Appointment of Royl Roberts Creates a Potential Conflict
By David Rowe, Associate Editor
February 18, 2023
Correction 5/18/2023: An earlier version of this story named Clifford Blakely as the presiding judge during the Feb. 3 hearing. Blakely served as the judge during the initial hearing of this case on Oct. 20, 2022.
Correction 3/3/2023: The original version of this article mischaracterized a statement by Angela Ruggiero, Public Information Officer for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. Ruggerio’s Feb. 27 response clarifying the statement is included in the updated version of this article.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office (ACDAO) announced in an Oakland courtroom on Feb. 3 it has a possible conflict of interest in a case involving Tim Thomas, the Director of Public Safety for the Peralta Community College District (PCCD). Thomas was charged with three misdemeanor crimes stemming from an altercation near the district offices with Tom Jensen, the elderly resident of an RV, on May 6, 2022.
Judge Armando Pastran, Jr. rescheduled Thomas’ pre-trial hearing for April 14 to allow time for the district attorney’s office to confirm if a conflict existed and, if so, to determine who would take over prosecution of the Thomas case.
During the hearing, the conflict was discussed during a sidebar conversation with the attorneys and Pastran. No details were revealed in open court once the hearing resumed. In a hallway conversation during a break in the hearing, however, deputy district attorney Jason Quinn informed Jensen the recent appointment of Royl Roberts as Chief Assistant District Attorney was the source of the conflict. Prior to joining the district attorney’s office, Roberts was general counsel for the Peralta district.
A statement provided to The Citizen on Feb. 8 by Angela Ruggiero, Public Information Officer for the ACDAO confirmed that the district attorney’s office is recusing itself from the case. It also clarified the extent of Roberts’ involvement in the Thomas case.
“As Peralta Community College’s General Counsel, Mr. Royl L. Roberts removed himself from any communication from the case once he knew he was coming to work at the District Attorney’s Office,” according to the ACDAO statement.
“Although his work in our office is to oversee the office’s administration, operations and finance, and not work directly with prosecuting cases, the District Attorney’s Office is recusing itself out of an abundance of caution.”
Ruggiero said the Thomas case will probably be turned over to either the California Attorney General’s office or “another local district attorney’s office,” but a decision will not be made before the April 14 hearing.
In a subsequent email to The Citizen on Feb. 27, Ruggiero said that while ACDAO is recusing itself from the Thomas case, it is not yet confirming there is a conflict. “Just because we are recusing ourselves, does not mean we agree there is a conflict,” according to Ruggiero. The original version of this story said that a statement provided by Ruggerio had “confirmed the hiring of Roberts created the conflict”.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta and his wife, Mia Bonta, who currently represents District 18 (which includes Oakland and Alameda) in the State Assembly, both have ties to the Peralta Colleges Foundation. The non-profit organization provides “scholarships, supporting the professional development of faculty and staff” for the four Peralta colleges, according to its website.
Several current and former PCCD trustees and the presidents of the four Peralta colleges are listed as directors on the foundation’s website.
Rob Bonta is a member of the host committee for the upcoming Peralta Colleges Foundation “Swing Fore Student Success” golf tournament taking place on May 22. Mia Bonta honored LaNiece Jones, the Peralta Colleges Foundation Executive Director, as “woman of the year” in March 2022.
The Citizen contacted the Attorney General’s office to see if they would be willing to accept the Thomas case. A spokesperson responded via email stating that they are “unable to provide legal advice or analysis.”
Thomas was not present at the Feb. 3 hearing, and was represented by his attorney Jason Leung, from the Prather Law Offices. The Citizen requested a comment from Edwin Prather, the owner and principal attorney of the firm, but he did not respond in time for inclusion in this article.
Pamela Price was elected Alameda County District Attorney last November. Roberts was an early supporter of Price’s campaign and hosted an online “house party” for her and Alameda County Sheriff candidate JoAnn Walker on Jan. 31, 2021. Roberts also contributed $1,134 to the Price campaign, according to monetary contribution reports filed with the state.
Beginning in March 2021, records from the California State Bar Association show Roberts was a provisionally licensed attorney under Price’s supervision. The site shows that Roberts was admitted to the bar on July 22, 2022, and was appointed to his role as Interim General Counsel for PCCD less than two months later on Sept. 1.
Judge Pastran provided Jensen with an opportunity to make a statement to the court during the Feb. 3 hearing. Jensen accused Thomas and his attorney of making “defamatory allegations” about him following the May 6 altercation. He also said the district filed three police reports against him following the incident, one of which was in response to protest signs he attached to his RV with statements such as “Fire liar Thomas” and “Peralta hates the homeless.”
Pastran said he could not respond to Jensen’s allegations and suggested a “civil remedy” would be more appropriate.
Jensen sent an updated “victim’s statement” to Price and Roberts on Feb. 9 that provided his point of view on the conflict issue. The nine-page document described several interactions between Jensen and Roberts, including an encounter at the district offices on July 26, 2022 when Roberts agreed to accept a subpoena from Jensen on behalf of Interim Vice Chancellor of General Services Atheria Smith for a different case.
According to Jensen’s statement, “Mr. Roberts has an ethical duty to report that he has knowledge of facts related to the Thomas case and to disclose those facts honestly and without reservation to an investigator.”
Jensen also offered a “proposed settlement” for his case that would include “statutory damages” of $50,000 and a public apology for statements made by Prather, which Jensen considers defamatory both to him and the unhoused population of Oakland. Prather’s comments were reported in a May 12, 2022 article in The Citizen.