After more than 30 years in Kern County’s legal department, County Counsel Mark Nations has moved on. His last day on the job was Friday.
He won’t sit idle for long in his semi-retirement.
In less than a month he will wave goodbye to Bakersfield and say “hola” to the country that will be his home for the next year-and-a-half, the Dominican Republic.
“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do,” he said in a phone interview. “My wife and I have always wanted to serve in some capacity for the church once we retired.”
Nations belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormon Church.
After a month of training in Provo, Utah, he and his wife, Karen, will arrive in the capital city of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo, to begin their service.
Nations will work as a legal advisor in the church’s regional legal office.
“The church has congregations in 26 different countries in the Caribbean,” he said. “You have a lot of different issues that arise with leases or property acquisitions or employment issues.”
His wife will be doing humanitarian work.
“The church has a lot of people serving around the world in various capacities who are retired,” Nations said. “We didn’t have any particular thing we wanted to do, we just wanted to be in service somewhere.”
Nations will be leaving an office he has worked in since 1985. He worked his way up from deputy counsel to one of the highest positions in county government. As he rose through the ranks, he oversaw one of the county’s most notorious legal cases: the myriad of overturned child sexual abuse convictions that spread across the county in the 1980s.
“Somebody should write a book about it someday,” he said. “It just resulted in all these people being sent off to prison for many, many years… I think the repercussions of that will be with the county for quite a while.”
Beginning in the early 1980s, dozens of children accused their parents, family members, friends and even pastors of molestation. An alleged pedophile ring, according to some accusers, went so far as to perform satanic rituals.
Nearly all the convictions were overturned on appeal after most of the children, one by one, recanted their testimony.
A wave of civil litigation against the county followed, which Nations helped handle. As part of his work on those cases, he argued in front of the California Supreme Court, the only time he was afforded the opportunity to do so, he said.
The county paid out millions of dollars in settlements over the years to several falsely convicted individuals.
“Those (cases) occupied a tremendous amount of my time for a number of years,” he said.
Nations said he used to keep a poster of a documentary about the topic produced by the actor Sean Penn above his desk.
Not all his work in the county’s legal office has been quite so morbid. As he prepares to leave his current job behind, he said, he has enjoyed his time at the county.
“One of the most gratifying aspects of the job is that you can solve problems,” he said. “You’re in a position to solve problems and there are plenty of them out there. So it’s always gratifying if you can do that.”