Allan Dollison Admits to Forgery, Ethical Screw-Ups but Says He’s a New Person Now

Ryan Burns / Tuesday, April 15 @ 4:10 p.m. / Politics

Image of Dollison’s campaign launch from Facebook.

When Allan Dollison launched his campaign for district attorney three months ago, he made a point of addressing what he called “a mistake” he’d made early in his career. He briefly explained what happened.

In 1997, only two years after establishing his own office, Dollison said, he closed his private practice to seek employment elsewhere. 

“I made a serious error in judgment by not finishing the work in three cases and representing that I had filed a motion … when I hadn’t — to a client in another case,” he said. “I apologize — then and now — profusely for that mistake. It was an error in judgment but one I have learned from. I have learned to be extra careful and exceptionally honest and hardworking. I am a Christian and I ask for forgiveness.”

You can listen to Dollison’s entire campaign kickoff speech below. The relevant portion starts around 3:45.

Dollison’s speech.

Despite Dollison’s attempts to deal with this issue preemptively, questions have continued to dog him in the campaign. It was brought up during a recent interview on KHSU, and in the Outpost‘s own elections section, a question about his state bar record received more up votes than any other question posed to any other candidate. Dollison recently posted a response, again describing his past deeds as, simply, “a mistake.”

While it’s clear that the Army veteran and former prosecutor hasn’t tried to hide this chapter of his past, a review of the full state bar disciplinary document (pdf here) calls into question the accuracy of Dollison’s description of the events as a singular mistake.

The state bar’s website shows that in 2000 Dollison acknowledged sixteen counts of professional misconduct for these 1997 incidents, which amounted to acts of “moral turpitude,” according to the bar. As punishment he was briefly suspended from practicing law, placed on two years’ probation and ordered to retake an ethics exam.

According to the document, which Dollison signed, he took money from several clients for services he never performed, ignored numerous phone messages and mail correspondence from those clients and, in one case, created fake documents on which he forged the signature of an opposing attorney. And when state bar investigators asked him to explain his actions, he refused to cooperate.

We asked Dollison to elaborate about these incidents, and in a phone conversation this morning he said that he tries not to focus on the past and hadn’t read the disciplinary document in 14 years.

Pressed for specifics, Dollison said that he was in a difficult place in 1997. His father had died when he was 22, his mother when he was 29. “I was alone in my life; I didn’t have anybody in my life,” Dollison said. And he was unhappy trying to keep his own practice afloat. 

He decided to abandon his private practice, and in October 1997 he took a job with the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office. According to the disciplinary document, Dollison left several clients hanging, their cases unresolved.

In one case he had accepted $837 from a client, agreeing to file a motion to set aside a default judgment that had been entered against her. After several months without communicating with the client — despite her multiple attempts to reach him — Dollison finally sent her a letter saying that he’d filed the motion that had been denied by the court. He included a copy of the motion and a copy of the notice of ruling on that motion — or so it appeared.

“In fact,” says the state bar, “Dollison never filed a motion, there was no hearing, he fabricated the notice of ruling and forged signatures on documents he sent to the client.” But he kept the fee.

Dollison had also been retained by a couple looking to file for bankruptcy, a man who wanted to sue someone for messing with his car, and another man who had a dispute with his tenants. All of these clients paid hundreds of dollars in advance for services that were never delivered, and all suffered negative consequences due to Dollison’s subsequent disappearance. These clients tried for months to contact Dollison, leaving messages on his home and work phones, contacting the court and sending letters. Investigators with the state bar, who’d been alerted to Dollison’s behavior, also had trouble getting him to respond to voice messages and letters.

It’s clear that at least some of this correspondence did reach Dollison. He signed for a letter sent from a client via certified mail, and in a phone conversation with an investigator he promised to respond to the charges via fax but never did so.

Before doling out judgment for these misdeeds, the state bar took some pity on Dollison. In a section on “mitigating circumstances” the report says Dollison lacked experience and business acumen and accepted difficult, “marginal” cases due to financial difficulties. It also says he had fallen into “a severe depression” that went undiagnosed and largely untreated for years.

