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U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez said the California Supreme Court’s ruling on the district attorney’s pension case may play into the federal corruption proceedings against five pension officials that he is presiding over.

At a hearing Wednesday, the judge said the state’s high court made it clear that there are concerns about the District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ prosecution when it ruled last month that the Court of Appeal must rehear the defendants’ appeal.

At issue is the state law being used in accusations that six former trustees illegally profited from a deal they approved in 2002 because they were among the employees who received the resulting benefit increases. The defendants argue that voting on one’s own pension benefits is acceptable under that law.

“This would make pension benefits immaterial in the federal case,” defense attorney Frank Vecchione said.

Benitez said he was inclined to wait for the Court of Appeal’s verdict, which could halt Dumanis’ case, but did not order a delay of the federal case, which is slated to begin trial in May. He said he recognized that the two were linked and felt that the appeal in the state case was better heard first.

“Why should I tell the state of California what their law is? They’re the best person to tell me,” Benitez said.

The judge was also about to approve the defense attorneys’ proposal to trim the indictment “paragraph by paragraph,” but acknowledged that he had not reviewed the U.S. attorney’s arguments against the proposal because of a computer error that prevented him from receiving the documents.

Like previous hearings, Benitez said the charges were overly broad.

“I think the indictment needs to be made more clear, both to the defendants and to the court,” Benitez said.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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