A Central Municipal Court judge Friday reduced a state election code charge against former Municipal Judge Joanne Harrold from a felony to a misdemeanor--without objection from prosecutors.
Harrold, 43, now faces two misdemeanor counts in connection with her claim that she was an Orange County resident when she ran to retain her West Court seat in 1982. Her next court appearance on those charges is set for Oct. 13.
The decision by Judge Jacquelyn D. Thomason at the end of Harrold's preliminary hearing was good news for her. A felony conviction would almost automatically mean she would lose her license to practice law. Even if she were convicted on one or both of the misdemeanors--or pleaded guilty to them--she would not lose her license unless someone at the state Bar Assn. made an issue of her case and sought her removal, according to lawyers familiar with bar issues.
Harrold and her attorney, James A. Stotler, so far have refused to comment about her case. Assistant Dist. Atty. Maury Evans said only that "our office had no opposition to the judge's decision (to reduce the felony charge)."
Grand Jury Decision
Evans pointed out Friday that it was the Orange County Grand Jury, not the district attorney's office, that decided to indict Harrold on a felony.
Evans refused to speculate about whether the reduction in the charges might mean a change of plea by Harrold, who has pleaded not guilty.
Harrold is charged with filing a false declaration of candidacy to run in the June, 1982, election. She stated on her declaration that she lived in Newport Beach. Prosecutors claim that she actually lived in Riverside County.
She faces another misdemeanor charge, along with her husband, private investigator John J. Saporito, of influencing a notary public to sign a false date on the deed to the Lido Isle home in Newport Beach that her grandmother gave her. Prosecutors claim that she had the deed backdated to make it appear that she took control of the house in 1981 instead of after her residency became a campaign issue in 1982.
Harrold was appointed to the West Court bench by former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in 1980. When she ran to retain her seat in 1982, she handily defeated her two opponents. But one of them, Dan C. Dutcher, had made her residency a campaign issue and vowed he would take her to court over it if she won.
Children in School
Dutcher's lawsuit against her was heard by Superior Court Judge Ronald E. Owen. Owen cited considerable evidence that Harrold had never really moved from Riverside, where her children were still in school. The judge noted that telephone and utility records showed that there was almost no use of the Lido Isle house until March, 1982--immediately after Dutcher raised the residency issue. Her declaration of candidacy that she was a Newport Beach resident was filed a month before, in February.
That hearing also brought out Harrold's admission that she had backdated the deed to the house. Harrold said she did it to comply with her grandmother's wishes but never explained what that meant. She admitted that the date on the deed was false but denied that she committed any crime.
Harrold's grandmother, Arlyne Lansdale, died earlier this year. Harrold still lives in the house, although its ownership is part of a dispute between Harrold and her uncle, William Lansdale, in a major civil lawsuit still pending.