A state appellate court panel on Dec. 31 reversed a former Beverly Hills Unified School District superintendent's conviction on two counts of misappropriating public funds, stemming from the payment of a $20,000 stipend and an increased car allowance to a department head, finding that he could not be held criminally liable.
A three-justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to dismiss the charges against Jeffrey Hubbard, agreeing with the defense's contention that he was not a person "charged with the receipt, safekeeping, transfer or disbursement of public moneys" within the meaning of California's statute on misappropriation of public funds.
The charges involved funds that were paid to Karen Christiansen -- who was then employed by the district as a director of planning and facilities -- for a car allowance that was increased from $150 monthly to $500 in 2005, along with a $20,000 stipend in 2006, according to the appellate court panel's ruling.
"It is undisputed that Hubbard 'was not able to authorize' the stipend and increased car allowance for Christiansen ... Rather, only the district's board was 'entitled to authorize' those payments," the appellate court panel found in a 10-page ruling. "By sending memoranda to payroll and the human resources department (which undisputedly was the sole party responsible for creating the necessary documents for securing board approval), Hubbard was 'merely the first step in a process that results in the expenditure of public funds,' but that is not 'sufficient to establish criminal liability (under the statute) absent approval authority,' which Hubbard undisputedly did not have."
The appellate court panel noted that it was "undisputed that Christiansen ended up receiving both the increased car allowance and the $20,000 stipend."
The ruling comes seven months after an appellate court panel reversed Christiansen's conviction on four separate conflict-of-interest charges, ruling that she was working in 2007 and 2008 as a consultant for the district and was no longer an employee under a June 2006 contract. That panel found that she was "not a member, officer or employee of the relevant public body" and that a section of the state's Government Code on conflict of interest "does not apply to her."
In August, the California Supreme Court refused to review the appellate court panel's decision in Christiansen's case.
Attorney Hillel Chodos, who represented Hubbard and Christiansen on appeal, said it was a "travesty of justice" that the two were prosecuted.
"Her life was ruined and his life was ruined and all for nothing," Chodos said, noting that he believed the appellate court panel's ruling in Hubbard's case was "clearly correct."
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office had no comment on the ruling, a spokeswoman said.
Hubbard -- the district's superintendent from July 2003 to June 2006 -- was sentenced in February 2012 to 60 days in jail, 280 hours of community service and three years on probation, and he was ordered to pay $23,500 in restitution to the school district and a $6,000 fine. But the appellate court panel vacated all of the penalties against Hubbard, noting that the superior court is "directed to enter an order dismissing all charges against him."
Christiansen had been sentenced in January 2012 to four years and four months in state prison by Judge Stephen A. Marcus, but was allowed to remain free on bail while her appeal was pending. The appellate court's May 31 order also vacated Christiansen's sentence and a restitution order of approximately $3.5 million.