Supervisor ordered out of office | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Supervisor ordered out of office

PLACERVILLE – El Dorado County Supervisor Ray Nutting, recently found guilty of six government code misdemeanors for accepting illegal, undocumented loans, was ordered removed from office Friday by Judge Tim Buckley. Buckley also sentenced Nutting to three years of probation and 30 days in jail, but said that Nutting could do community service or other alternative service rather than go to jail. Nutting left the courtroom without saying a word. His supporters in the courtroom called the judge's decision "unbelievable." Nutting accepted the loans from two county employees and Douglas Veerkamp, a construction contractor who does business with the county. He used the money to post bail after being ordered to turn himself in for four felony charges El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson filed against him. Nutting was found not guilty on three felony charges, which alleged that he did not report income from government agencies that he used to pay for brush-clearing on his property and voted on contracts in which prosecutors maintained he had a conflict-of-interest. The jury hung on a felony charge that Nutting filed a false document. Prosecutors declined to retry Nutting on that charge so sentencing could occur but said they reserve the right to re-file the charge against him in the future. Nutting's defense attorney David Weiner asked for a new trial and argued the money Nutting received to post bail did not constitute loans and was paid back within a matter of hours. "It was never intended as a loan. These were friends who came to his aid to help him out in a time of duress," Weiner said. The argument did not sway Buckley. Buckley said the money was clearly a loan because it was intended to be paid back. He also called it inappropriate to solicit money from a person contracting with the county. "That's a problem," Buckley said, adding that Nutting's actions raise concerns about dual allegiance and conflicts of interest on a Board of Supervisors that often votes on large contracts. "What Ray Nutting did was misconduct in office," Buckley said. "I will send notice to the Board of Supervisors that there will be a vacancy in the office after this proceeding." After the court hearing, Weiner said the trial has been hard on Nutting and his family and that he will appeal Buckley's decision to order Nutting out of office. Nutting's former campaign manager, Dan Dellinger, said concerns about dual allegiance or conflict of interest were a red herring because of the county's open bidding processes and his ability to recuse himself from votes. "The whole time the district attorney wanted to get Ray Nutting off the Board of Supervisors and that's what this is all about," he said. Other members of the Board of Supervisors had asked Buckley to determine if Nutting should be removed from office for the government code misdemeanors. They put their county business on hold until Buckley weighed in. In a press statement, Pierson said his office and the California Attorney General's Office tried to resolve Nutting's case and save taxpayer money by offering Nutting to plead guilty to the six misdemeanor counts and step down from office. "Defendant Nutting rejected this offer and made no counter offer," he said. Supervisors are scheduled to discuss the matter in closed session Monday. Typically, they would call for a special election to fill the empty seat. But they will also discuss whether that election can be consolidated with the November general election. "We decided we would wait to see what the judge said. Now we have a ruling from the judge and the seat has been vacated, so we have to go through the policies, processes and procedures," District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago said.

Court denies Nutting request to stop special election

California's Third District Court of Appeals has denied former El Dorado County supervisor Ray Nutting's request for the appeals court to throw out the Board of Supervisors' decision to hold a September 9 special election to fill his vacated District 2 seat, El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson announced Thursday. Superior Court Judge Tim Buckley ordered Nutting out of office in June for six misdemeanor convictions for obtaining illegal loans from county employees and a county contractor. Nutting used the money to post bail when he was ordered to surrender on felony charges he was not convicted of. Nutting is appealing the misdemeanor convictions as well as Buckley's order to remove him from office. Following Buckley's decision, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors agreed to hold a special election to fill Nutting's former seat. "This joint prosecution by the California Attorney General's Office and the DA's Office, and the District Court's decision today, has proven once again that no one is above the law … even the politically powerful," Pierson said in a press release.

