Prosecutor demoted over phone message

Profanity-laced tirade against defense attorney punished

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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A 27-year veteran attorney of the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office — who has tried a number of high-profile criminals — has been demoted after leaving an explosive, profanity-laced two-minute voice-mail message on a defense attorney’s cellphone.

Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik said Wednesday that he demoted Jim David from senior deputy prosecutor to deputy prosecutor, a move that cuts David’s salary. It wasn’t immediately clear how substantial David’s pay cut was, but deputy prosecutors generally make 5 percent less than their senior counterparts. The demotion is effective July 1.

Golik wouldn’t comment directly on David’s conduct, but said he felt the demotion was reasonable after listening to the voice-mail message and talking with David.

“I took what I felt was an appropriate action,” the elected prosecutor said, later adding: “I would expect deputy prosecutors to act in a professional manner at all times.”

The situation started May 25, when David received an email from defense attorney John Terry notifying him that the defense attorney was prepared to go to trial the following week. Terry was representing Matthew L. Coonce, arrested on March 3 on suspicion of possessing methamphetamine and stealing a car.

David was under the impression that Terry wanted to postpone Coonce’s trial, so David said he had already scheduled several conflicting appointments. The next day, he called Terry, telling him a trial would force him to “cancel my weekend.”

“You’ve been telling me you wanted a continuance on the (expletive) case, and now you are telling me you want to go to trial next week,” David said in the voice mail. “I’m (expletive) laying you out. This is absolute (expletive).”

David went on to say harsh words about Coonce.

“It’s coming out of your client’s hide if I have to go to trial next week, and there ain’t going to be no stinking offers,” David said in the message. “There ain’t going to be nothing coming other than go to prison for a very long time.”

Prior to trial, Terry filed a motion to dismiss the case because he felt David was guilty of telephone harassment and his actions unfairly prejudiced his client. Clark County Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson denied the motion. The case went to trial and Coonce was convicted on June 3.

There wasn’t fallout — until this week when the publication Willamette Week published its regular “Rogue of the Week” column, highlighting David’s inflammatory message. Coincidentally, Golik decided on June 20 to demote David.

Asked if he expected any more fallout from the event, Golik said Wednesday: “I don’t know.”

When reached by telephone, David explained the situation as a “one-time thing of extreme frustration.” He said he was upset at Terry for wanting to rush forward to trial after first giving him the impression he needed more time on the case.

He said he’d been stressed from working long hours to open an elder abuse center for the prosecutor’s office.

“Unfortunately, I made a call and said things I shouldn’t have said,” David said. “Although inappropriate in the professional sense, there was not a legal issue with them.”

David said he’s apologized to Terry.

“It’s a very unfortunate set of circumstances,” he said. “It’s embarrassing.”

Terry said he’s accepted David’s apology and moved on. He added, though, that the situation caused his client fear of retribution. In response, the prosecutor’s office agreed to have another prosecutor appear at the sentencing hearing on July 22.

“I know my client was not very happy with the voice mail,” Terry said. “A lot of people distrust law enforcement, and this was kind of a nail in the coffin for him.”

David, who will make $114,336 annually after the demotion takes effect, prosecutes general felonies. Among his most noteworthy cases was the 2010 conviction of Antonio Cellestine, a Vancouver teenager sentenced to five years in prison for hitting and killing Hudson’s Bay High School teacher Gordon Patterson, who was biking home.

David also handled the case of Peter Gecho, who was acquitted in 2008 of vehicular homicide in the sledding death of his 9-year-old daughter, Madison Jo.

He had been a senior deputy prosecutor — a role that entails either supervising a prosecution specialty unit or handling major crimes — since February 2006.

Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516; Twitter: Col_Courts; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com.