In response to questions from the Outpost, Dollison sent a written statement explaining that he has changed.

“I have always said you learn more from your failures in life than you do from your successes, and this is especially true in my case,” the statement says.

As an example of how he’s changed, Dollison describes a case he handled while working for the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office. Dollison makes a serious allegation of misconduct within the DA’s office and says he was responsible for righting the wrong. (The Outpost won’t print Dollison’s full statement since the allegations have not been corroborated.)

“I learned from my mistakes,” Dollison says in his statement. “I have grown from my mistakes. In the [above referenced] case, no one ever got in trouble, because I did the exact and appropriate thing. I am 47 years old and I have one unfortunate small sad chapter in my life. All I ask is to be judged by my entire life and not one aspect. I also ask that people consider that you can and do learn from your mistakes, and that you can become a better person, and a better lawyer.”

The statement doesn’t specifically address the forged signatures, unreturned fees and lack of cooperation mentioned in the state bar report. Asked in this morning’s phone conversation to address those things, Dollison said he likely didn’t respond to attempts to reach him because he was “under a lot of stress” and “trying to hide from it,” though he added that he was just guessing at his motivation since it’s been many years since these incidents occurred. 

As for the forgery, Dollison said, “Whatever I did was wrong. It was a terrible mistake.” Asked why he didn’t address this more specifically in his campaign announcement he said he hadn’t reviewed the details of these incidents in many years. 

Had he forgotten about the forgery?

“I had, yeah” he said.

Dollison repeatedly said that he tries not to live in the past and he has learned from what happened.

“I am not the person who made a terrible mistake 17 years ago,” he said.


$200,000 Worth of Heroin Seized

Kym Kemp / Tuesday, April 15 @ 3:05 p.m. / Crime

Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Press Release:

On 04-11-2014, approximately 10:00 p.m., a Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Deputy stopped a newer Chrysler four door sedan for exceeding the posted speed limit and failing to stop at a stop sign in the Myrtletown area of Eureka. When the deputy contacted the driver of the vehicle and explained the reason for the stop, the driver told the deputy he did not have a driver’s license. The driver verbally identified himself as Mario Martinez Torres, 20 years old , from Perris, California. A DMV records check revealed Torres driver’s license was suspended. The deputy arrested Torres for driving on a suspended driver’s license. The deputy noticed both Torres and the male passenger were very nervous and evasive when they spoke with him. The deputy questioned, identified and released the male passenger in the vehicle who was an 18 year old male adult, and also from Perris, California. 

The deputy notified the Humboldt County Drug Task Force about the traffic stop and the vehicle. The Humboldt County Drug Task Force obtained a search warrant for the vehicle, which they served on 04-14-2014. During their search of the vehicle, they located hidden compartments and over four pounds of Heroin, valued at over $200,000.00. 

Charges of transportation of a controlled substance and possession for sale of a controlled substance are being sought against Torres and the male passenger. 

Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriffs Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.

Southern Humboldt’s Eaglet Hatched

Kym Kemp / Tuesday, April 15 @ 2:59 p.m. / Nature

To those impatient for the Humboldt Bay Eagle Cam to show a hatchling or two bumbling about the nest, local wildlife photographer Talia Rose has taken photos of a tiny eagle offspring in the Benbow area of Southern Humboldt.

For several years, Rose has watching the Benbow area for eagles. Year before last a mated pair hatched and raised an eaglet but last year eagles were unsuccessful in nesting. To Rose’s delight though, this year the nest has been put to good use. About a week ago, Rose hiked to the nest area and spied a hatchling peeking over the edge. The above photo was taken recently when Rose brought a three foot long lens to the area to capture shots of the tiny inhabitant.

She doesn’t know how old the baby was at that time she first went up but she believes, “it was pretty new.” This eaglet, she says, is the first confirmed hatch in Humboldt County.

