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California prosecutor punished a second time for conduct in prosecuting high profile child molestation case

California prosecutor punished a second time for conduct in prosecuting high profile child molestation case

The State Bar of California has given a public reproval to a San Mateo prosecutor after ruling that she made false statements about a potential witness in a criminal case.

Under a settlement agreement, Deputy District Attorney Melissa McKowan stipulated to one count of violating the business and professions code while she was prosecuting the child molestation case of William Ayres. It is the second time McKowan has faced discipline due to her conduct in the Ayres case.

The arrest and prosecution of Ayres generated national attention because he was a prominent child psychologist before he was arrested and charged with molesting numerous underage male patients.

Ayres first trial in 2009 ended in a hung jury. Before he was to be retried in 2013, Ayres pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to eight years in prison. He died in 2016 while still locked up.

After Ayres’ first trial ended in a mistrial, journalist and victim’s advocate Victoria Balfour expressed concern about McKowan’s conduct and filed a complaint against her. In that complaint, Balfour accused McKowan of lying to a victim’s mother about having talked to a potential witness who could rebut Ayres’ defense that his physical examination of patients was proper.

McKowan later admitted she hadn’t contacted that potential witness and the San Mateo District Attorney’s Office suspended her for three days and placed a formal reprimand letter in her file in 2012. The California Bar also issued a private reproval against McKowan in 2013.

McKowan’s misconduct, however, continued. In May 2013, she sent an email to the father of another child who claimed Ayres had molested him and lied about Balfour’s earlier accusations against her. She 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.”

Robert K. Sall, special deputy trial counsel for the State Bar, said McKowan’s email contained information that the prosecutor knew was not true, and Sall lodged additional disciplinary charges against her. As reported in The Almanac, “[i]n 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.’”

McKowan ultimately agreed to the reproval after admitting that she had engaged in “misrepresentation.”

Balfour, who has “been credited for shedding light on Ayres’ crimes after a victim confided in her,” blamed the District Attorney’s Office for what she described as delayed accountability.

“This all could have been avoided seven years ago had the DA not ignored my complaints,” Balfour said. “This is about victims’ rights and having the victims be treated with respect. It shouldn’t have to be this hard to get the DA’s office to be held accountable for its actions.”

As part of the settlement, McKowan is prohibited from commenting on blog posts or social media about the Ayres case. She is still a deputy prosecutor in the office of Steve Wagstaffe, who said it wasn’t appropriate for him to comment.

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