Attorney Jolene Maloney has worked for the Boise County Prosecutor’s Office for just under a year, and county officials say she’s proved herself to be such an asset to the office that she’s now running it.
Maloney was contracted in August to help out on a part-time basis as the office took on the first of two murder cases now on the docket. The 39-year-old Boisean quickly worked her way into a full-time position and in April was appointed by county commissioners to the office’s top post. She hasn’t decided if she’ll run for office in 2016, but if she does she’ll have to move to Boise County.
Returning to public service wasn’t an opportunity that Maloney expected to get after coming out of a devastating downward spiral, during which she was convicted of three misdemeanors in a four-year period, including DUIs in 2012 and 2013. A self-described alcoholic in recovery, Maloney said she began abusing alcohol in 2009 to cope with a traumatic incident from her past.
“I’m so disappointed in my choices but I can’t change them. I have to own them and be accountable,” she said, declining to discuss details of the trauma. She has maintained sobriety for more than two years and continues to be actively involved in a recovery program, she said.
The county commissioners were aware of Maloney’s background when they appointed her, Chairman Alan Ward said.
“She was very forthright in telling us about all of that,” Ward said. “I’m also aware of what she does now, and how she’s making that right, and how she serves other people to benefit them. ... She’s really strong. We need quality leadership, and she’s provided it so far.”
Commissioner Laura Baker, appointed this month to a vacant seat, said Maloney notified her of her background at the first commissioner meeting she attended.
“I felt horrible for her. Everybody makes mistakes,” Baker said.
Former Prosecutor Ian Gee, who was appointed in 2012 and then elected that same year, recommended Maloney for the position after he decided to move to Boise and return to private practice. He’s working for the prosecutor’s office on a part-time basis now, until he finishes some civil cases.
In the early 2000s, Gee took time off from practicing law to serve as a lay minister at the nondenominational Lowman Community Church. He said he saw people with addictions fail and succeed, and he believes Maloney is a success story.
“I believe leaders who don’t give second chances to people like that are wasting potential,” he said.
ON THE WAY UP
Maloney has lived in Idaho for most of her adult life. She grew up in San Jose, Calif. — other than three years in Tokyo, when her dad’s job took their family to Japan. She went to college in Spokane.
She took her bachelor’s degree in special education from Gonzaga University and went to work as a parent-teacher coordinator at a boarding school for at-risk teens in North Idaho. She worked there for about three years and considered a career in social work but opted to go to law school — with an eye toward working in juvenile justice.
She worked as a paid intern at a Pullman, Wash., company while going to the University of Idaho Law School. As part of her studies, she completed a semester in practice at the Canyon County Prosecutor’s Office and graduated in 2003.
Maloney went to work for a law firm that handled misdemeanor prosecutions for the city of Nampa. She was there for more than four years, until taking a job as a deputy prosecutor at the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office.
“I was very excited about working there,” Maloney said. She was on the preliminary hearing team. She handled juvenile cases and was based at the Ada County Juvenile Court Services office on Denton Street.
She left her job at the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office in 2010 to open a private practice. She said her practice flourished, even as she struggled with personal issues.
In fall 2010, Maloney hit bottom — or so she thought.
“It’s an ugly story, and it’s embarrassing, and it’s one that I’ll regret for the rest of my life,” she said.
She was charged with two counts of felony injury to a child after an October 2010 incident in which she left her two young children — 6 and 5 at the time — unattended in their unlocked home, according to the amended criminal complaint.
Maloney pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor injury to children, and one count of disturbing the peace. She received a withheld judgment, but that was later revoked due to a later charge.
Things would get much worse before they got better.
She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DUI in December 2012 — and not even six months later was charged with another DUI and driving without privileges. The second DUI, which occurred in May 2013, was an “excessive DUI,” meaning that her blood alcohol was .20 or greater. The legal limit is .08.
For the second DUI and the resulting probation violations, she was sentenced to 365 days in jail, with 305 days suspended. She served those 60 days on house arrest with work release. She paid fines and fees of $1,197.50. Her driver’s license was suspended for a year, and she was placed on two years of supervised probation.
The Idaho State Bar placed her on disciplinary probation for one year, but that didn’t interfere with her ability to practice law. That probation ended June 14.
Boise County Deputy Prosecutor Jay Rosenthal said he was aware of Maloney’s history and thoroughly vetted her — reviewing her criminal record and talking to judges, attorneys and others — before urging Gee to hire her to help out with the office’s increasingly heavy caseload.
Her record before the string of alcohol-related convictions wasn’t spotless. She pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a May 2009 accident in Boise.
“Jolene, on paper, if you hadn’t looked into her, would scare the bejesus out of you,” said the 78-year-old prosecutor, whose half century in practice has included working in the major crimes unit at the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office and criminal division of the Attorney General’s Office. “But if you really look at her, it’s much different.”
He observed her in the courtroom when she handled conflict cases for the Boise County public defender and was impressed by her diligence. He’s worked closely with her since last summer, and she has exceeded his expectations.
“I’ve always felt that being a good lawyer is mostly preparation,” Rosenthal said. “She not only prepares, but she’s very, very smart. She knows the rules, she researches, and she thinks a lot. It’s kind of fun to work with somebody who does that.”
RECOVERY, HELPING OTHERS
Maloney said maintaining sobriety over the past couple years hasn’t been difficult — but the recovery work behind it has been.
“To work a meaningful recovery program there’s times when it’s been more difficult than others. It requires honesty and a faith in the process,” she said. Maloney, who is Catholic, said her recovery program is spiritually-based, but declined to discuss specifics.
She believes her experience on all sides of the table gives her a unique perspective as a prosecutor. She said crime victims and defendants deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
“That doesn’t mean I’m soft on crime,” she said. “My job is to enforce the law and seek justice.”
“Accountability and accepting responsibility for your conduct is what I did — and what I ask other people to do,” Maloney said. The goal, she said, is to never have them back.
She’s grateful for all the support she received from her husband, family, friends and colleagues when she was publicly spiraling.
“My family and friends loved me regardless,” she said. “My colleagues always treated me with respect and dignity.”
Attorney Michael Bartlett was among those who reached out to Maloney. They became friends, and he followed her progress in recovery.
“After she seemed to get things together and was doing well in rehab, I’ve had a number of clients [with addiction issues] reach out to her,” Bartlett said. “She has an insight. It’s been incredibly helpful to a couple of my clients.”
SHOT OF ADRENALINE
During her short time in Boise County, Maloney has developed good rapport and strong working relationships with fellow prosecutors, county officials and local law enforcement.
Sheriff Ben Roeber said Maloney’s help in training and assisting deputies — with constitutional issues, search warrants and report writing — has been like a shot of adrenaline to his department.
The department has 12 sworn officers, including the sheriff, and 10 reserve deputies. They need to be prepared to handle crimes of all sorts because they don’t have specialized teams. Turnover is steady because entry-level pay is under $30,000 and many move on to higher-paying jobs in the Valley.
“Jolene has made herself more than available to anybody — 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without complaint,” said Roeber, who became concerned that she was working too hard. “You don’t want someone to get burned out in the first six months. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Idaho State Police Detective Vickie Gooch, who has worked in Boise County for 17 years, said she’s been impressed with Maloney’s work ethic, competence and “commitment to do the right thing.”
“She’s been given an opportunity, and I don’t think she’s going to screw that up,” Gooch said. “At some point, we have to say, ‘You’ve been punished and served your sentence.’”