Ha! Take that, Humboldt Bay eagles… . On the other hand, the Bay nest has two eggs.

To see more of the Benbow nest and other wildlife go to County Line Wild on Facebook. 

To check the progress of the Humboldt Bay eagle eggs, go here.


(UPDATED) Breaking: HCSO Investigating Alleged Armed Robbery

Kym Kemp / Tuesday, April 15 @ 1:12 p.m. / Crime

Details are still emerging in this unfolding story. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) is investigating an armed robbery. Female suspects are accused of having used a knife to take unknown property at a cabin near Trinidad. Law enforcement had a vehicle detained in the Moonstone Beach area as of a few minutes before one this afternoon.

Lt. Steve Knight, spokesperson for the HCSO explained that not much information was known at this point. “It is still real early,” he said. The important thing, he said, is that nobody was injured in the alleged robbery. 

Law enforcement is attempting to locate another vehicle associated with the incident. As soon as more information is available, we will update.


UPDATE, 4:10 p.m.: From the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office:

On 04-15-2014, at approximately 11:45 a.m., the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office received a call from two adult female victims who said they had just been robbed at knifepoint. Deputies responded and met with the victims in the 4900 block of Dows Prairie Road, McKinleyville.

When the deputies arrived, the victims told the investigating deputy they were gambling at Blue Lake Casino when they met up with two females. The victims knew one of the females and asked for a ride to McKinleyville. The two females agreed to give the victims a ride to McKinleyville. While enroute the two females told the victims they needed to make a stop at a residence in Trinidad and drove there first. In Trinidad, the front passenger exited the vehicle, and another female got into the passenger seat. The driver then told the victims she would now drive them to McKinleyville. While enroute to McKinleyville, the driver drove the victims onto Dows Prairie Road. The driver stopped the car in the 4900 block of Dows Prairie Road. The female who just got in the front passenger seat of the car in Trinidad, then turned around and brandished a knife at the victims, while demanding money from them. The victims gave the suspect their money and a cell phone. They were then able to escape the vehicle and run into the brush and hide. After the vehicle left they called the Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies searched the area for the suspects’ vehicle, a 1995 Red Mitsubishi Eclipse, and located it parked at Moonstone Beach. Deputies also located a female in the vehicle who told them it was her car, but she was not involved in the robbery. The victims were brought to the scene and confirmed the female the deputies had detained was not one of the suspects. Deputies are currently working to identify the two female suspects. No one was injured in the robbery.

Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriffs Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.

HSU Plans Remembrance Event for Bus Accident Victims

Andrew Goff / Tuesday, April 15 @ 11:03 a.m. / Community

Press release from Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond:

Humboldt State University continues to grieve over last week’s I-5 bus accident that took the lives of 10, including staff member, Arthur Arzola, and a group of young people filled with hope and promise. At least 30 others were injured.

This was a tragedy that we will never forget, and one that affected people throughout California. In the coming weeks, there will be memorial events and funerals across the state, and Humboldt State will send representatives to many of them.

On campus, a remembrance event is scheduled for 12:30 p.m., this Thursday, April 17, on the UC Quad. We will gather as a campus community and an HSU family to honor those who were affected, and to show our care for their friends and families. Later in the day, there will be a candlelight vigil on the UC Quad. The gathering will begin around 5 p.m.

Please consider taking part in one or both of these events. We have all been deeply impacted by this terrible accident, and there is value and strength in coming together as a community to support one another. Thank you to the many students and staff who are participating in organizing these activities for us.

I want to thank everyone who has been involved in responding to this incident. The campus effort been tremendous and heartfelt.

In the hours and days following the tragedy, HSU staff and faculty worked around the clock to answer questions, provide counseling and outreach to the families affected. We welcomed students on the two buses that made it safely to campus, and provided them a great experience despite the difficult circumstances. Our Spring Preview went forward and was a success, with more than 500 students and their families getting a chance to learn more about our campus.

