The California Supreme Court refused to review an appellate court panel's decision to reverse a former Beverly Hills Unified School District consultant's conviction on four conflict-of-interest charges on Wednesday.
The state's highest court denied a petition from the California Attorney General's Office seeking review of the case against Karen A. Christiansen.
On May 31, a three-justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to dismiss the case against Christiansen.
The appellate court justices found that Christiansen -- a former Beverly Hills Unified facilities director who worked as a consultant and was no longer an employee under a new contract that was signed in 2006 -- 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."
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 also vacated Christiansen's sentence and a restitution order of about $3.5 million.
The appellate justices found that the Government Code section on conflict of interest does not define the term "employees" so they applied the common law test of employment under which "independent contractors are not employees."
"Because it is undisputed that at all relevant times Christiansen was an independent contractor, she was not an employee within the meaning of the (Government Code section 1090), so her convictions must be reversed and the charges against her dismissed," Associate Justice Frances Rothschild wrote on behalf of the panel, with Presiding Justice Robert M. Mallano and Associate Justice Victoria Gerrard Chaney concurring.
The appellate panel noted that three of the charges against Christiansen related to contracts that she had advised the district to enter into with a company, Johnson Controls Inc., that had a consulting agreement with Christiansen's business, Strategic Concepts LLC, involving another school district, the Newport Mesa Unified School District.
"The prosecution's theory was that Strategic Concepts' consulting agreement with Johnson Controls concerning the Newport Mesa Unified School District gave Christiansen an indirect financial interest in the district's three contracts with Johnson Controls," Rothschild wrote.
The fourth conflict-of-interest charge involved an amendment to the 2008 contract between the district and Christiansen's business involving a school bond measure in which her company was to be paid from bond proceeds for program and project management.
Christiansen was charged in December 2010 along with former Beverly Hills Unified Superintendent Jeffrey Hubbard, who was convicted in January 2012 of two felony counts for authorizing the payment of public funds to Christiansen without the school board's approval.
Hubbard was sentenced in February 2012 to 60 days in jail, to complete 280 hours of community service and three years on probation and ordered to pay $23,500 in restitution to the school district and a $6,000 fine.
Hubbard's appeal is pending before the 2nd District Court of Appeal.