A California appellate court panel has reversed former Beverly Hills schools Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard's two felony convictions nearly two years after a jury found him guilty of misappropriating public funds.
In January 2012, Hubbard was convicted of two counts of misappropriating public funds while acting as superintendent of the Beverly Hills Unified School District from July 2003 to June 2006. Reportedly, the charges stemmed from allegations that Hubbard paid Karen Christiansen, former district director of planning and facilities, an unauthorized bonus and increased car allowance. In 2005, Christiansen's car allowance shot from $150 monthly to $500.
Additionally, according to the appellate court panel's 10-page ruling, she was also granted a $20,000 stipend in 2006. However, according to the ruling issued on 31st December 2013, the three-justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal agreed with Hubbard's lawyers that state law outlined that as superintendent; he was not "charged with the receipt, safekeeping, transfer, or disbursement of public moneys" and overturned his conviction.
"At trial it was undisputed that both the increased car allowance and the stipend required approval by the district's board of education — Hubbard did not have the legal authority to order them unilaterally," Justice Frances Rothschild wrote in the ruling.
After working in Beverly Hills, Hubbard joined the Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Orange County, but he was fired in 2012, the day after he was convicted in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
"He was let go from Newport-Mesa because we were legally required to terminate him," board President Karen Yelsey said on Wednesday.
As Yelsey put it, she was not surprised by the court's decision because the power to authorize funding increases like bonuses and other allowances rests with the district's board.
"I personally never thought he should have been charged," she said. "A superintendent isn't responsible for authorizing funds."
According to Hannah Fry of The Los Angeles Times, throughout the appeals process, proper protocols when Christiansen's compensation was enhanced were not followed by others in Beverly Hills Unified as Hubbard's lawyers contended. In addition, they asserted that he would have been absolved by emails between Hubbard and school board members, which the court declined to order the district to recover. In its decision on Tuesday, the state appellate court panel did not address those specific issues.
Hubbard served four of his 60 days in jail after being sentenced in February 2012. He was also sentenced to 280 hours of community service, three years probation, $23,500 in restitution to the school district and a $6,000 fine. His penalties were vacated by the appellate court.
Hillel Chodos, who represented Hubbard during the appeals process, said that the appellate panel directed the Los Angeles County Superior Court to enter an order dismissing all charges against Hubbard, which must be done to completely clear his name. Prosecutors have until Feb. 9 to seek review of the appellate court panel's decision. As Chodos stated, if they are denied review, the trial court will dismiss the charges within about two or three months.
"Even though he can demonstrate this was a gross travesty, anyplace he goes he still has a mug shot on the Web," he said. "It's tough to get back from that."