El Dorado supervisor not guilty of felony malfeasance, guilty of misdemeanors
Supervisor Ray Nutting was acquitted of three felony malfeasance charges Wednesday as jurors returned a mixed verdict in a criminal prosecution revealing deep fissures in El Dorado County politics.
In the end, Nutting, a four-term county supervisor, was convicted of six misdemeanor counts that were unrelated to the essential criminal allegation brought against him by El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson.
Jurors found Nutting, 54, guilty of misdemeanor violations for improperly accepting loans from two county employees and a construction contractor to post $55,000 in bail. The money was put up after authorities told Nutting he needed to surrender at the county jail on four felony charges.
However, Nutting was found not guilty of three key charges of political misconduct and jurors were unable to reach a verdict on the fourth.
The supervisor was acquitted of two felony counts of failing to report state income for brush-clearing and other fire safety work on his 340-acre timber ranch in Somerset.
He was also acquitted on a felony conflict of interest charge for voting to fund two local fire districts. Prosecutors alleged he had been legally required to recuse himself from voting because two board members of the districts served on a separate state agency that awarded more than $70,000 in California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection grants to Nutting.
Jurors deadlocked 7-5 in favor of conviction on a fourth felony charge alleging that Nutting submitted false paperwork to the state when he completed herbicide work on his ranch.
Judge Timothy S. Buckley declared a mistrial on the last count. Then, after dismissing the jurors, he offered this observation: “Somewhat of a mixed bag. Congratulations, Mr. Nutting.”...
Had Nutting been convicted of a felony, he would have had to relinquish his county supervisor post under state law. He is unlikely to serve jail time as a result of the misdemeanor convictions...
The verdict was a setback for Pierson, the El Dorado County district attorney who was joined in the prosecution by the state attorney general’s office...
Mary-Beth Moylan, a McGeorge School of Law professor specializing in political law, said after Wednesday’s verdict that it was unclear whether prosecutors made a good decision to pursue criminal charges.
“I think the basic problem with this case is that it really doesn’t call for a legal commentary as much as it appears to be a political circus up there,” said Moylan. She added: “If I had been on the jury, I would have been confused by the politics underneath everyone’s actions.”
While prosecutors argued in court that Nutting deliberately cloaked government income to preserve his reputation as a conservative politician, Nutting said he openly discussed his participation in the state fire safety program. He said his errors were honest paperwork mistakes.
The jury determined that the supervisor broke the law in the frenetic moments after he was told he had to surrender at the county jail...
Prosecutors had tacked on the additional misdemeanor charges, saying the state government code bans elected officials from borrowing money from any person working for their office or governmental agency. The law also bars county supervisors from taking loans from people with business contracts with the same county.
In opening statements, Nutting’s lawyer, David Weiner, said his client acted innocently under duress after learning of his pending arrest.
“All of a sudden, he had two hours’ notice to turn himself into jail or make $55,000 bail,” Weiner said. “People stood up because they knew him.”