Special election will be held to fill supervisor’s seat

The California Supreme Court rejected on Wednesday an attempt by former District 2 Supervisor Ray Nutting to retain his seat. A special election to fill his seat will be held on Sept. 9 as previously scheduled. Superior Court Judge Tim Buckley ordered Nutting out of office in June following six misdemeanor convictions for obtaining illegal loans from county employees and a county contractor used to cover bail for an arrest last year on felony charges of political malfeasance. The loans included a $58,000 cash transaction in Nutting's office, according to the press release. He was later acquitted of the felony charges, but the fund-raising methods were deemed misconduct. Following Buckley's decision, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors agreed to hold a special election to fill Nutting's former seat. The nomination period lasted from June 30 to July 18. This was a joint investigation and prosecution by the California Attorney General's Office and the District Attorney's Office, and now the Supreme Court has finally spoken on the issue – Nutting's conduct constituted misconduct in office and his removal from office was lawful," El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson stated.

Supervisors ask judge to decide Nutting’s future on board

El Dorado County Supervisors are asking the judge overseeing a criminal case against Supervisor Ray Nutting to determine if Nutting should be suspended or removed from the board for his convictions. Meeting in closed session Tuesday, supervisors decided to ask the judge to make a decision. Nutting was found not guilty one week ago on three felony charges. The charges alleged that he filed falsified documents, committed perjury and approved conflict-of-interest contracts. The jury was hung on a fourth felony charge of filing a false document. The El Dorado County District Attorney's Office is considering if it will retry Nutting on that charge. Nutting was, however, convicted on a string of government code misdemeanors, including charges that he received nearly $60,000 in illegal, undocumented loans from two county employees and an illegal, undocumented loan from a construction contractor who does business with El Dorado County. Nutting used the money from the loans to post bail after being arrested on the felony charges. In their closed session, supervisors questioned whether Nutting should be suspended or removed from the board now that he has been convicted of the government code misdemeanors. With Nutting facing a June 6 sentencing hearing before Judge Timothy Buckley, the supervisors are asking the judge to offer his opinion on the question, arguing they are unclear on the law and that it's not in their authority to unseat an elected official. "There seems to be speculation or some sort of word out there that somehow or another the board of supervisors could by vote unseat Supervisor Nutting because of the nature of the misdemeanors," District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago said. "For us it was decided that no, the board of supervisors will maintain a neutral position. What we are saying is, 'Judge, you need to decide, to tell us, to inform us as to whether or not this position is vacated or we need to call for an election, and we want your opinion on certain code sections and how they relate to Supervisor Nutting," Santiago said. Supervisors opted to not suspend Nutting from the board in part to not prejudice Judge Buckley, Santiago said. They also agreed to table county business until after Nutting's sentencing, so as to not take any actions that could be potentially challenged if he participated.

Nutting appealing conviction, removal from office

Former El Dorado County supervisor Ray Nutting is appealing his recent misdemeanor convictions and a judge's decision to remove him from office because of them, while his wife, Jennifer, is one of six candidates running for his old seat in a special election. "For me to be charged with these malicious prosecutions and not challenge them is unconscionable," Nutting said of his decision to appeal. Nutting, who lives in Somerset, initially faced four felony charges filed by El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson. After a lengthy trial, a Placerville jury in May found Nutting not guilty on three felonies, including charges of filing false documents, perjury and approving conflict-of-interest contracts, and deadlocked on the fourth, resulting in no conviction. But Nutting was also charged with six misdemeanors and convicted for receiving "illegal, undocumented loans" from two county employees and Douglas Veerkamp, a construction contractor who does business with El Dorado County. Nutting used the money to post bail after he was ordered to surrender on the felony charges. Nutting and his attorney, David Weiner, argued in court that the money was not loaned, but offered freely by friends so Nutting could post bail under a time of duress. They asked to have that distinction included in jury instructions at trial but the request was denied. "These were friends. Everybody got their money right back except for (one woman) who put it up for bail. She voluntarily did it, and she got it back from the court. All the others got it back within hours," Weiner said. "We were denied an instruction as to defining bail, which is what this was, and the jurors we interviewed said if they had that information the result could have been different." Nutting's appeal of the six misdemeanor convictions was filed in California's Third District Court of Appeals. A second appeal will challenge visiting Superior Court Judge Tim Buckley's decision in early June to order Nutting out of office because of the convictions. "We think a felony conviction removes someone, vacates an office. Misdemeanors, generally not, unless there's something unusual, and it would have to involve some official duty," Weiner said. "Even if the convictions stand, we think his position should not have been vacated because there was nothing he did that was a violation of his official duties." Buckley determined Nutting's actions did constitute official misconduct and said they raised concerns about dual-allegiance and conflicts of interest, calling it inappropriate for a supervisor to solicit money from someone who contracts with the county. Buckley's decision has ramifications statewide, according to Weiner. "Anyone who is an elected official now is going to be under the thumb of district attorneys. They better stay close with the (district attorneys) and do what they want done, otherwise they're in trouble quick. If they interpret violation of official duties that broadly, we think it will be of interest to elected officials statewide," he said. With Nutting removed from office, El Dorado County's four remaining supervisors authorized a Sept. 9 special election for voters in District 2 to elect a new representative. Six candidates have taken early steps to run for the seat, including Nutting's wife, Jennifer Nutting. Five other potential candidates are Shiva Frentzen, Claire McNeal, Dave Pratt, Janet Saitman and George Wesley Turnboo. The District 2 supervisor represents southwest El Dorado County, including parts of Cameron Park, Shingle Springs and El Dorado Hills. Voters in District 4 and in District 5 will elect new supervisors in November's general election. County officials considered consolidating the special election with the general election, but could not because of a provision in the county charter that requires a special election within 90 to 120 days of a declared vacancy. Recorder-Clerk Bill Schultz estimated the special election will cost between $80,000 and $100,000.