I am so proud, so privileged, and so deeply grateful to be a part of this institution. The dedication of everyone involved in responding to this incident, and of those who took on extra work to keep regular campus operations on track, was exemplary. It was a true testament to the warmth and resolve of our community. Your contributions and caring have been applauded widely in the CSU and beyond. Thank you!

One of the most moving experiences for me personally was having a chance to visit with some of the injured students at hospitals in the Chico area. A small group of us from HSU met with them, and many spoke of their continued focus on their future in college. I was much impressed by the courage and determination of many of the students I spoke with. They clearly cared about the future that Humboldt State University was offering them. Other HSU representatives have since visited the students again, also meeting with parents and other family members, and I ask that you join me in keeping them in your thoughts during this difficult time.

These are emotionally challenging times for all of us at Humboldt State. Those who participated directly in our emergency operations will be provided with first responder counseling sessions. Any student needing counseling or guidance related to the accident should contact the Counseling Center on campus at 826-3236. Faculty and staff may use the Employee Assistance Program at 443-7358.

Also, an information line has been established and will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at least through this Friday. It is for families and others from off campus seeking information, as well as for campus departments seeking guidance or direction. The number is (707) 826-6327.

With great appreciation and admiration for all you do,

Rollin C. Richmond
President, Humboldt State University

In Remembrance of Cameron: Opening Day of Southern Humboldt’s Little League

Kym Kemp / Tuesday, April 15 @ 8:57 a.m. / Community

Saturday, April 12, was the first day of Little League in Southern Humboldt this year …and the last day that a uniform numbered four will be given to any major playing for the group.

​Elijah Roberts, Cooper Scott & Orin Paula carry out the #4 Jersey made by South Fork students. [All photos provided by Becky Crossland.]

Cameron Varnell’s number four jersey was retired this weekend. South Fork woodshop and art department created a wooden facsimile to be displayed in memory of the boy who died on April 16, 2013 after battling five years with leukemia. Many of his former teammates are playing their last year of majors this season and, in Varnell’s honor, wanted to retire his number. 

After carrying out the wooden shirt, the boys return to their families and friends holding up four fingers each in salute of their friend​, Cameron.

Every kid playing in the majors is wearing a black number 4 for Cameron. Many of the adults are wearing number four also.

​Zane Schaafsma pitching for the A’s while Shane Kirk gets ready to run,. The number four patch is sewn above both boys’ hearts.

This year, the Southern Humboldt Little League has made some large changes. There is a new batting cage on the major’s playing area. The League built a new t-ball field and, with the donation of lumber from Whitethorn Construction, is replacing all the bleachers. A new scoreboard donated by Dazey’s Garden Supply last year brightens up another corner.

After selling 1700 plastic water bottles two years ago, the League made a commitment to provide free filtered water for everyone and stainless steel water bottles for each player. Becky Crossland, President of the group explained that the members wanted to do their part to reduce the use of plastic. She said proudly of their new policy, “That is us at Little League trying to make the right step forward as far as the world goes.”

​John VanMeter, who had been involved with SoHum Little League since it’s birth, throws out the first pitch​.

From the youngest players to the oldest, each began on Saturday the process of practicing what their coaches had been helping them learn.

​Casterlin Little Leaguers dog pile for the ball while a Redway Ranger runs home.
Ayden Butterworth-Bignon pitching for the Pirates​.
​Sean Hassal-Hass hits a solid base hit for the Dodgers​.

Darren Bruce of the Pirates pitching​.

Travis “T-Bone” Way gets ready to hit​.

Photo of Cameron Varnell & Thank you picture for Dazey’s Supply​.

A table near the field holds a thank you photo for a supporter on the left, a photo of Cameron Varnell on the right and a baseball signed by former teammates last year with well wishes for the boy in the center. The signed memento was put in a glass case and presented to Varnell’s mother this weekend. 

A group ​Little League players check out the photo of Cameron Varnell​.

