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Martinez Sentenced to Community Work : Ex-Councilman Draws 3 Years’ Probation, Avoids Jail Time in City Credit Card Case

Times Staff Writer

Former San Diego City Councilman Uvaldo Martinez, stripped of his office and described in court as a liar who persistently violated the public’s trust, was sentenced Thursday to perform 400 hours of community service as punishment for misusing a city credit card.

Superior Court Judge Barbara Gamer disregarded a prosecutor’s impassioned plea that Martinez be ordered to serve 90 days in jail, saying he already had been severely punished by the loss of his council post and his self-respect.

Martinez, who resigned from the council Wednesday as part of a plea bargain with the district attorney’s office, was ordered to pay $607.80 in restitution for the credit card tabs that figured in his prosecution on 24 felony counts of misappropriating and falsely accounting for public funds.

Gamer placed Martinez on probation for three years. Under terms of his plea bargain with prosecutors, Martinez will be able to seek a reduction of his two felony convictions to misdemeanors in a year.

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Though the reduction would restore his civil rights, the plea agreement nonetheless bars Martinez from seeking public office during the entire three-year probation.

Gamer said she was impressed by the outpouring of letters she had received, from both community leaders and ordinary citizens, in support of a lenient sentence for Martinez. But the judge said the former councilman presented a paradox.

“What I see is an intelligent, personable, hard-working individual who is a good administrator, and a man active in his church and in community affairs,” she said.

“I guess that’s part of the tragedy in all this. Because I also see a man who has embarrassed and humiliated himself and his family, has betrayed the city of San Diego, the community, his constituents, and the many friends who are now writing these letters.”

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As he had through months of court appearances in the case, Martinez showed no emotion during the sentencing. He answered reporters’ questions after the hearing with a polite “No comment.”

And when a bailiff asked him on a courthouse elevator how he was doing, Martinez replied, “Well, we finally ended it today.”

Martinez’s court-appointed defense attorney, Raymond J. Coughlan, emphasized the ex-councilman’s record of public service as he argued for a light sentence, referring to letters to the court from City Councilman Bill Cleator and Municipal Judge Rafael A. Arreola as evidence of Martinez’s achievements.

Coughlan urged Gamer to ignore a probation officer’s recommendation that part of Martinez’s punishment be public service work, such as time on a trash pick-up crew. Such a requirement, Coughlan said, would produce little more than “another opportunity for the media to descend on him.”

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The defense lawyer joked that Martinez had been summoned last week for jury duty and would be happy to do time in that capacity--a role from which convicted felons are barred. But Gamer, laughing, responded, “I think he may be precluded right now.”

Coughlan added his personal endorsement for Martinez, describing him as “one of the most straightforward, nice clients, without the slightest arrogance and ego.”

His subdued remarks were in marked contrast to the emotional performance of Deputy Dist. Atty. Allan J. Preckel.

Preckel, normally a soft-spoken and unflappable prosecutor, thundered angrily at Martinez as he argued for a “severe” punishment that would “send a loud and clear message to the community and its leaders--that message being that public officials must hold their public trust inviolate.”

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Reading from a text, Preckel described Martinez’s misconduct as “both flagrant and wanton.”

Preckel said he took umbrage at some of Martinez’s remarks at a press conference following his indictment last March.

Martinez, just back from a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., told reporters that his supposed misconduct would have attracted little attention in many cities and that San Diegans seemed to insist that their officials be “squeaky clean.”

“I’m glad I don’t live in one of those cities where public corruption and corruption by public officials are facts of everyday life,” Preckel said. In San Diego County, he added, “We will not and should not tolerate any amount of public corruption or violation of the public trust.”

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Preckel said Martinez had engaged in a pattern of deliberate lies in his expense reporting to cover up expensive meals with such associates as Jane Reid, one of his council aides, and Deborah Nordstrom, a real estate broker he met at a La Jolla nightspot.

“Clearly, he was interested in not wanting it known he was buying $200 meals for a staff aide. Clearly, he lied about it,” Preckel said. “Clearly he didn’t want it known he was dating a lady he met in a cocktail lounge, so he lied about it.”

Preckel termed “self-serving” Martinez’s proclaimed desire to begin putting the matter behind him and argued that Martinez deserved no sympathy for his predicament.

“He decries his loss of position and the humiliation caused by media attention,” Preckel said. “He has nobody but himself to blame. He has disgraced himself, and he has caused embarrassment to his family and his friends. And, most significantly, he has betrayed the community he was elected to serve.”

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Gamer agreed that Martinez had committed a serious crime, but she rejected Preckel’s contention that his conduct demonstrated a lack of conscience.

“I believe Mr. Martinez does have a conscience,” she said. “It was too quiescent at one point, but it is doing more now than nagging at him.”

Had he not pleaded guilty, Martinez would have faced trial on 24 felony counts related to his alleged misuse of a city credit card to purchase meals and drinks worth $1,840 between November, 1984, and June, 1985.

At one point considered a potential Republican candidate for mayor, the former city planner’s political career began unraveling in September, 1985, when reports first surfaced that he had falsified his city expense reports.

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The crescendo of allegations prompted investigations by city officials, the district attorney’s office and ultimately the county grand jury, which indicted Martinez on March 12.

He insisted on his innocence--admitting to nothing more than sloppy record keeping--and privately told council colleagues and friends he intended to fight the charges. But it took barely a week of plea negotiations before Martinez abruptly pleaded guilty Oct. 2 to single counts of misappropriating and falsely accounting for public funds.

Ten residents of the city’s 8th District have applied for the appointment to fill Martinez’s council seat on an interim basis. The council plans to appoint a caretaker to fill the post until December, 1987, when an elected successor would assume the job.


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