Allegations fly in Ray Nutting case

Prosecutors accused the attorney for El Dorado County Supervisor Ray Nutting of delaying court proceedings, while the attorney accused the El Dorado County District Attorney's Office of harassment following a court hearing at the South Shore Monday. During Monday's hearing, visiting judge Tim Buckley reduced Nutting's bail from $55,000 to $20,000 and set a hearing date for a pair of defense motions. He ordered the original bail be returned and gave Nutting until Thursday to provide the new bail amount. Nutting, 54, is charged with four felony counts relating to the filing of false documents, failing to disclose income and having a financial interest in a county contract for public funds he used to clear forest fuels from his property on the west slope. He has also been charged with seven misdemeanors regarding cash he received for bail money. According to prosecutors $47,000 Nutting received from county administrative assistant Kitty Miller constitutes an illegal loan from a public employee to a public official, something Nutting's attorney David Weiner disputes. Weiner told the court he is planning to file an objection to the prosecution's allegations known as a demurrer and also file a motion to dismiss charges in the case, known as a 995 motion. The motions are scheduled to be argued at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at the South Shore. Nutting did not enter a plea to the charges Monday, but has denied wrongdoing. Weiner called the allegations against Nutting "political" and said they are "a lot to do about nothing." He accused the District Attorney's Office of harassing Nutting. In a Monday statement, the District Attorney's Office said Weiner's motions unnecessarily delayed trial setting despite the defense having evidence in the case since June 7.

