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Madera DA gets public reproval, faces civil suit

The district attorney of Madera County was publicly reproved by the State Bar for not prosecuting a man involved in a car accident with his son in return for payment of the DA’s insurance deductible. ERNEST J. LiCALSI [#116344], 47, of Madera stipulated in July that he violated the Rules of Professional Conduct by threatening criminal prosecution for civil advantage.

LiCalsi agreed to take four hours of continuing legal education in ethics, attend ethics school and submit four quarterly probation reports.

According to the stipulation, LiCalsi’s son was involved in a 2002 auto accident with Honorio Quiroz, an illegal immigrant who speaks no English. Quiroz did not have a driver’s license, gave a phony name to LiCalsi’s son and provided vehicle registration and an expired insurance policy in the name of yet another person.

Quiroz had driven a neighbor to school and when he backed out of a parking spot, he collided with LiCalsi’s car, which sustained about $1,300 in damage. No one was injured. LiCalsi’s insurance policy had a $500 deductible.

According to the stipulation, about a week after the accident, LiCalsi assigned his only Spanish-speaking investigator to identify the driver. LiCalsi told the State Bar that at that point, he intended to report the driver to the attorney general’s office for possible prosecution.

When LiCalsi told his investigator about the $500 deductible, the investigator asked LiCalsi if he would be willing to accept a restitution payment if the driver volunteered to make such a payment. LiCalsi “stated that he would be willing to discuss such a payment,” the stipulation says.

A couple of weeks later, the investigator, driving an unmarked car, saw Quiroz driving a car. Together with a second investigator, also driving an unmarked car, they pulled Quiroz over. A city of Madera police officer appeared at the scene as well. The law enforcement personnel convinced Quiroz to go to LiCalsi’s office, where he was taken in the police car.

The investigator told LiCalsi Quiroz had come voluntarily.

Once in the office, the investigator, who spoke English and Spanish, told LiCalsi that Quiroz was willing to pay the $500 deductible. According to the stipulation, LiCalsi “replied that he would therefore not seek any prosecution of Mr. Quiroz.”

Quiroz paid LiCalsi $200 at the time and the investigator wrote out a receipt. He later paid the remaining $300. LiCalsi used the money to pay the auto body shop that repaired his car.

The matter was referred to the Attorney General for investigation, but it decided not to file criminal charges or initiate removal proceedings against the district attorney.

In a statement issued when he agreed to the stipulation, LiCalsi said, “I have chosen to discontinue fighting this reproval and accept it. In my heart, I feel that I did nothing illegal or unethical.”

His troubles are not finished, however. Quiroz filed a $2.5 million civil suit accusing LiCalsi of extorting money by threatening Quiroz with criminal charges and possible deportation. Steven A. Geringer, Quiroz’s lawyer, also sued the county of Madera.

Geringer alleges that the DA ran “a wild West, anything goes” operation, and the actions taken against Quiroz were not isolated.

Trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 10 in federal district court in Fresno.

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