We want them to feel that they're being treated fairly."

Contact reporter Les Mahler at lmahler@sjnsnews.com.

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