Witness read partial Miranda rights in Nutting trial

On Thursday, the trial of Supervisor Ray Nutting featured a registered professional forester being read partial Miranda rights and advised to seek a lawyer. The morning started off with an out-of-jury conference between Judge Timothy Buckley, defense attorney David Weiner and co-prosecutors Pete Williams of the state Attorney General's Office and James Clinchard of the El Dorado County District Attorney's Office. Clinchard believed there had been violations on the part of the defense as an oral agreement of extending a deadline testified to by Registered Professional Forester Mark Stewart, between Nutting, Stewart and Patrick McDaniel, a Cal Fire forester, had not previously been in evidence. Stewart did not mention it in any previous interviews or during the Grand Jury investigation, but it was "very clear the defense is aware" of Stewart's testimony as they knew what to expect on the stand, Clinchard said. Weiner decided to withhold his comments on the alleged violation. Stewart was then brought to the stand. He told Weiner that Nutting's Proposition 40 plan was the only one he had worked on where extensions were requested. He also said that it was his understanding from Bob Cosley, the chief investigator for the DA's Office, told him that if he had conspired with Nutting, charges would be filed against the forester, too. He told Cosley that Nutting "didn't tell me to do anything conspiratorial." Cross-examination by Williams had just begun with questions about the oral agreement to extend the deadline when the judge asked to see the attorneys in chambers. Minutes later, they reentered the courtroom but asked the jury to step out. Buckley said Stewart might be getting into areas of self-incrimination. Williams noted that an invoice stated the contract work was done by April 15, but Stewart testified the day before that he checked the herbicide on May 25. The document, therefore, could be a false one. Buckley said he had not noticed that and partially read Stewart his Miranda rights — specifically that he did not have to answer questions without a lawyer and one would be provided if needed. He asked if Stewart wanted to speak with a lawyer — he did. Though court had only been in session a half-hour, the judge recessed until the afternoon. Stewart briefly reappeared with attorney Erik Schlueter after the recess. Schlueter said his client would continue testimony on May 6. He said Stewart's intent was to plead the 5th Amendment, protection from self-incrimination. The defense then called Nutting's wife, Jennifer, to the stand. She was first asked by Weiner to account for $26,000 that had been deposited in the couple's joint bank account. Money came from rent from three renters on their property; selling their son Tyler's car, a line of credit; a personal check from Dramatics Hair Studio, owned by Jennifer Nutting; a few smaller transactions; and from the Nutting's safe, where they kept cash on hand. The money from the safe was, she said, from Ray Nutting's aunt, Martha, who never had children and was close to him. She said that getting money from friends for bail when her husband was arrested was a "total surprise" and that they had not solicited money from Kitty Miller or Katherine Tyler. No loans had been discussed. Miller, she said, "was being a friend and wanted to help, "giving $50,000 in cash to the couple — just $5,000 short of the total bail needed. No cross-examination took place. Nutting is charged with four felony counts relating to the filing of false documents, failing to disclose income and having a financial interest in a county contract for public funds he used to clear forest fuels from his property on the west slope. He has also been charged with seven misdemeanors regarding cash he received for bail money. The trial will continue Tuesday.

Special election set for Nutting seat

El Dorado County's Board of Supervisors is authorizing a September 9 special election for District 2 voters to elect a new representative after the court-ordered ouster of former supervisor Ray Nutting. Supervisors considered folding the election into the upcoming November general election, but the county's charter requires a special election within 90 to 120 days of a declared vacancy. Visiting Superior Court Judge Tim Buckley ordered Nutting off the Board of Supervisors on June 6 as part of his sentencing for six government code misdemeanor convictions for accepting illegal, undocumented loans. Nutting, who lives in Somerset, used the loans from two El Dorado County employees and a construction contractor who does business with the county to post bail after he was charged with four felony offenses filed by District Attorney Vern Pierson. In May, a Placerville jury found Nutting not guilty on three felony charges, including filing false documents, perjury and approving conflict-of-interest contracts. The jury deadlocked on a fourth felony charge of filing a false document. Prosecutors have not said if they will retry Nutting on that charge. The District 2 Supervisor, one of five seats on the Board of Supervisors, represents southwest El Dorado County, including parts of Cameron Park, Shingle Springs and El Dorado Hills. Recorder-Clerk Bill Schultz told supervisors on Tuesday that planning the September 9 special election and the November 4 general election will be a challenge and something El Dorado County has never done before. Special election ballots need to be designed and ordered, a certified election printer needs to be arranged to provide sample ballots, vote-by-mail materials and precinct ballots, and the county also must get permission from California's Secretary of State to use its election management system for an additional election. The El Dorado County Election Department also is processing five potential ballot initiatives with thousands of signatures needing to be verified, according to Schultz, who estimates the cost for the special election at between $80,000 and $100,000.

