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Judge to alert bar of DA's misuses

The top superior court judge in Merced County said he's concerned about District Attorney Gordon Spencer's unethical behavior and is going to send information about Spencer's actions to the California Bar Association within the next week."Given everything that's occurred that I'm aware of, it would be appropriate to forward the information to the state bar," Presiding Judge Frank Dougherty said.

The state bar, which monitors the legal community in California, has the authority to discipline attorneys and revoke their licenses.

If Spencer were to lose his license, he would no longer be qualified to be district attorney.

Dougherty said that in the past four years, he has told the state bar about two private attorneys in Merced who have acted unethically. In both those cases, the attorneys resigned before they had hearings with the state bar.

Spencer did not return calls Monday seeking comment.

Dougherty did not say what, specifically, he would tell the state bar. He said only that he would inform the bar about "what I've been made aware of through the media and any other source."

His comments follow statements from county supervisors in the past week that have strongly reprimanded Spencer for abusing the county's reimbursement policy and violating the terms of a state grant.

The Sun-Star has found that Spencer, who receives a monthly car allowance from the county, drove a county-owned vehicle for almost seven years. For the past year, he used an SUV that was meant for another employee. The $27,000 Ford Expedition was purchased with money from a state Office of Emergency Services grant.

OES and a private investigator hired by the county are looking into whether Spencer violated the terms of the grant. The county said it will conclude its investigation in a week; OES said it will finish its inquiry near the end of the month.

Dougherty made his comments after the Sun-Star asked him if he was taking any action in response to Spencer's misuse of county vehicles.

In recent months, Spencer has also come under scrutiny for possibly acting irresponsibly as a bartender and for impersonating an investigator in his office.

The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is looking into whether Spencer served alcohol to an underage man at a Merced Golf and Country Club party in December.

Gregory Gomez, a 20-year-old South Merced resident, walked home from the party where Spencer was a volunteer bartender. Gomez was struck and killed by a car on Bellevue Road. Police said his blood alcohol level was 0.245.

Spencer was investigated late last year by the California Attorney General's Office for impersonating a government official.

The attorney general found that Spencer gave the impression he was an investigator when he tried to settle a dispute his son had with a cabinet company. It was concluded that Spencer did not commit a crime, but he was ordered to take an eight-hour ethics course.

State bar spokeswoman Kathleen Beitiks said she would not comment on whether her agency is investigating Spencer or whether it would start an investigation once it received Dougherty's complaint.

But Beitiks said the bar takes any concerns raised about attorneys' actions seriously. She said judges are in a good position "to determine if someone is acting ethically."

Spencer currently has a spotless disciplinary record with the state bar.

He has successfully run for district attorney four times unopposed, but has said he will not run for re-election this year.

Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said Monday that she hopes Spencer will meet with the board in a closed meeting at 9 a.m. today and explain his actions. Supervisors will hold a regularly scheduled public meeting at 10 a.m.

Kelsey joined Supervisors Jerry O'Banion and Kathleen Crookham in calling for Spencer to pay back the $51,000 in car allowance payments he's received over the past seven years if the county's Human Resources Department determines that he was using a county vehicle during that time. The allowance was meant to reimburse Spencer for using his personal car for business reasons.

"That would be expected," Kelsey said.