District Attorney files defamantion claim against county

Delaine Fragnoli
Managing Editor

District Attorney Jeff Cunan filed a defamation claim Nov. 24 with Plumas County against County Administrative Officer Jack Ingstad for comments he made to Feather Publishing about the county’s recent lawsuit against Cunan. The comments appeared in Feather Publishing’s story about the lawsuit (Nov. 10, 2010).

Cunan alleges Ingstad libeled and slandered him when he told newspaper representatives that some of Cunan’s expenditures from a contested bank account constituted “a gift of public funds” and claimed such expenditures “would not have been approved if they had been part of the budget process.”

“Both of these statements are false,” Cunan writes in his claim, “and Jack Ingstad knew they were false when he made them.”

Ingstad countered, “I believe my statements to be the truth from the various meetings with the parties on the subject.”

Cunan points out in his claim that the county’s suit against him never mentions a gift of public funds. He reiterates his earlier contention that all the expenditures were appropriate and “served public safety interests.”

Ingstad was also quoted in the newspaper as saying Cunan had “no authority” to make the expenditures.

Cunan takes issue with that characterization: “Ingstad is fully aware that neither he nor Plumas County has any authority to approve or disapprove the particular expenditures of the district attorney or the sheriff.”

He said Ingstad came to the Feather Publishing office in Quincy with “the express purpose of discussing” the lawsuit. Cunan contends Ingstad made the comments “with the intent and knowledge that they would be published in the newspapers circulated by Feather Publishing” and that the “false statements wrongfully impacted” his “professional reputation in the community.”

Cunan is set to leave office at the end of December and go into private practice.

Ingstad made the comments during a Monday, Nov. 8, visit to Feather Publishing. He was scheduled to meet with the advertising department.

Following that meeting, at publisher Mike Taborski’s request, he spoke with Taborski and Managing Editor Delaine Fragnoli about the lawsuit.

In his claim, the district attorney alleges Ingstad’s statements were “in retribution for Ingstad’s embarrassment caused by the district attorney’s exposure of Ingstad’s role in the mismanagement and loss to Plumas County taxpayers of approximately $1 million of drug and alcohol treatment monies over the last two years.”

Ingstad called Cunan’s claim a “stunt” intended “to intimidate the CAO and (county) auditor from doing their jobs.”

The whole tit-for-tat began Nov. 3, when the County of Plumas filed suit in Plumas Superior Court against Cunan over a checking account funded by the bad check diversion program.

The problem, according to the county’s complaint, is that the funds sat in a bank account, first at Placer Savings and then at Plumas Bank, when they should have been deposited into the county treasury.

The county alleges checks drawn on or withdrawals from the account occurred outside the county appropriations process and, thus, did not have the blessing of the Board of Supervisors.

Withdrawals and checks on the account from Dec. 31, 2002, to May 13, 2010, totaled at least $14,771.55 — the amount the county is seeking from Cunan.

A management conference for the case is scheduled May 9, 2011, in Plumas Superior Court.

Ingstad said county counsel would review Cunan’s claim and decide if it had any merit.

“I wish the DA no harm and hope the matter resolves itself quickly,” said Ingstad. “But the lawsuit speaks for itself. And the lawsuit is not from the CAO, but the Board of Supervisors on the behalf of the County of Plumas.”

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