06:36 PM PST on Tuesday, December 28, 2010

By RICHARD K. DeATLEY
The Press-Enterprise

The Riverside County district attorney’s office disputes an accountant’s sworn declaration that he was ordered to change a budget analysis to show the office had a surplus and could hire more people, according to court papers filed this week.

The new declarations from outgoing District Attorney Rod Pacheco’s office contend that the accountant, Eric Woolery, was pressured into making a statement that he altered his work to change a $4 million deficit into a $2 million surplus.

PDFs:

District Attorney Rod Pacheco’s statement regarding the job dispute lawsuit and new declarations

District attorney’s response to Riverside County in job dispute lawsuit

Declaration of Riverside County Chief Assistant District Attorney Bill Mitchell

Declaration of former Riverside County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Keenan

Signed declaration of Eric Wooler

The court papers, including a declaration from Chief Assistant District Attorney Bill Mitchell, claim the influence came from county officials and incoming District Attorney-elect Paul Zellerbach, who will be Woolery’s new boss.

In an e-mail to The Press-Enterprise on Tuesday, Woolery said, “My sworn declaration was truthful and accurate and I was not coerced into signing it.”

County Executive Officer Bill Luna and Zellerbach both denied pressuring Woolery.

Zellerbach said he did nothing wrong in talking to Woolery, saying he only told him to be truthful and honest.

“If Mr. Pacheco and Mr. Mitchell view that as pressure on him, than I am guilty of pressuring him to be truthful and honest, which apparently is a concept that is totally foreign to them,” Zellerbach said.

The court papers are connected to a lawsuit that Pacheco filed earlier this month, seeking a judge’s order allowing him to hire 10 new prosecutors and move two of his executives into positions that would protect them from being laid off.

Pacheco said in a sworn declaration that his office projected a $2.1 million surplus for the fiscal year. Woolery’s declaration was filed in court to counter that claim.

Pacheco did not respond to a phone message Tuesday.

On Monday, Mitchell and former Riverside County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Keenan, now with the Fresno district attorney’s office, filed declarations in which they said Woolery told them he was pressured into signing his sworn declaration.

Mitchell, in his declaration, claimed Woolery told him, “They made me do it. I had to.”

Pacheco’s lawsuit against the county is expected to be thrown out of court Thursday, because nine of the people hired were given other positions, two left the DA’s office and a request for a voluntary demotion was withdrawn.

NEW DECLARATIONS

In his declaration, Woolery said Keenan had reviewed his initial first-quarter financial report for the county, which projected a $4 million deficit for the office. Woolery said in the declaration that Keenan told him, “I need it in the black.”

Woolery then illuminated more budget revisions by him and Keenan that eventually showed a $2.1 million surplus. Woolery said in the court papers, “I do not believe this version is probable.”

In his declaration, Mitchell said Woolery told him that he initially refused to sign the declaration “despite direct requests by the (County) Executive Officer Bill Luna, and Jay Orr, the Assistant Executive Officer.”

Mitchell said Woolery told him that after he refused entreaties by Luna and Orr, Zellerbach came into the office.

“Mr. Woolery told me that he asked Mr. Zellerbach how he would feel about Mr. Woolery executing the declaration. Mr. Zellerbach responded, ‘It would be a good thing. I would like it,’ ” Mitchell quoted Woolery as saying.

“Mr. Woolery told me that, as a result, he felt a tremendous amount of pressure to sign the declaration because Mr. Zellerbach would soon be his boss,” Mitchell claimed.

Luna said Tuesday he only recalled seeing Woolery in a hallway at the County Administration Building.

“I remember saying to him, ‘I know what the right thing to do is, and I hope you do too. Stick to the truth, it’s easier to remember,’ and that is the sum total of it,” Luna recalled on Tuesday.

Orr, on vacation this week, did not return a message relayed to him from his office.

Neither Keenan nor Mitchell’s declarations addressed Woolery’s claim that Keenan told him, “I want it in the black,” referring to the deficit budget analysis.

Keenan said in his declaration that Woolery “never expressed to me in any way that: ‘I do not believe (the First Quarter Budget Report submitted) is probable based on the information available at the time.’ If he had, I would have considered any changes to the Report that he requested.”

In his declaration, Keenan said Woolery had told him, “I’m in self preservation mode now.”

Keenan did not return a phone call. He is now chief assistant district attorney in Fresno County, a position described as second-in-command to the district attorney.

PACHECO STATEMENT

Although the lawsuit seems resolved, Pacheco insisted in a three-page, single-spaced statement issued by his office that the county had “capitulated to our requests in their entirety.”

Pacheco’s office had tried to get 12 frozen positions open, rather than applying for hires in positions that were funded. “He wanted to increase and expand his operation” by seeking the frozen positions, Luna said Tuesday.

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