A defendant in the Colonies corruption case wins the unsealing of comments from a different grand jury

BY IMRAN GHORI
STAFF WRITER
ighori@pe.com

Published: 29 November 2011 09:29 AM

A San Bernardino County judge on Tuesday ordered the grand jury testimony of a former county official unsealed as part of a government corruption case.

Superior Court Judge Michael Smith agreed to release the testimony after a request by defense attorney Stephen Larson, who argued in a motion that it may include evidence helpful to his client, Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum.

In May, a criminal grand jury indicted Burum, former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff to Supervisor Gary Ovitt, on conspiracy and bribery related charges. They have all pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors have alleged that a $102 million settlement the county approved in November 2006 with Burum’s company, Colonies Partners, was the result of bribery and extortion.

James Lindley, who worked for the county for five years, most recently as public health director until he was fired in March 2010, testified before a separate civil grand jury in April, at the same time the criminal grand jury convened.

Lindley’s testimony was not presented to the criminal grand jury, but Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope summarized some of his comments to the panel toward the end of the proceedings — a decision questioned by defense attorneys.

“Mr. Burum is anxious to obtain all of the discovery and all of the grand jury testimony,” Larson said. “We continue to believe once all of the evidence is out in the open it will be clear that Mr. Burum did nothing wrong.”

Prosecutors did not object to the request to unseal the testimony. Cope said under state law only the presiding judge can unseal grand jury testimony so that it’s available to attorneys on both sides. In this case, Smith said Presiding Judge Douglas Elwell relayed to him that he had reviewed the testimony and gave Smith the authority to have it released.

Lindley’s testimony became an issue because of a comment attributed to him by Dennis Wagner, a former county counsel. Wagner testified that Lindley told him he had overhead Burum say he had golfed with one of the judges who heard the Colonies civil case.

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