Melissa McKowan

Melissa McKowan

A San Mateo County prosecutor received a public reproval after a State Bar trial concluded last week that she made an untrue statement to a potential witness.

Deputy District Attorney Melissa McKowan stipulated to one count of violating the business and professions code while prosecuting a high-profile child molestation case in 2013. William Ayres, a once prominent child psychologist, was sentenced for molesting numerous male patients ages 9 to 13 between 1988 and 1996. McKowan eventually helped put Ayres behind bars where he died last year.

But before his sentence the controversial case included a mistrial after a jury deadlocked, followed by Ayres’ spending a stint at Napa State Hospital while reportedly exaggerating dementia. The State Bar reviewed incidents that occurred during Ayres’ retrial after victim’s advocate Victoria Balfour reported concerns.

On Friday, Aug. 11, the State Bar filed a settlement that included McKowan acknowledging a 2013 email to parents of one of Ayres’ alleged victims was not completely true. McKowan wrote to a potential witness in an effort to encourage them to cooperate and testify, according to the settlement.

At the time, Balfour had made complaints regarding McKowan’s conduct to the San Mateo County District Attorney. There was also “considerable negative publicity” about the trial on various blog postings that included criticism of prosecutors, according to the settlement.

In the email to the parents, McKowan said she wished to “dispel” impressions about her that were made from “unreliable sources” and “bloggers.” She also wrote that every agency looking into prior investigations had found previous allegations set forth by Balfour to be entirely false. But that statement wasn’t true, leading the State Bar to classify it as a misrepresentation, not intentional dishonesty, according to the settlement.

McKowan’s defense attorney Paul DeMeester said his client admitted her statement was subjective, but described her as an empathetic professional dedicated to her job.

“She was trying to reach out to a victim’s family to get those folks to cooperate and in reaching out, talking about ancillary issues related to that, she made a hyperbolic statement,” DeMeester said. “It happened years ago, it’s over and she can concentrate on the work that she’s continuing to do, which is be a top-notch prosecutor.”

As part of the State Bar’s orders, McKowan is prohibited from commenting on social media or blog posts about the Ayres case.

The settlement also notes McKowan acknowledged in a prior State Bar case against her that she lied to the mother of one of Ayres’ alleged victims by stating she had contacted a potential witness and hadn’t heard back. McKowan later admitted she had not contacted the witness, according to the settlement. 

DeMeester noted McKowan’s critics unfairly blamed the prosecutor for a hung jury — which occurred when the jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction. 

Balfour, however, said she was fueled to contact the State Bar after she became concerned the District Attorney’s Office did not respond to false statements McKowan made to families of Ayres’ victim on a public blog.

Balfour, a New York resident who’s been credited for shedding light on Ayres’ crimes after a victim confided in her, has been very involved in the case even after his death.

“This all could have been avoided seven years ago had the DA not ignored my complaints. 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,” Balfour said in an email.

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said the matter was initially handled internally and it wasn’t appropriate for him to comment on the State Bar case.

DeMeester said he’d hoped the State Bar wouldn’t have pursued the matter, but is pleased it settled as McKowan is a professional committed “to prosecuting people who commit crimes.”

(650) 344-5200 ext. 106

Twitter: @samantha_weigel

Recommended for you

(4) comments

Michael Stogner

State Bar of California ignored a written false statement filed in her response to the 2 counts of dishonesty. That is a Felony all by itself. The Bar continues to protect its own.


The William Ayres blog has a thoughtful and concise roundup on the fallout from the Bar investigation:


Just a few pieces of additional information / clarification:

1) According to this article, McKowan’s attorney DeMeester states that “McKowan’s critics unfairly blamed the prosecutor for a hung jury — which occurred when the jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction. “ McKowan allowed a recently graduated “attorney” on to the jury. Legal eagles told us (victims and their families) even before the trial was underway that it is a CRITICAL mistake to allow an attorney, ESPECIALLY a NEW attorney, on to your jury, unless you intend to lose/mistrial. The ONE holdout in determining guilt on SIX of the counts was that attorney. So DeMeester is deliberately misinforming you, and it was not “unfair blaming” to claim that largely, the blame for mistrial lies squarely on District Attorney Wagstaffe’s shoulders, due to his staff’s misstep.
2) After the mistrial, the jury indicated that more definitive information about weather or not psychiatrists are “trained” to perform “genital examinations” on patients would have helped them to convict on the few counts that were more in question. The potential witness that McKowan said she contacted (but didn’t), and who was willing to testify, actually trained at the same place and time that the convicted child molester did. He would have likely been the star witness for the prosecution. Before the re-trial finally got underway, a local politician brought pressure to bear on DA Wagstaffe, insisting on a more aggressive prosecution. A second prosecutor was brought on board, AND another witness was found who would be able to testify about the training that took place at the place and time that the convicted child molester was in training. When the child molester’s last set of appeals were denied before the re—trial was underway, the molester immediately changed his plea to no contest. Clearly, the defense knew that the issue of training was so key, that there was no way the molester would prevail given that the DA was FORCED to provide strong witnesses this time around.
I have contended for some time that it seemed that the DA was reluctant to prosecute this child molester, because it would expose them to investigation regarding convictions that they achieved based on recommendations from the child molester, who was a contracted psychiatric evaluator for the County in youth criminal for DECADES. And it appears that, all the while, he was making “you comply with my molestations, or I testify against you” bargains with youthful offenders. Did the youth who refused to be molested have false testimony against them? Did they receive harsh(er) punishment because they didn’t want to allow themselves to be sexually violated?
I’m glad to see that Balfour has finally received some vindication for the slanders against her over the years, by the DA’s staff (I, myself was told by McKowan that Balfour was actually working for defense attorney Doron Weinberg), as well as the often skeptical treatment she has received from the local press, when she was shown to be correct time after time.
So I’ll take the opportunity to thank Victoria once again for the tireless pressure she brought to bear.


I was gald to see the DA's office held accountable. I was sorry that it was Melissa McKeweon. I believe she is a good prosecutor representing elder abuse. However she did not pursue my uncle's caregiver who walked away with his 3 million dollar estate. . We sued and lost. We needed support to prosecute. her.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thank you for reading the Daily Journal.

Please purchase an Enhanced Subscription to continue reading.Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase an Enhanced Subscription to continue reading.