Death doesn’t often touch Little League fields. The loss of one so young last year struck cold ice into the hearts of parents and left a hole that each child struggled to make sense of in their own way.

As a fresh season begins, as flowers bloom and the sweet scent of newly cut grass wafts across home plate, this year’s players have each other and a greater awareness that games, while important, are not the biggest things you can lose.

CR’s Journey Back From the Brink: Part Two

Ryan Burns / Tuesday, April 15 @ 7:04 a.m. / Education

CR’s Humanities building, one of several new structures on the Eureka main campus.

Note: This is the second of five parts in the LoCO’s weeklong series on College of the Redwoods and its recovery from accreditation trouble. Read yesterday’s installment here. Today’s installment examines CR’s money trouble.

When College of the Redwoods President/Superintendent Kathryn Smith sat down with some assembled financial experts for a close look at the school’s books back in 2012, they weren’t sure what they’d find.

“We knew something was wrong but didn’t know exactly what it was,” Smith said. After a couple of months, they found it: nearly $800,000 in bad debts that had been lurking in the books for years. These debts mostly stemmed from unpaid student fees — dorm residents and out-of-state students, for example, who’d racked up hundreds or thousands of dollars in bills that had never been collected.

Why not? In part because those fees are a pittance compared to the main funding sources for community colleges like CR, Smith said. The fees students pay per unit (currently $46 at CR) are pennies next to state apportionment money (currently $4,600 per full-time student). So College of the Redwoods, along with other community colleges in California, according to Smith, made a practice of being lenient to the point of ignoring these overdue student fees. Further obscuring matters, former president Jeff Marsee had hired additional top-level administrators and reshuffled responsibilities. The debts got lost in the mix.

Making matters worse, those unpaid fees were still being counted in the “assets” column of CR’s books. “So we looked better [on paper] than we actually were, but we didn’t have the cash,” Smith explained.

CR has since written off that bad debt, turning it over to a collections agency — the first time the school had done such a thing. The college was left with a fund balance of 2.9 percent, meaning CR had less than 3 percent of its annual expenditures sitting in its reserve account. The state requires a reserve fund balance of at least 5 percent.

Meanwhile, student enrollment had dropped significantly. A number of factors contributed to this decline, including the lousy economy and changing demographics of the area, but the accreditation woes certainly didn’t help.

“We had news crews out here interviewing our students,” Smith recalled. “They [the students] were saying, ‘I don’t even know if my credits will transfer; I’m wasting my time here.’” The school was still accredited, of course — CR has never lost its accreditation — but school officials couldn’t seem to get that message to every student and potential student. “We tried, but they were still afraid. And so they quit coming,” Smith said.

The money troubles weren’t limited to old debt and student retention. Marsee’s presidency was marked by, among other things, his expansionist vision. Under his leadership, CR new instructional sites in McKinleyville, Arcata and Garberville and an expanded site in Eureka — all this at a time when state funding for community colleges was shrinking. This rapid growth contributed to the depletion of CR’s financial reserves. In Jan. 2012, hoping to stanch some of the bleeding, CR’s Board of Trustees voted to close the Arcata and McKinleyville sites.

Still more cuts were necessary. In Dec. 2012 CR announced that it was eliminating 39 positions. While many of those positions were vacant at the time, 16 people were laid off, including a gardener and an office worker at the Fort Bragg site, where people felt bitter and overlooked. More on that later in this series.

The Board of Trustees took further action, voting to voluntarily eliminate their $240-per-month stipends and contribute $300 per month to their health benefits. (The board has also been reduced in size from nine members to seven.) Eventually, most everyone on the campus payroll took one for the team: Classified staff accepted a 6 percent pay cut; the faculty union took an 8.7 percent cut; managers took a 8.83 percent drop; and administrators accepted a 9 percent salary reduction.

Those cuts will remain in effect until CR’s reserve fund balance goes back above 6 percent of annual expenditures and the state’s per-student funding gets increased, Smith said.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at how the CR community came to together to address the shortcomings that had been identified by the accrediting commission.