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DA wants just-retired prosecutor back for Ayres trial
April 19, 2013, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal

Steve Wagstaffe

William Ayres

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe is asking county supervisors to approve rehiring a just-retired homicide prosecutor to aid in the trial of William Hamilton Ayres, the former prominent child psychologist whose prosecution for molesting former patients has stretched over several trials and led to a formal California State Bar reprimand of the primary attorney.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will consider Wagstaffe’s request for up to $83,241.60 to re-employ former deputy district attorney Al Giannini as second chair to prosecutor Melissa McKowan in the trial beginning May 13. The rate is equivalent to the hourly rate of his former position, according to Wagstaffe.

The funds will come from the already approved budget of the District Attorney’s Office.

Giannini retired in March after 34 years as a prosecutor in San Francisco and San Mateo counties. Giannini deferred comment on his proposed return but, in a report to the Board of Supervisors, Wagstaffe said his experience trying “complicated and high-profile” felonies and in jury selection necessitates his participation in Ayres’ retrial.

The request is not a sign of any lack of faith in McKowan, Wagstaffe said.

“This shows great confidence in her because we are giving her assistance on the collateral needs so she can focus on the presentation of evidence,” Wagstaffe said.

Ayres, 81, is charged with molesting several former male patients under the guise of medical exams between 1988 and 1996 although prosecutors alleged he abused many more whose cases fell outside the statute of limitations.

Prior to his 2007 arrest, Ayres was well-known as president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and for hosting the sex education series “Time of Your Life.” Ayres received juvenile court referrals up through 2004 even as San Mateo police continued its investigation. Police began looking at him in 2002 after a former patient accused him of molestation during the 1970s when he was 13. After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the statute of limitations nixed criminal prosecution, the victim and Ayres reached a confidential settlement in July 2005. In a deposition for the lawsuit, Ayres reportedly admitted conducting physical exams of patients as part of his care.

A 2009 criminal trial on nine felony counts of child molestation ended with a hung jury. A subsequent trial on his competency launched before a second criminal prosecution also ended with a mistrial and prosecutors agreed he could be committed to Napa State Hospital. Last year, the case took an unexpected turn when hospital doctors concluded he was faking or exaggerating his condition and returned him to San Mateo County. The defense fought the move but, after a multi-day hearing, a judge reinstated criminal charges.

But before a second criminal trial begins in May — minus the charge stemming from a former patient now thought to have lied or exaggerated his earlier testimony — defense attorney Jonathan McDougall has previously indicated a desire for a venue change or removal of McKowan.

McDougall did not return a call for comment but, in an earlier court filing, claimed McKowan had indications that the former patient lied and is herself a witness to how others like parents and a victims’ advocate “injected themselves into the evidence.”

On Thursday, Judge Beth Freeman denied McDougall’s efforts to subpoena California State Bar records about its investigation into McKowan that was spurred by the case.

Bar spokeswoman Laura Ernde said there is “no public information” on the disciplinary investigation.

However, McKowan stipulated to committing an “act of professional misconduct” and was ordered “privately reproved” by a State Bar Court judge, according to a letter sent from the Bar to the victims advocate who made the complaint over the prosecutor’s alleged failures such as contacting doctors who trained with Ayres to show he was never taught to administer physical exams. McKowan was also ordered to send the advocate, Victoria Balfour, a letter and attend a one-day ethics course through the California Bar.

Wagstaffe also conducted an internal investigation into McKowan but declined to disclose its conclusions citing personnel matters.

He said adding a lawyer to an important case is not unusual and pointed to an ongoing murder trial in which a second defense attorney joined just before it started.

Ayres remains free from custody on $900,000 bail.

The Board of Supervisors meets 9 a.m. Tuesday, April 23 in Board Chambers, 400 County Government Center, Redwood City.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102.



Tags: ayres, former, mckowan, wagstaffe, trial, criminal, william ayres, district attorney steve wagstaffe, al giannini, melissa mckowan

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