El Dorado County poised to set legal precedent with significant statewide implications for Elected officeholders
In what one McGeorge Law School called a “Political” case that should never had been taken by the local court, District Attorney Vern Pierson filed felony charges against sitting county Supervisor Ray Nutting for illegally concealing a public grant and also having voted in a manner that had undue influence on those that distributed the grant money to hundreds of fellow California citizens. At trial Nutting was exonerated of all the charges that caused the DA to file against him, but he was also found guilty of a technical violation of the law, a misdemeanor. After the DA had filed charges, Nutting arranged for bail and inadvertently violated a law in the manner that he did so. Nutting maintains that he was not aware of the illegality of asking a long-time family friend for help with the$50,000 bail. While he was doing this his administrative assistant overheard what was going on and went to get bail for her long time friend and boss, Ray Nutting. She and another county employee gave money to Ray’s wife and she used that money to go to the court and make her husband’s bail.
The manner that bail was arranged was unrelated to the corruption charges the DA had filed, but he added those to the trial. In court it was said that “Bail” money could not have been "Bail" money unless it was accepted by a state licensed bail accepting agent, but not by proxy. The court agreed that it was a loan to Nutting and even though he had not asked for it nor ever controlled the money, it was a loan to Ray Nutting for his bail. Nutting’s lawyer objects vociferously, but to no avail. The court saw it as a loan and instructed the jury that it would be illegal for Nutting to accept a loan from an employee, or a long-time family friend that was also a large contractor that did work at public bid, including El Dorado County.
In an ironic twist Nutting supporter noted that in testimony it was revealed that Nutting had called Bails Bondsman Chuck Holland and that Holland had offered to post Nutting's bail, for a fee of about $5,000. It was also revealed in trial that Holland is a close personal friend of the District Attorney that had filed the failed charges. That he literally broke bread at DA Pierson’s table. Further, that he was unafraid of prosecutions about improper conflict-of-interest issues. Nutting had declined Holland’s offer, and then Holland called the DA’s office to report that Nutting had violated some bail related requirement. This is what caused the DA to file the additional charges for the bail being obtained illegally.
It cannot be ignored that if Nutting had just put $5,000 into the pocket of the good friend of the person that filed the charges, he would not have been found guilty of any crime and would still be in office. Even if the charges that prompted the bail to be needed all failed, they had caused the technical violation to happen. How technical? In court it was explained that if Nutting’s employee had walked over to the jail and gave the money to bail agent at the jail it would have been legal bail. But because it had gone through hands of Nutting, who was not a bail agent, it was simply a loan, and a loan under those circumstances would be illegal.
Nutting’s lawyer, David Wiener, has exhausted all appeals that it was bail rather than a loan. This has been a bad situation for Nutting, but of little impact outside of El Dorado County, until more political wrangling elevated the question to a level that Nutting’s Appeal is being heard by the State Supreme Court this week, and not on the bail issue, but a much more far reaching question of what “Official Duty” really means.
In what can only be called a Political move by the four sitting Supervisor when faced by pressure to remove Nutting from office, not for misdemeanors which would have no effect on his ability to stay in office, but because they were in the course of his “Official Duties.” That standard turned the misdemeanor offences of Nutting’s bail for a minor traffic ticket kind of thing, to an offense forcing him from office forthwith. The BOS members decided that they did not want to make a determination if Nutting’s arranging bail had anything to do with the “official duties” of an El Dorado county Supervisor. Under advisement of a county counsel that has now retired and moved out of the state, the BOS voted to ask the preceding judge in the Nutting trial to make a ruling as to the question about raising bail being and “official duty” of Nutting’s.
This question had never been brought up in the trial in prime. It could be the DA never thought he would have to reach for a misdemeanor to achieve his already stated goal of running Nutting from office, as a conviction on but one of the charges that DA had filed originally would have mandated Nutting’s removal. Whatever the reason it was not presented for Nutting to make a defense, it was being asked of the presiding judge to make the determination after the trial had ended. This was not the first time that this question has been asked of judges in California. In fact it has been brought up in a number of cases in the last 50 years, but every time the courts deferred to answer that tricky question. It was not until it was asked in El Dorado County that a court took the position to answer that question. With little fanfare judge said “yes” it was an official duty without explanation. This sets a new standard in California for every elected official that might be at odds to an overly aggressive prosecutor looking to carve some high-profile notches into his gun handle. Now the lower court has set a standard without any real criteria where a public official’s violation of minor laws, such as going 68MPH in California, can be said to somehow have been in an “Official Duty” as an elected officeholder. Never has such a broad standard been set (by the law maker’s whom themselves are subject to these draconian standards.)
Due to procedural requirements, Nutting’s lawyer had to make the Appeals court level argument about the distinction between a loan and bail, before he could proceed to the Supreme Court. Nutting has filed that argument and it is in the hands of the California Supreme Court to decide by what standard every elected official will be held to in determining what their “official duties” are in relation to their elected office.
Although every appeal is a long-shot, at least this one should be ruled on right away.
Cris Alarcon, Placerville Newswire.