Scales of Justice

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 09/09/16 – 12:25 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> Prosecutors and defense attorneys in San Bernardino County’s biggest public corruption case announced Friday that after years of legal wrangling, they are ready to begin trial.

San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith announced a trial date of Oct. 17 for the Colonies corruption case, stemming from a $102 million legal settlement between the Rancho Cucamonga-based investor group Colonies Partners LP and San Bernardino County in November 2006.

Attorneys with the District Attorney’s and state Attorney General’s offices, who have teamed up in the prosecution, allege the settlement was tainted by bribery.

While the trial is scheduled to begin in the fall, jury selection is expected to take two months, with opening statements scheduled to begin Jan. 4. The trial is expected to last six to seven months.

Two juries will hear the evidence in the case, one for defendant and former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, and another for the other three defendants: former county Supervisor Paul Biane, Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for former county supervisor Gary Ovitt.

Smith scheduled jury selection for Erwin to begin Nov. 4 and jury selection for the other three defendants to begin in early December.

All four defendants deny wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty, alleging the prosecution was politically motivated.

“We are looking forward to finally having our day in court, where we can quickly establish Mr. Burum’s innocence of all charges,” said Burum’s attorney, Stephen Larson, after Friday’s court proceedings. “We continue to believe that this prosecution should have never been brought, and that having been brought and given all that Mr. Burum has gone through, we are pleased that the time has come to establish his innocence.”

Lewis Cope, one of the lead prosecutors in the case, said Friday’s hearing “spoke for itself.”

“We’re happy that we finally have a trial date,” said Erwin’s attorney, Rajan Maline. “This is what we want, and we are looking forward to it.”

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