Tuesday, June 4, 2013
C.A. Throws Out Corruption Conviction of Ex-Official
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A person who serves as an independent contractor to a public entity, in both form and function, is not a public official or employee and cannot be convicted of conflict of interest, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Div. One Friday, in an opinion by Justice Frances Rothschild, said the felony conviction of former Beverly Hills Unified School District facilities director Karen Christiansen under Government Code Sec. 1090 had to be thrown out and the case dismissed. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen Marcus had sentenced Christiansen to more than four years in prison and to pay $3.5 million in restitution to the district.
A jury found Christiansen guilty of having secretly negotiated four contracts on behalf of the district that benefited a company that she owned. Former superintendent Jeffrey Hubbard, was sentenced to three years of felony probation for illegally authorizing payments to Christiansen.
Rothschild explained, however, that while Christiansen was employed as facilities director from 2004 to 2006, she became an independent contractor to the district in the latter year. The terms of that contract, which titled her a “consultant,” to the district, were typical of consulting contracts, the justice said, providing for an hourly pay rate, allowing her to work for other clients, and giving her none of the fringe benefits that she had when she was an employee.
It was while serving as a consultant that Christiansen negotiated the contract for which she was prosecuted, Rothschild explained.
Prosecution of consultants, the justice said, is inconsistent with the statute, which provides that “[m]embers of the Legislature, state, county, district, judicial district, and city officers or employees shall not be financially interested in any contract made by them in their official capacity, or by any body or board of which they are members.”
The justice said prosecutors failed to provide “any basis to conclude that the Legislature has clearly and unequivocally indicated that the term ‘employees’ in section 1090 should not be interpreted in terms of the common law test of employment.” The court, she said, therefore had to apply the common law definition and to hold “at least for purposes of criminal prosecution under section 1090, an independent contractor is not an employee within the meaning of the statute.”
Attorneys on appeal were Hillel Chodos, Philip Kaufler, and Michael A. Goldfeder for the defendant and Deputy Attorneys General Lawrence M. Daniels, and Eric E. Reynolds for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Christiansen, 13 S.O.S. 2812.
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