Bail Ruled Excessive for Ex-Wife of Gang Leader

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A state appeals court Monday ordered bail reduced for the former wife of Hells Angels leader George Christie Jr., calling the $500,000 bond set by a Ventura County judge excessive.

The court stopped short of setting new bail for defendant Cheryl Christie but directed the Superior Court to vacate the amount set four months ago and name a "reasonable" sum.

A new bail hearing is expected to take place this week.

The ruling marks the second time in six months that the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Ventura has stepped in to lower bail in a criminal case.

In December, the same justices ordered the $10-million bail of suspected rapist and Max Factor heir Andrew Luster lowered to $1 million. Judge Arturo Gutierrez had set both the Luster and Christie bails.

Christie, 54, was indicted in February on 19 criminal counts in a broad drug-and-racketeering case that involves her ex-husband. He is accused of running a gang that stole drugs from an Air Force base and sold them to high school students in Ventura and Ojai.

During a 1998 search of Cheryl Christie's home, authorities found 71 unopened bottles of Vicodin, 3 1/2 grams of methamphetamine and $106,830 in cash.

After the indictment this year, Gutierrez set Christie's bail at $500,000 and her ex-husband's at $1 million. Both remain in custody after requests to lower her husband's bail were denied.

Last week, defense lawyer Kay Duffy urged the appeals court to lower bail for Cheryl Christie. Duffy argued that her client had never committed a crime and was guilty of nothing worse than marrying the boss of a motorcycle gang. She said Christie poses no threat to public safety and is not a flight risk.

The justices agreed, ruling there was no basis on which to set bail five times higher than the recommended bond for the alleged offenses.

"Appellate courts are hesitant to interfere with the trial court's setting of bail," Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert wrote. "But here that discretion has been abused."

Prosecutors had argued that high bail was necessary because of the severity of the case. The gang and its teenage assistants allegedly sold about 750,000 tablets of Valium and Vicodin.

Prosecutors also argued that Christie poses a flight risk, because she faces more than 25 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

But the appeals court found holes in both arguments.

"Although the offenses charged against Christie are serious, these charges do not involve her personally selling drugs, using weapons or threatening witnesses," Gilbert wrote.

He further noted that Christie returned from out of state and surrendered to authorities after being indicted.

Gilbert concluded that the original amount violates constitutional provisions prohibiting excessive bail. Associate Justices Kenneth R. Yegan and Paul H. Coffee concurred.

Duffy said she will ask the court to set bail at $100,000.

Prosecutors declined to comment on the ruling.

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