Defense up to bat in Nutting trial

It was the defense's turn at Supervisor Ray Nutting's trial on Wednesday, preceded by the prosecution's last two witnesses and closing with allegations that the District Attorney's investigator had threatened a defense witness. The day's events began with prosecutor James Clinchard of the El Dorado County District Attorney's Office introducing into evidence several maps of Nutting's property and copies of documents filled out by Nutting that qualified him for grant funding. LeeAnne Mila was then called to testify. Mila works in pesticide use enforcement for the El Dorado County Department of Agriculture. Examining some of the forms signed by Nutting, Mila affirmed there had been some minor errors in filling them out. But under questioning by defense attorney David Weiner, she admitted the errors were minor. Cal Fire Camino Assistant Chief Christopher Anthony, a return witness, described the work done at Nutting's ranch, including thinning, pruning and slash disposal. He testified he visited Nutting's ranch on May 8, 2009, to issue a burn permit for 15 acres and witnessed 30 to 50 small burn piles. Clinchard closed by introducing into evidence four exhibits, including a warrant of arrest with bail set at $55,000, a receipt for a bail amount of $55,000, and documentation of a search done by the El Dorado County Treasurer-Tax Collector Office and the California Secretary of State showing no license for a brush clearing by Nutting. With those details out of the way, Weiner began Nutting's defense by calling a series of witnesses, many of whom are or were involved with fire safe councils in the county. Vicki Yorty, who is the former executive coordinator of the El Dorado County Fire Safe Council, said Nutting never hid the fact that he was receiving grant money from the California Forest Improvement Program (CFIP also known as Proposition 40), adding that he had actively promoted the program at a council meeting. Mark Almer, a member of the Grizzly Flat Fire Safe Council said the same, noting that Nutting mentioned he was participating in the program at one of their meetings, and funds were available to property owners that would help in the reduction of hazardous fuels. Rodney Pimentel, who owns a lumber company and is a participant in the fuel reduction program himself, said Nutting was totally for the program and never made it a secret that he was receiving Prop. 40 money. Clinchard then asked each witness if they had attended any of Nutting's campaign events and if Nutting publicized in his campaign literature that he had received Prop. 40 money. At that, Weiner asked the witness, "when you go to meetings … fire safe meetings or other meetings where people are concerned about fire safety, do you normally go into each other's checkbooks?" A question that drew laughter from the audience. Jill Kunder, a retired human resource professional who headed up the Happy Valley Fire Safe Council for two years, testified that Nutting had announced the program at one of their meetings, although she knew of it earlier. Saying she had visited his property before and after he received the Prop. 40 money, she commented that after it was cleaned of the brush, the area was clear and looked like "it could breathe." Jan Bray, a retired Cal Fire Forester, said she also visited Nutting's ranch in 2009 on behalf of the CFIP program. Saying the Nutting ranch was in a high or very high fire danger area, she noted when she inspected it there were piles of brush ready to be disposed of. She was also asked about an amended agreement with Nutting that was sent to him with an expiration date of April 15, 2009. That agreement was later discussed in more detail by a different witness. Ray Nutting's brother Tom then got a thorough going over by Clinchard who seemed as interested in his affairs as he was in Ray's. Saying he owns 350 acres, Tom testified the Happy Valley Trust was set up to protect his ranch which is separate from Ray's. Claiming to be the sole beneficiary and manager of the trust, Tom said Ray's role is only as a trustee along with two others and Ray receives no financial benefit from the position. Tom went on to testify that he received two CFIP grants. Ray was reimbursed for some bulldozer work done under the first CFIP grant but none under the second. Nonetheless, he noted the DA went through his bank records from 2006 up to just a few months ago. The next witness was Mark Egbert who manages both the El Dorado County and Georgetown Divide resource conservation districts. Under questioning by Clinchard, he testified there had previously been a relationship between his organization and the Sierra Coordinated Resources Management Council (SCRMC), but it had since been terminated. SCRMC is the joint powers association that cuts the reimbursement checks for Prop. 40 money. He said his districts had no input into who got grants, saying Cal Fire ran the program. He also said he wasn't previously aware that Nutting was involved with the CFIP program although Nutting had once questioned Egbert about the relationship between his districts and SCRMC. Egbert was also questioned about the honesty and professional capabilities of forester Mark Stewart who had done some work for his districts. In response, Egbert said he found Stewart to be thorough, diligent and truthful. Later it became apparent why the DA asked the question. Egbert was then questioned by Pete Williams of the state Attorney General's Office. He asked if his members were also members of SCRMC between the years 2009-12, to which Egbert answered yes. Al Hubbard and Carlan Meyer, both previous members of SCRMC, had signed Prop. 40 grant checks. In particular, Hubbard had signed a check to Nutting for $22,000 in 2009. However, in their testimony on April 24, both asserted no special favors were granted Nutting in awarding the grants. The defense then called the last witness for the day — Mark Stewart — who ended up throwing the prosecution a curve. Working prior as a registered professional forester, which included work for Nutting, he said the process Cal Fire used for selecting grantees for CFIP was to contact foresters for a list of clients doing CFIP projects and ask them to submit the names of interested clients. Cal Fire would then rank and pick the most cost-effective ones, he said. In 2009 the original CFIP agreement with Nutting was to expire on Feb. 28, but Nutting said he didn't think he could finish applying a herbicide in time and wanted Stewart to ask for an extension through the end of June. Initially Patrick McDaniel, who is Cal Fire's Amador-El Dorado Unit Vegetation Management Program coordinator, told them they could get an extension. It was later approved through April 15, 2009. However, Nutting was then advised to apply the herbicide as late as possible in order to kill the new growth and to avoid having to apply it twice. Stewart then called McDaniel for another extension, but was told he couldn't get a written extension to the contract but that Nutting had 45 days to turn in the invoice. Stewart said he interpreted that to mean that McDaniel would work with landowners to ensure the herbicide work got done even though it was past the expiration date. Using that interpretation, the invoice didn't need to be turned in until May 29. On May 25 the property was inspected by McDaniel with Nutting and Stewart present. At that time, McDaniel and Stewart determined how much acreage could actually be invoiced. The invoice, according to Stewart, was turned in May 28 or 29. Stewart testified he believed that McDaniel had the authority to approve the oral extension of the contract as long as the work was completed within the required 45 days. He also testified that the invoice was never kicked back or refused by Cal Fire as inappropriate. Stewart was then asked by Weiner to produce a copy of the extension to the CFIP. Stewart noted that because the box on the form requiring the invoice to be submitted by April 15 had not been checked, it gave Nutting an additional 45 days to do so. Weiner went on to say that Stewart had been threatened with prosecution for conspiracy by DA investigator John Gaines on April 13, 2013, when he interviewed Stewart. With that bit of news, Judge Timothy Buckley set the jury free for the day and then met with the attorneys, with Clinchard complaining the oral agreement was never discussed by Stewart before the grand jury and the document had not previously been disclosed. After discussing the matter, Judge Buckley decided Weiner could bring up what Gaines said to Stewart at Thursday's trial, but couldn't use the word "threatened."

