Hubbard says school board knew about car allowance

Crime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemCrime

LOS ANGELES — Newport-Mesa Unified Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard testified Wednesday that racy emails sent between him and a subordinate when he ran the school district in Beverly Hills had nothing to do with why he increased that subordinate's car allowance and gave her a bonus.

Karen Anne Christiansen was a top performer, and he and members of the school board believed she deserved more money, he testified on the witness stand in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Prosecutors have alleged that the attention Hubbard received in a "special relationship" with Christiansen, then Beverly Hills Unified's facilities director, led him to enhance her car allowance and give her bonuses without the legally required school board approval.

Hubbard, however, testified that he discussed Christiansen's compensation enhancements with school board members in closed-session meetings.

And, he testified, the emails did not indicate a relationship, just inappropriate language that she initiated and propelled, probably because of her professional background in a male-dominated industry.

"Ms. Christiansen came out of the construction area, and I think she had to get along with the boys for many years, and I think her personality reflected that," Hubbard said.

Hubbard was questioned by his defense attorney, Sal Ciulla.

"Did you try to get Ms. Christiansen some extra money so she'd talk dirty to you sometimes?" Ciulla asked.

"No," Hubbard responded, laughing. He smiled at his wife who was in the courtroom audience — a gesture noted by a handful of jurors.

Hubbard said Christiansen's services as a facilities director were in demand and that he and the school board were interested in keeping her on staff. That is why he said he sought to improve her compensation, so he discussed it with school board members who were pleased with her work and knew she took on increasing responsibility in the way of two major projects.

"I felt she was doing a very good job and the board was very pleased with her," Hubbard said. "For a superintendent, it takes a lot of pressure off. If the board is happy, the superintendent is happy, is a way of looking at it."

He also countered a witness' testimony from Friday. The witness had testified that she walked into Hubbard's office and found Christiansen behind his desk, getting up from his lap. Hubbard said that Christiansen did not sit in his lap.

Hubbard has told the Daily Pilot that he did not have a romantic relationship with Christiansen. Prosecutors have not directly made the case in court that the two were romantically linked, only that they had a "special relationship."

Facing three felony counts of misappropriation of public funds, Hubbard, 54, stands accused of illegally giving Christiansen $20,000 extra in a stipend and upping her monthly car allowance to $500, as well as giving another former Beverly Hills administrator, Nora Roque, an illegal pay raise that over time equaled about $20,000. He has pleaded not guilty.

Christiansen was found guilty in November of four felony conflict-of-interest charges related to her actions while working for the Beverly Hills school district. She was sentenced to four years and four months in prison and ordered to pay $2 million in restitution.

Roque, who now works as director of classified personnel at Newport-Mesa Unified, has not been accused of wrongdoing.

During cross examination, prosecutor Max Huntsman asked Hubbard if he was bypassing two assistant superintendents in submitting memos straight to payroll to make payments to Christiansen.

Hubbard said that the assistant superintendents were aware of the suggested payments because they attended closed-session meetings with the school board;

Hubbard said he assumed subordinates would take appropriate action and put the item before the school board after he issued the memo.

Judge Stephen A. Marcus said Hubbard was sidestepping the question, so he rephrased it.

"Are they in the memo?" Marcus asked.

"No," Hubbard replied.

Hubbard also testified that Los Angeles County frequently double-checked whether proper protocol was followed, and he assumed that if errors were made, county officials would halt payment until proper procedure was undertaken.

They "make sure all the I's are dotted and the T's crossed," Hubbard said.

Huntsman asked Hubbard whether he routinely berated subordinates who didn't toe the line — earlier witnesses claimed to be criticized after questioning Hubbard's actions.

Hubbard replied that he hadn't.

With jurors excused from the courtroom, Huntsman said he believed Hubbard lied under oath. He asked to bring in former school board member Myra Lurie, who previously testified that Hubbard became angry when she questioned his promise to get Christiansen more money.

"He's left them with a mistaken impression of Joe Gentle," Marcus said, but he didn't allow Lurie to testify because, as an elected official, she was Hubbard's supervisor, not one of his employees.

Routinely throughout his testimony, Hubbard — dressed in a suit and tie — would glance over at the jury, occasionally smiling and sometimes stuttering as he answered, "Yes, sir" or "Oh, no, sir" to the attorneys' questions.

Closing arguments are expected Thursday.

lauren.williams@latimes.com

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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