The California Supreme Court agreed to review District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ prosecution of six former pension trustees, marking another obstacle in the two-and-a-half-year-old case, which has yet to reach trial.
This is the second time the state’s high court has taken an interest in the defense’s case. Earlier this year, it required the Fourth District Court of Appeal to take a second look at the prosecution’s legal theories, but the appellate court cleared the way for trial with its approval in September.
The district attorney’s case alleges that trustees had a conflict-of-interest in approving deals that let the city forego its full annual payment into the retirement fund in exchange for an increase in benefits for them and other city employees. After a preliminary hearing, a Superior Court judge ordered it to trial in January 2006, but several appeals have held up the case since then.
The former city officials accused in the case are: firefighters union president Ron Saathoff, police fingerprint examiner John Torres, management analyst Sharon Wilkinson, former treasurer Mary Vattimo, former Human Resources Director Cathy Lexin and former Assistant Auditor Terri Webster.
The defendants have argued that pension benefits are a form of salary and therefore exempt from the state’s conflict-of-interest law. It was that argument that raised questions with the state Supreme Court earlier.
The slowdown in the district attorney’s case will also likely have repercussions in federal court. In that case, five former pension officials — three of whom are also included in Dumanis’ case — have seen their prosecution delayed after a federal judge said that the U.S. attorney’s case hinges largely on the success of Dumanis’ prosecution.