Monday, January 25, 2010

Lexin v. Superior Court (Cal. Supreme Ct. - Jan. 25, 2010)

For most people, Mondays aren't typically cause for massive celebration. But today's an exception for the former members of San Diego's Pension Board who were charged with a criminal conflict of interest as a result of their votes in favor of creating what turned out to be San Diego's monster pension crisis. This morning, Justice Werdegar writes a unanimous opinion that reverses the Court of Appeal and orders the charges against them dismissed.

But, as with many exceptions, there's an exception to the exception. Five of the six defendants get off. But a sixth -- Ronald Saathoff -- doesn't. The San Diego District Attorney's Office convinces the California Supreme Court that there's a unique set of facts that applies to him, so he's still up on criminal charges.

So the day could have definitely been better for Saathoff (and his attorney, Jerry Coughlan). But short of having charges against you dismissed, which was assuredly Saathoff's hope, it's still not a bad day to wake up to a pro-defendant interpretation of the criminal statute you're charged with violating and to see the charges against all of your high-profile co-defendants dismissed. It's now a much less high-profile case. Plus the prosecution has a bitter taste in its mouth from the loss in the California Surpemes. Which makes for a greater chance of a deal and/or dismissal.

This is not the end of the litigation -- civil or criminal -- regarding the San Diego penion mess. By any means. But it is a part of it that's winding down.

P.S. - Full Disclosure: Jerry Coughlan is the father of a current student of mine. Though such (minimal) links to the case extend in other directions too; one of the trial judges, for example, is the father of a former student. Not to mention other tangential links to some of the attorneys on the case. San Diego, while the ninth largest city in the nation, is not an especially large town when it comes to high-profile legal work.