By KAREN VELIE
A woman who has testified in dozens of cases and been offered as an expert witness by the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office does not have a college degree that she has claimed in court.
Tracy Nix, an 18-year DA’s office staffer, has testified in court and written in her resume that she holds a bachelors degree from Cal Poly. The District Attorney’s Office offered her as an expert witness in a sexual abuse case in 2014.
Deputy District Attorney Kelly Maderino asked Judge Jacquelyn H. Duffy to declare Nix an expert. Manderino offered Nix’s resume, which included the claimed college degree, and called Nix to testify about her qualifications.
“Do you have a bachelor’s degree?” Manderino asked Nix, according to the trial transcript.
“I have. I do,” Nix testified.
“And is that from Cal Poly?” Manderino asked.
“It is,” Nix testified.
But Nix never graduated, her Poly profile shows.
District Attorney Dan Dow says Nix’s testimony was not perjured because she “walked.”
“Walking” means a student has participated in the university commencement ceremony. Students wear academic robes and walk across the stage to shake the hand of the university president and college dean.
Dow said that because Nix “walked,” she believed that she had graduated and earned her degree.
“If she believed she had a degree, then she did not commit perjury” Dow said. “It is common at Cal Poly for people to believe they have graduated when they have not.”
Students who have not graduated can walk as long as they agree to finish their degree requirements within two quarters, according to the Cal Poly Registrar’s Office.
During the expert witness hearing and in front of the jury, Nix also testified that she had taught an advanced psychology class at Cal Poly every quarter for five years for Connie Hanretty-Church. Hanretty-Church is a lecturer in the Psychology and Child Development Department.
“Have you taught any classes in the area of child forensic interviewing?” Manderino asked, according to the trial transcript.
“I have,” Nix testified.
“Could you describe that?” Manderino asked.
“For the last, I believe four to five years, I have taught once a quarter at Cal Poly, to the advanced psychology class about recognizing and assessing child abuse as well as very basic interviewing, forensic interviewing techniques,” Nix testified.
Church said in an email that Nix was not a lecturer or a teacher, but a guest speaker at the campus.
“Tracy was a guest speaker several years ago (2014) when I taught an upper division course entitled, “Child Abuse and Neglect,” Hanretty-Church wrote in an email. “She was a regular guest speaker for several years, can’t recall if it two or three years.”
Nix continues to insist she was a guest lecturer at the university, as does Dow.
“I have just spoken with Connie Hanretty Church, the Cal Poly Lecturer who used Ms. Nix as a guest teacher/lecturer in her classes,” Dow wrote in an email. “Ms. Hanretty-Church has confirmed that Ms. Nix indeed taught in her classes regularly over several years.”
Lecturer is a formal academic rank used by universities including Cal Poly.
Nix’s testimony was part of the DA’s case that resulted in Ronald Cowan’s conviction on sodomy, oral copulation and lewd acts with a child. He was sentenced to 65 years to life in state prison.
In Feb. 2017, the state appeals court reversed the decision based on prosecutorial misconduct. Manderino “had told the jury that the presumption of innocence applies only until the charges are read,” according to the appellate court decision.
The Cowan case is schedule to be retried next month in the San Luis Obispo Courthouse. Dow did not respond to questions over whether or not the district attorney’s office plans to have Nix testify at the upcoming trial.
Even though Dow says that Nix did not commit perjury, he has begun to notify attorneys about her lack of a degree.
Under a U.S. Supreme court case (Napue v. Illinois), prosecutors have a responsibility to correct the testimony of witnesses they know to be false. Prosecutors also have an obligation to inform other defendants about issues over the credibility of their witnesses.
“Our office is actively taking steps to notify each defendant’s attorney (in cases where Ms. Nix testified as a witness) of the fact that Ms. Nix did not receive a diploma awarding a bachelor degree,” Dow wrote in an email. “It will be up to each defendant and their counsel to decide whether it is a significant enough issue in their individual case to warrant filing of a motion with the court.”
While Nix admits she did not graduate from Cal Poly, she stands by a number of other statements she wrote in her resume.
In a 2018 resume, Nix wrote that she worked in Toulumne County in the 90’s as a child forensic interview specialist, a job the human resources department in Toulumne County said does not exist.
In a recent email, Nix wrote that while her job classification was social worker, she was assigned as a child interview specialist in both Toulumne and San Luis Obispo counties.
Until recently, Nix was classified as a social worker IV, a job that currently requires at least a bachelors degree, according to SLO County’s job class specifications. At the time Nix was promoted to social worker IV, the position did not require a college degree.
A few months ago, Dow changed Nix’s job classification to program manager, which does not require a college degree.
During her opening statement in the Cowan case, Manderino referred to Nix as an investigator, a title that was later repeated by the appellate court in a published decision. During the trial, Manderino refers to Nix using several titles, but never social worker.
“Social Worker is a very generic job classification and does not precisely describe or reflect the specific duties that Ms. Nix performs as a child forensic interviewer for our Bureau of Investigations,” Dow wrote in an email. “She is squarely a member of our investigative team who obtains evidence through her expertise as a child forensic interviewer.”
Also in her resume, Nix says she interviewed a child and provided expert testimony and consultation in a case against the Orcutt Unified School District.
But the case recently settled and never went to trial. Clay Hall, the attorney for the school district, hired Nix to work as a consultant and an expert witness, he said.
“I don’t believe she interviewed the child,” Hall said. “She did not testify as an expert witness, the case settled.”
In a recent email, Nix confirmed she never provided expert testimony in the Orcutt Unified School District case. She said, however, that she did testify as an expert witness for the county in 2014, as she wrote in her resume.
Tracy Nix and her husband SLO County Sheriff Commander Aaron Nix filed a chapter 13 bankruptcy several years ago. The pair makes approximately $300,000 a year in salary and benefits, according to Transparent California.
For more than four years, Tracy Nix has supported the political campaigns of both District Attorney Dan Dow and Sheriff Ian Parkinson. On Facebook, Tracy Nix has asked her friends to vote for Dow and to contact her in order to get a ball cap promoting Parkinson’s campaign.
Even though Nix has now confirmed she never graduated from Cal Poly, Nix wrote Sunday on Facebook that she is planning to attend grad school, saying she knows much more now than she did while working on her undergrad degree.
Copyright Karen Velie