Nutting found guilty on six misdemeanors, not guilty on key felonies

PLACERVILLE — An El Dorado Superior Court jury on Wednesday found county Supervisor Ray Nutting guilty of six misdemeanor charges involving illegal, undocumented loans, but not guilty of felony charges that were prosecutors' main case against him. The jury convicted Nutting on one count of receiving an illegal loan from a county contractor, two counts of receiving an illegal loan from a county employee and three counts of receiving an undocumented illegal loan. Nutting used money from the illegal loans to post bail after El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson filed four felony charges against Nutting for allegedly not reporting income from government agencies that he used to pay for brush-clearing on his property and for voting on contracts in which prosecutors alleged he had a conflict-of-interest. In the misdemeanor cases, Nutting was accused of receiving illegal loans from two county employees totaling nearly $60,000. The loans came from Kitty Miller, Nutting's personal administrative assistant, and from Catherine Tyler, the deputy clerk for the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, according to charging documents filed in El Dorado Superior Court. An illegal loan for $20,000 also allegedly came from Douglas Veerkamp, a construction contractor who does business with the county. Nutting was found not guilty on one misdemeanor charge of attempting to obtain an illegal loan from a county contractor. He also was found not guilty on three felony charges including filing false documents, perjury and approving conflict-of-interest contracts. The jury was hung on a fourth felony charge of filing a false document. That charge involved invoices that Nutting filed with El Dorado County and the Sierra Coordinated Resource Management Council. The district attorney's office is considering whether it will retry Nutting on that charge. Nutting did not respond to multiple telephone calls or emails seeking comment. A spokeswoman for El Dorado County Counsel said that department is reviewing state law in regard to how the convictions might impact Nutting's tenure in office. He represents District 2 in southwest El Dorado County and lives in Somerset. Following the jury's verdict in Placerville, Nutting told a reporter with the Sacramento Bee, "The only thing I want to say is that I can't wait to go home and hug my 10-year-old son, who has been worried sick. Everything is going to be fine." Nutting's trial started April 22. Sentencing is scheduled for June 6. While prosecutors didn't have an immediate estimate on a possible maximum sentence, under general California law misdemeanors can be punished by six months to a year in jail in addition to substantial fines.