San Luis Obispo County courts spent almost $33,000 prosecuting rancher Dan De Vaul for code violations. But it will take a while to find out how much code enforcement officers themselves spent. The District Attorney’s Office says its attorney’s work didn’t cost taxpayers a cent.
While the prosecution of De Vaul on misdemeanor charges has both supporters and detractors on legal and moral grounds, some in the county have questioned whether spending money on the case during hard times is a wise economic move.
De Vaul was convicted in September on two misdemeanor counts of building fire safety and vehicle storage violations and acquitted of illegally stockpiling grading materials and violating a stop-work order. Five other charges were dismissed after the jury deadlocked on them.
The 66-year-old rancher spent a night in jail last week before being bailed out.
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The court system says it spent an estimated $32,850 to provide staffing that included judges, court clerks, court reporters, bailiffs, legal process clerks and jury services clerks for a total of 33 hearings. Another cost included mileage expenses for jurors traveling to and from the courthouse.
The District Attorney’s Office said that Deputy District Attorney Craig Van Rooyen typically juggles more than 100 cases at a time, and De Vaul’s prosecution was part of his duties as a salaried employee.
Van Rooyen, who prosecuted De Vaul, wrote in an e-mail to The Tribune, “I didn’t get paid any more to work on this case, and my other caseload was not reduced. In that respect, it cost nothing.”
Art Trinidade of the code enforcement division said, “It would be premature for me to state a figure at this time.” He said the Board of Supervisors will have the final say “when the statement of costs is prepared and submitted to them at a public hearing.”
County officials have paid several visits to the 72-acre De Vaul ranch, and in addition have done off-site work such as tracking down the legal owners of the vehicles he has stored there.
However, Trinidade said, the county can’t tally the numbers until “we get to the end of the case and (De Vaul) is in full compliance with the board order” to bring his property up to code.
When will that be?
“Guessing is all I can do on this case,” a frustrated Trinidade told The Tribune in an e-mail.
“If I have any staff in January, we will see where he stands as to compliance with the order,” he wrote.
“I would guess that the county will need to make a decision on what to do with the dorm and sheds and that will be the limiting factor as to time,” he wrote.
In any event, Trinidade said, the county will pass along the costs to De Vaul, a move that he said is allowed under county codes.
Tribune staff writer Nick Wilson contributed to this report.