Poor judgment by a Los Angeles deputy district attorney could delay the criminal case against Karen Christiansen, the former Beverly Hills Unified School District facilities director who is facing four counts of conflict of interest stemming from her work with the district.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Juliet Schmidt, one of two prosecutors handling the Christiansen case, sent an email offering information to a law firm representing a defendant in a Christiansen-related case, possibly to help her nephew get a job with the firm, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
Schmidt offered the civil litigation law firm Klinedinst case law information "that might exonerate" its client before mentioning that her nephew was graduating from Pepperdine Law School and needed a job, according to the Times. Klinedinst has been hired to defend the BHUSD’s former law firm, Orbach, Huff and Suarez, against a possible malpractice suit related to its work on Christiansen’s contract.
“The inappropriate emails [from Schmidt] are indicative of the large amount of conflict of interest that exists in government, and they show how difficult it is to take on public corruption,” BHUSD Vice President Brian Goldberg told Patch. “I am hopeful that the DA will levy appropriate punishment on Miss Schmidt and I expect that she will be reassigned.”
In another email Schmidt sent to Klinedinst, she provided the name of a state Supreme Court case involving an attorney's bad advice in a conflict-of-interest case. According to the Times report, she also briefly discussed the BHUSD case before writing: "Please do not let BHUSD know that I am communicating with you, because they are my victim in the criminal case.”
Schmidt told the Times, "I understand the appearance these circumstances suggest. However, it was never my intention to in any way compromise the integrity of this case.”
The emails from Schmidt came to light after Christiansen filed a lawsuit that asked a judge to order disclosure of communications between BHUSD and its former lawyers.
Should Schmidt be replaced, it is unclear if the start of the criminal trial against Christiansen would be delayed. Any delay, however, would prevent the start of the district’s civil case against Christiansen.
Christiansen filed a $16 million claim against the district in 2009 after it severed its relationship with her company, Strategic Concepts. The BHUSD countersued for $4 million and attorney fees; both suits have been stayed—legally put on hold—pending the outcome of the criminal case.
Christiansen had been scheduled to go to trial in May, which then got postponed until July, on charges that she to be an independent BHUSD contractor while performing her duties as facilities director for the district. She had served as BHUSD’s project manager for the $334 million , and was reportedly paid a total of $5.2 million by BHUSD for consultant services between 2006 and 2009.
She is also accused of helping an Orange County energy firm win three contracts with BHUSD while simultaneously negotiating a payment for Strategic Concepts. Christiansen helped Johnson Controls win contracts worth as much as $7.5 million, according to a Dec. 27, 2010, article in The Orange County Register, and Strategic Concepts allegedly received $15,000 from the firm.
As , BHUSD has spent more than $2 million on legal fees related to the Christiansen case. The district is eager for the civil case to begin so it can possibly recoup the money it paid Christiansen.