Former Irvine City Councilman C. David Baker, once a rising star in the local Republican Party, will work with children and deliver hot meals to the elderly under a sentence imposed against him Monday for forging a $48,000 check during his recent failed bid for Congress.
Baker had faced a possible 3-year prison term after pleading guilty in September to a felony forgery count. But Orange County Superior Court Judge Myron S. Brown reduced the charge to a misdemeanor as he ordered Baker to perform an unspecified amount of community service and gave him a year's probation and a 1-year suspended jail sentence.
"Regardless of what the penalty was today, this will not be over," Baker said after his sentencing. "It has been a painful experience for a mistake that I deeply regret."
The 35-year-old attorney and former UC Irvine basketball star said he has already begun devoting much of his time to working with the local Meals on Wheels program as well as several community projects involving children.
Before the sentencing, Brown received several impassioned letters from community members urging the judge to mete out a stiffer sentence. But officials from both sides of the political aisle said Monday that they believe the sentence fit the crime for a man who had no history of breaking the law and who already has lost his job, his home and his political standing.
The prosecutor in the case, Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher J. Evans, said: "I think justice has been served. I'm satisfied with the sentence."
Baker, then executive director of the nonprofit Irvine Health Foundation, admitted writing a $48,000 check to himself on the foundation's account in the waning days of his unsuccessful bid last June for the Republican nomination in the 40th Congressional District.
He also admitted forging the name of a member of the foundation's board of directors on the check, which required two signatures. At the time, Baker's campaign was desperately short of funds.
Baker stopped payment on the check shortly after it was written.
When news of the controversy broke after the primary, Baker went into seclusion and reportedly admitted himself for hospital care for depression and exhaustion.
At one time considered an odds-on favorite to win in the June 7 primary, Baker has since resigned from the law firm of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. And, faced with mounting campaign debts, he was forced to sell his family home in Irvine.
Narrowly Lost Primary
Baker narrowly lost in the primary to C. Christopher Cox, who easily won the general election for the seat last Tuesday.
Cox said Monday that after the primary Baker gave a contribution to the Cox campaign. The congressman-elect said he believes Baker's sentence is fair and described his one-time political opponent as a "terrific person and a credit to the county." He said he was grateful for Baker's support.
After Monday's sentencing, Baker said: "Some good will come out of this one way or another. I'm not really sure how."
Baker, now living with his family in a Tustin condominium, refused to discuss how he has been getting by financially. He said his career plans are uncertain but added that he cannot envision a return to politics. In a reference to the current controversy over GOP-paid uniformed guards who were stationed at polling places last Tuesday, Baker joked that he had considered becoming a security guard for the Republican Party.
Barbara Heller, a State Bar Assn. spokeswoman, said her organization will begin reviewing Baker's conviction in the next several days or weeks to consider his possible suspension or disbarment.
Brown did not specify what amount of time Baker will have to devote to community service, but Baker will be required to return to the court at a later date to certify that he has made a substantial commitment.
500-Hour Order Sought
Prosecutor Evans had sought a specific order requiring Baker to perform 500 hours of community service, but Evans said he is confident that Baker will pay his dues even without that order.
"If he doesn't come back to the court with a very serious and substantial amount of community service, I know Judge Brown is going to make him do more or he's going to put him in jail," Evans said. "Brown's not going to let Baker just waltz out of here."
Baker, who built a political base in part through longtime participation in Irvine civic groups, said he looks forward to carrying out his service to the community, a commitment he said he hopes will "last forever."
Officials at Meals on Wheels in Irvine told the judge that Baker has already begun volunteering his time to drive meals to area residents. Baker has also begun working with children in the basketball program at Warren High School, where he once starred, and at the American Kids Sports Assn. of Irvine, headed by former Olympian Bob Mathias, organizers of those programs said.
Speaking with reporters after the sentencing, Baker's attorney, Paul S. Meyer, said: "There's no way that a person who looks at this case from the beginning can ever imagine that David Baker is getting off lightly.
"This man has done nothing but look inside himself for months, very painfully."