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Cubbison's attorney asks Eyster to recuse

A blindfolded woman in a toga holds a scale in her left hand and a lowered sword in her right.
Lady Justice mural from the Superior Courthouse in Ukiah.

Chamise Cubbison’s attorney formally asked that District Attorney David Eyster be recused from her case yesterday. Eyster charged Cubbison, the elected Auditor Controller Treasurer Tax collector, with felony misappropriation of public funds in mid-October. On Halloween, the Board of Supervisors suspended her without pay or benefits. She and her co-defendant, Paula June Kennedy, were scheduled to enter a plea yesterday. But instead, Cubbison’s attorney, Chris Andrian, told the court that he was asking the Attorney General to order Eyster to step aside. After the proceeding, he reflected that, “There is potential conflict of interest, in the sense that Mr. Eyster had been public in his opposition to her, has gone before the Board of Supervisors saying that he didn’t think she was qualified to do the job. She was challenging him on some of his claims.” Andrian added that he expects “There’s always going to be an adversarial side” to the relationship between an auditor and what he calls the auditee; “And if it reaches the point where you’re starting to say things about that person publicly, now you have an agenda with that person.”

Andrian also foresees the possibility of a future where Eyster and Cubbison will be in the same courtroom, but in a very different relation to one another. “I’m not handling this part of Ms. Cubbison’s life at this point,” he said; “But it’s my view that when the Board of Supervisors summarily dismissed her without pay, without any sort of due process or right to be heard, that that was not a correct thing…So eventually I think there’s going to be some sort of civil litigation that will emerge from this. I see David Eyster as potentially being a witness in some of those proceedings.” He wants the case to be cleansed of the rift. “When the jury selection comes, that’s going to be kind of a circus sideshow. Everyone’s going to want to talk about the rift and all that. That’s going to prolong the selection of the jury process at my client’s expense. It just seems to me that the case would be cleansed by that. In other words, by him stepping aside, and then we could just, if we had to, go toe to toe on the merits.”

Andrian’s recusal motion, which he planned to file with the Attorney General’s office yesterday, refers to the “Broiler Steak House Reimbursement Claim,” from early 2019.

Two years later, the Board of Supervisors considered appointing Cubbison to retiring Auditor-Controller Lloyd Weer’s position. At that time, Eyster’s office submitted a full investigative document including a timeline of correspondence between Cubbison and Eyster’s office manager. The timeline summarized three months’ worth of correspondence between the two women arguing over which policies the DA was exempt from; which fund could be used to pay for dinner; and the difference between the words ‘maintain’ and ‘control.’

At issue was a dinner at the Broiler in Redwood Valley at the end of 2018. Forty-two county employees and 25 members of the public attended the dinner. Eyster’s office wanted to pay the bill with asset forfeiture funds. Cubbison insisted that only the county employees’ meals could be reimbursed, for a total of $1,470. In March, according to an investigator’s recounting of a telephone conversation, Cubbison told the office manager, Carmen Macias, that the DA could amend an item on the Board of Supervisors agenda to pay the dinner tab. The investigator wrote, “Carmen explained to Chamise that DA is not using public funds and that this got as far as it did because of her fault for not paying the invoice. And the DA doesn’t want to change the Agenda, and why so the Auditor can keep picking on things every time we submit things.”

Cubbison also refused to reimburse the DA’s office for travel to trainings and conferences unless he submitted a travel request and authorization form and travel reimbursement claims. Eyster’s office held fast to its contention that then-CEO Carmel Angelo had exempted it from submitting travel authorizations. Outside attorney Morin Jacob of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore opined that, “The District Attorney’s office may have to obtain Travel Authorizations for expenditures but only for those that are not directly related to a case, and either (1) involve travel outside of California or (2) are over $1000.” Most of the rejected claims were under $500.

In 2021, Kathryn Cavness, an administrative services manager in Eyster’s office, complained that Cubbison had told her she could no longer report expenditures for Cal OES grant-funded victim services the way she believed the state wanted her to report them. In a memo titled “Ongoing Problems re Auditor’s Office,” Cavness wrote that after making her journal entries to account for personnel expenses, “Chamise Cubbison chastised me,” telling her to post the expenses as a debit to one account, “and also as a credit to a Victim Witness Revenue account, which curiously she had yet to create as no such line item for this purported credit currently existed.” Cavness reported that she spoke with the Cal OES specialist, “who confirmed that my accounting process and procedures were correct and met the mandates of the Cal OES grants that we were awarded.”

At the now-infamous Board of Supervisors meeting on August 31, 2021, where Eyster came out against Cubbison replacing Weer for the remainder of his term, Cubbison defended her accounting practices, saying, “No other department or funding agency has had a problem with that practice. Whatever information they conveyed to Cal OES and got an opinion from them, is not substantiated by past practice. It’s been done for the last 20 years in the Department of Transportation, and many years in Health and Human Services.”

Eyster complimented then Treasurer Tax Collector Shari Schapmire, adding, “But should we come to the point where she wants to retire, I think the court should well consider going to a director of finance model, where we have a more qualified, higher experienced and I guess higher powered individual to come in as our CFO…I’ve come to the Board multiple times, and never once has the Board upheld Ms. Cubbison’s decisions or Mr. Weer’s decisions when it comes to the problems we’ve ran into regarding finances and obstructionism…If you do appoint Ms. Cubbison, I expect I’ll see you more often, which may be a good thing.”

The Board did not officially appoint Cubbison to replace Weer after his early retirement in 2021. She ran unopposed for the combined offices of Treasurer Tax Collector and Auditor Controller last year and took office this year. After her suspension, Deputy CEO Sara Pierce took over her role.

Cubbison is due back in court on December 19th.

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.