California Supreme Court  justices

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 11/05/13, 5:54 PM PST |

SACRAMENTO >> The California Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments from a prosecutor and a defense attorney in San Bernardino County’s Colonies corruption case. The high court’s decision will determine whether bribery charges will be reinstated against a key defendant in the case or whether the case will move forward as it now stands.

Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel and defense attorney Stephen Larson, who represents defendant and Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum, argued for and against whether an individual accused of giving or offering a bribe can also be charged with aiding and abetting the receipt of a bribe.

“The answer is clearly, ‘yes,’” Mandel said Tuesday, addressing the seven Supreme Court justices.

Though not applicable in all cases, Mandel stressed that the specific facts and circumstances of the case should determine whether one could be charged with both crimes. In the case involving Burum, Mandel said the facts support both charges,

Burum stands accused of giving a total of $400,000 in bribes to three former San Bernardino County officials: former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former Assistant Assessor and union president Jim Erwin, and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for Supervisor Gary Ovitt, for facilitating a legal settlement between the county and Burum’s investor group, Colonies Partners LP, in November 2006.

All four defendants deny any wrongdoing, and all four were present during Tuesday’s hearing.

In her petition to the high court, Mandel argued that California’s bribery laws have failed to develop alongside evolving national legal standards, and have not been meaningfully considered in more than half a century.

Larson argued that more than a century of case law has well established that one cannot be charged with being a bribe giver and also aid and abet in the receipt of a bribe because the crimes involve different intents. He argued that prosecutors from the state Attorney General’s Office and San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, who are jointly prosecuting the case, secured an indictment against the four defendants using a “creative, innovative charging scheme.”

“You’re undoing all of that by giving the people this do-over,” Larson told the Supreme Court justices.

Larson also argued that the only reason prosecutors charged Burum the way they did was because it was too late to charge him with giving a bribe, The alleged crimes occurred from July 2005 to November 2006, and by the time the Grand Jury handed down the indictment in May 2011, the statute of limitations had already sunsetted to charge Burum with giving bribes.

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