Prosecutors Oppose Erasing Record : Baker Asks Dismissal of Forgery Conviction

Times Staff Writer

With his probation completed, former congressional candidate C. David Baker has asked the court to dismiss his check forgery conviction for the record, prompting strong objections from prosecutors.

Such requests are not uncommon after probation in misdemeanor cases and seldom are opposed. But county prosecutors say Baker already has gotten off too easily.

Baker's request "is just asking too much," stated Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher J. Evans in opposition papers to the court.

But Baker attorney Paul S. Meyer of Costa Mesa responded, "Dave Baker has suffered enough. Show me one person who can say Dave hasn't learned a valuable lesson from all this."

Pleaded Guilty to Felony

Baker, 36, pleaded guilty last September to a felony charge of forging a $48,000 check from the Irvine Health Foundation, where he was executive director, when it appeared that his campaign was foundering financially. Baker had signed the name of Superior Court Judge David G. Sills, an officer on the foundation's board.

The incident was not made public until after the June, 1988, Republican primary for retiring Rep. Robert E. Badham's seat, which Baker narrowly lost to C. Christopher Cox.

Baker had stopped payment on the check before it was cashed. The incident sent Baker's life into turmoil. He lost his job with the foundation, plus his position with the prestigious Costa Mesa law firm of Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker. He also was forced to sell his lakeside home in Irvine's fashionable Woodbridge neighborhood.

But Baker did get one break.

Superior Court Judge Myron S. Brown, on a motion by Baker's lawyer, reduced the felony to a misdemeanor and placed Baker on probation last November. The judge essentially required the former Irvine city councilman to perform 500 hours of community service.

Completed Volunteer Work

Baker's lawyer filed papers with the court showing Baker had completed 550 hours of community service: He did volunteer work for a high school basketball team, he worked at a sports foundation, and he worked 30 hours for Irvine's Meals on Wheels.

Also during this time, it was revealed that Baker had received free use of a Cadillac and negotiated a $120,000-a-year full-time job with the sports foundation while performing community service there, though he quit in April. But Brown found no improprieties and determined that Baker had successfully completed all the terms of his probation, which ended in May.

Brown had left it to the Probation Department to determine how many hours of community service should be required. The number of 500 was agreed to by the prosecutors. Baker was allowed to choose his own community service outlets.

What Baker wants the court to do now is laid out in the state's Penal Code under "Vacation of Verdict." He is asking the court to let him change his guilty plea to not guilty and to dismiss the charge against him.

But prosecutor Evans argued, in papers filed last week, that the court should judge Baker's behavior over the next three to five years before agreeing to "expunge" his record.

"Mr. Baker, an attorney, has received a most favorable result from the court thus far for felonious conduct," Evans stated. "To give Mr. Baker any more at this extremely early stage following this serious conviction is just asking too much."

Baker was not available for comment. But his attorney, Meyer, claimed in a court response to Evans that Baker has not been dealt any extraordinary favors by the court.

'Received Justice'

"In an evaluation of the incredible losses suffered by Mr. Baker--personally, financially and emotionally--when weighed against the very short-term conduct alleged . . . Mr. Baker has received justice and nothing more," Meyer stated.

He added that "the life of Carl David Baker has basically been an open book from the time of his entry into politics." The exposure "highlighted his public humiliation" when he was charged with forgery, Meyer stated.

Meyer also emphasized Tuesday that he believes that Evans is only objecting to the timing, not to Baker's right to have his record improved.

"This is simply a routine thing which gives the courts a chance to note for the record that a person has been rehabilitated," Meyer said.

And he disagreed with Evans' claim that granting Baker's request would "expunge" his name from the record book.

For example, Meyer said, even with his record cleared, if Baker applied for any kind of license from the state, or ran for public office, he would have to answer yes on any questionnaire asking if he was ever convicted of a crime.

Also, should Baker ever be convicted of a crime again, a judge could use the check forgery conviction as an enhancement in his sentence, even if the forgery were dismissed.

But Evans pointed out that many people want their records cleared so they won't have to answer yes to future employers' questions about prior convictions.

"I still say it's expungement; if a person asks to have his conviction dismissed, what would you call it?" Evans said.

Routinely Granted

Once a person's probation is successfully completed, a defendant may apply for a dismissal in misdemeanor cases and some felony cases. Such applications are routinely granted unless prosecutors file an objection within 10 days, or unless a judge finds some reason why it is "not in the interests of justice."

"Why should this be considered in the interest of justice?" Evans asked.

Baker's case is now before Superior Court Judge David O. Carter. Carter has said he will hold a hearing on the issue, although no date has been set.

Baker, who now lives in a condominium in Tustin with his wife and two children, is reportedly making a living as a business and legal consultant.

Staff writer George Frank contributed to this story.

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