SOLANO COUNTY -- An indictment handed down by a Solano County grand jury says one of the county's deputy public defenders preyed on a fellow attorney in the department, raping her after an office Christmas party last December.
After repeated requests for comment via phone and email, FOX40 went to the Fairfield office of Head Public Defender Lesli Caldwell, hoping to speak with her about an internal climate of accusation and investigation that's plagued her staff for months. Employees told FOX40 they could not connect with her and we left written messages behind.
"It's already a really difficult job. So this is the worst possible thing that could happen to a public defender agency, something from within being so significant and being so inflammatory," said defense attorney Mark Reichel.
In private practice now, Reichel spoke about the environment of a public defender's office after spending 14 years in a federal one.
Though FOX40 normally refrains from naming victims of sexual assault, Alana Kopke's attorney says after the telling of so many untruths about her in and outside of her workplace since the party, Kopke wants her name used as she shares what she says is the real version of what happened.
In a press release about the indictment, Kopke's attorney says fellow deputy public defender Rahul Balaram provided a number of alcoholic beverages to the victim while the two were at Zio Fraedo's in Vallejo. Lesli Caldwell held a Christmas party there for all four branches off her office starting at 3 p.m.
Attorney Elisa Stewart goes on to say in her release that when her client became intoxicated and unresponsive, Balaram and other colleagues brought her home. Others left, Balaram refused, removed the victim's clothing and sexually assaulted her.
Balaram quit a few days after the alleged incident. Kopke continues to work as a public defender.
Another deputy in the office went to the county's human resources department and then the board of supervisors with concerns arising from that night.
Public defenders are the only chance many have at justice and with an office embroiled in such controversy, Reichel says for clients "their case is the most important thing in their life."
"The person they've reposed all of their trust in now is in the middle of this type of controversy that's all over," Reichel said. "That can really cause even more stress to these poor people."
Balaram's attorney, Douglas Horngrad, had this to say about the situation with his client via a statement:
" ... The Solano District Attorney has no business presenting this case to a grand jury. The Solano DA had an obvious and flagrant conflict. That is not due process. This case should be handled by the state attorney general and we will be filing a motion asking that the court order the local DA to withdraw from the case in favor of the attorney general."
FOX40 also reached out to the Solano County District Attorney about this case but received no response.
Balaram posted an $85,000 bail after turning himself in.