The long-running bribery and corruption case against former Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez hit another roadblock Friday, when an appellate court ordered the matter dismissed on a technical violation, court records show.
Noguez was first arrested in 2012 and accused of accepting a $185,000 bribe from a tax consultant as part of a scheme to lower the valuations of certain properties in L.A. County, but nearly eight years later the case still had not gone to trial.
Prosecutors have blamed the delays on the sheer amount of evidence at issue and the fact that Noguez and one of his co-defendants, Ramin Salari, changed attorneys, restarting an already lengthy discovery process.
Delays ultimately led to the decision handed down Friday, according to a 10-page ruling issued by California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal.
Noguez, Salari and former county assessor’s office executive Mark McNeil were all held to answer on a litany of criminal charges including conspiracy, grand theft, bribery, and embezzlement after a July 2018 preliminary hearing. But according to the appellate decision, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office failed to file a subsequent charging document within 15 days of the hearing, as required by state law.
Prosecutors argued that the defendants implicitly waived the 15-day deadline when they agreed to postpone an arraignment in the case. Although a lower court upheld that argument, the appellate court granted the motion to dismiss all charges because of the missed deadline.
The dismissal does not prevent prosecutors from refiling the case.
“We are reviewing the decision and deciding on our next step, which may include appealing the decision or simply refiling the charges,” said Greg Risling, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
Noguez’s defense attorney, Anthony Falangetti, said he expected Friday’s decision since California law is “cut and dry” about a prosecutor’s responsibility to meet the 15-day deadline.
“Why the D.A.’s office didn’t do the obvious, I cannot explain,” he said.
The repeated delays in the Noguez case have long been a source of criticism for the district attorney’s office. The former Huntington Park city councilman was first led out of his home in handcuffs in 2012 and accused of taking bribes from Salari, a tax consultant, in exchange for reducing the valuations of properties owned by Salari’s clients.
But it took six years for the case to even reach a preliminary hearing, and a trial date had yet to be scheduled, according to public records. A pretrial conference in the case was scheduled for July 27.
The charges against Noguez and the others have also been amended several times. Noguez initially faced 24 counts of accepting bribes, misappropriation of public funds, conspiracy and perjury. In later complaints, the number of charges against him swelled to 36. In July 2017, the number of charges fell to 25.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig Hum, the lead prosecutor on the case, has said the district attorney’s office turned over more than 45,000 pages of evidence to the defendants, along with recordings of interviews and thousands of pages of testimony before an investigative grand jury.
“I think that this case is unduly complicated ... the scope and the size of it are problems,” Falangetti said. “And I think that, frankly, the length of time it’s taken to bring this case to a preliminary hearing, is in part, because, this case is built on speculation and circumstantial evidence. It’s not a very good case.”
Steven Levine, a criminal defense attorney representing McNeil, said that while he welcomed Friday’s decision he expected prosecutors would refile charges against all three defendants. Levine said discovery issues continue to plague the case, noting that prosecutors have yet to turn over a number of emails sent and received by a key witness, and expressed frustration that his client’s life has essentially been on pause for the better part of a decade.
“He’s been in limbo for eight years … we thought it was over. He’s anxious,” Levine said. “I don’t know how you get back eight years of your life.”