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Change of Venue Sought for Hunter : Lawyers Say Fair Trial in J. David Case Impossible in S.D.

Times Staff Writer

Citing “slanted, adverse and prejudicial publicity” in San Diego, lawyers for Nancy Hoover Hunter asked Tuesday that she be tried in San Jose on fraud, conspiracy and income tax evasion charges stemming from the collapse of the J. David & Co. investment firm.

“In this jurisdiction, the overwhelming evidence is that we will not get a fair and impartial jury,” said Robert S. Brewer, one of Hunter’s lawyers. He called the motion for a change of venue “the most serious and important issue in this case.”

One of Two Pending Cases

U. S. District Judge Earl B. Gilliam, who rejected a similar motion in the case nearly two years ago, said he will rule on the issue again today. Hunter’s trial is scheduled to begin March 28.

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The case, filed in November, 1986, is one of two pending against Hunter, who was second-in-command at the La Jolla investment firm headed by J. David (Jerry) Dominelli, her live-in companion at the time. She has since married Kenneth Hunter, a wealthy businessman, and lives in Montecito, an affluent community near Santa Barbara.

In the 1986 case, Hunter, the former mayor of Del Mar, was charged with 234 counts of fraud, conspiracy and income tax evasion stemming from her involvement with the once-glamorous firm. In March, 1988, Hunter was indicted again by a federal grand jury on 56 counts of conspiracy and using the mails to sell unregistered securities.

In a separate, state case, Hunter pleaded guilty in April, 1986, to charges of conspiracy to funnel thousands of dollars into Roger Hedgecock’s 1983 mayoral campaign. She was sentenced to three years’ probation, ordered to perform 350 hours of community service and fined $10,000.

Brewer argued Tuesday that Hunter has been portrayed negatively in the San Diego press since 1983, when stories began to appear alleging irregularities at J. David.

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“We have to worry about six years of publicity and what it does to a person’s ability to be unbiased and fair,” Brewer said. Hunter’s name was mentioned frequently in stories over the past six years each time there was a development in either Hedgecock’s or Dominelli’s criminal case, Brewer said.

Lawyers Requested Poll

A poll done in January at the request of Hunter’s lawyers showed that 55% of 300 people sampled by telephone in San Diego recognized Hunter’s name, Brewer said. Of those who recognized her name, 65% knew she had been indicted, he added, and of those who said they were aware of the criminal case, 28.6% thought Hunter was guilty. In contrast, only 4.6% of 300 people polled in San Jose even recognized Hunter’s name, he said. “The people in San Jose could care less about this case,” he said.

Further, a defense analysis showed that San Diego news stories were “overwhelmingly slanted against Nancy Hunter,” portraying her as “capricious,” “greedy” and “excessive,” Brewer said.

Assistant U. S. Atty. Gay Hugo argued against moving the trial and said that, even if the defense opinion poll is accurate, Hunter can still get a fair trial in San Diego.

“It’s pure speculation as to whether this community or prospective jurors are so tainted” that they cannot give Hunter a fair trial, Hugo said. She said the correct time to determine the issue is during jury selection, when prospective jurors can be questioned, under oath, about possible biases.


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