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Opinion: The reaction: Schwarzenegger’s last act reeks of dirty politics

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What was Arnold Schwarzenegger thinking when, on his last day in office, he commuted the prison sentence of Esteban Nuñez, son of his friend and colleague Fabian Nuñez? ‘Was [Esteban Nuñez’s] sentence unduly harsh?’ asks our editorial. ‘The elder Nuñez argues that it was, and on his last night in office Sunday, Schwarzenegger showed that he agreed by cutting the term to seven years. Esteban Nuñez, the argument goes, didn’t wield the knife that killed Santos, had no prior criminal record and had been assured by the trial judge that he wouldn’t be treated the same as Santos’ actual killer -- ex-convict Ryan Jett, who got the same 16-year term as Nuñez. The defense attorney argues that Nuñez was treated unfairly because the judge didn’t want to be seen as showing leniency to the son of a powerful politician.’

Our editorial later continues: ‘We’re not quite buying that theory. The younger Nuñez is no prince. He and his friends went looking for a fight after being kicked out of a campus frat party, and according to prosecutors, Nuñez stabbed two other victims, who survived. He also allegedly destroyed evidence by burning clothing worn on the night of the fight and throwing knives into the Sacramento River. Schwarzenegger issued only 10 commutations during his tenure, and it strains credibility to suppose that Esteban Nuñez would have been found worthy of such consideration if his father didn’t have a personal relationship with the governor. The commutation was a close judgment call, but given that it benefited one of his politically connected friends, it leaves a very bad smell.’

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The decision reeks of special treatment and has sparked outrage among California officials, including San Diego City Atty. Jan Goldsmith, who told The Times,’[Schwarzenegger] undermined the judicial system and has jeopardized public safety.... I speak for the overwhelming majority of San Diegans in stating that we are appalled and angry.’ In the same article from our friends on the Metro desk, Cutting of Nuñez’s sentence sparks anger, Don Specter of the Prison Law Office in Berkeley pointed out that Schwarzenegger has denied requests from prisoners with similar offenses.

The victim’s father, Fred Santos, also had a few words: ‘We are totally outraged. For the governor to wait until the last day in hopes it would fly under the radar is an absolute injustice,’ he said in an earlier news story. ‘This is dirty politics: cutting backroom deals. I guess if you’re the son of somebody important, you can kill someone and get all sorts of breaks.’

Readers have been equally appalled by Schwarzenegger’s apparent abuse of power. From the discussion thread:

‘This was the final straw Arnold. How pathetic and stereotypical of the elitist politician. I would usually defend him or more recently stay silent when anyone criticized him. No more. Arnold was NOTHING like the person who campaigned in the recall election. In fact he turned into a lefty liberal. Now as a final insult he is acting like a crappy corrupt politician doing favors for his insider friends. I want to vomit,’ wrote buzalg.

‘Having emptied our wallets, our houses, our livelihoods, our pride, and our children’s futures, Schwarzeneggar now drips lemon on the festering wound that is post-Arnold California by misusing his unfortunate powers to free someone who attempted to kill several people with a knife. Nice. This guy never understood the delicate powers of a healthy democracy, and apparently, he never will,’ said drakster.

‘Former Governor Schwarzenegger should be persona non grata from now on. Let him go back to his lovely house in the People’s Republic of Santa Monica and his Kennedy touch football games,’ commented SteveDugan.

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‘To think I voted for Arnold??? Is everyone in Sacramento a cheat, a liar and corrupt?? Arnold, if you were a real man, you would have called the victim’s family first. But oh no, they read about in in the newspaper!’ PicoPadilla added.

‘There are two different societies in this country. One is the poor taxpaying citizen (guilty) and Politicians (not gulty ),’ sirandrew contributed.

RELATED:

On the plus side, Schwarzenegger did commute Sara Kruzan’s sentence

The outgoing governor did not, however, save the life of death row-inmate Kevin Cooper, whose guilt is in question

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Top photo: In this March 2009 file photo, former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, right, and his son Esteban leave a hearing in Superior Court in San Diego. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted the manslaughter sentence of Esteban Nuñez. Credit: AP Photo/Denis Poroy

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