Defense makes little headway in case

LOS ANGELES — During preliminary hearings Tuesday morning, the contrast between Newport-Mesa Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard and his co-defendant, Karen Ann Christiansen, went beyond the felony charges each face.

Hubbard, charged with two counts of misappropriating $20,000 to Christiansen while he was the superintendent of the Beverly Hills Unified School District, sat casually behind the defendants' table in a gray suit. He showed up to Airport Courthouse early and took the elevator up to the ninth-floor courtroom like everyone else.

Christiansen, charged with several counts of conflicts of interest that allegedly netted her millions of dollars, was escorted in handcuffs into the courtroom, donning a blue jail jumpsuit with her shackles clanging as she made her way to her seat. She has not posted $2 million bail.

The pair sat next to each other in court, but any of the affection they showed each other over the years through flirtatious e-mails sent from school district computers was not visible in the courtroom. They barely looked at each other as their respective attorneys tried to discredit the prosecutors' case.

A preliminary hearing is where prosecutors present parts of their case to a judge, who determines if there is enough evidence for the defendants to stand trial.

Defense attorneys made little headway in the case Tuesday. Nearly a dozen witnesses waited to be called to the stand, but defense attorneys never made it past the first.

For more than four hours, prosecutors and defense attorneys questioned Alex Cherniss, the Beverly Hills Unified School District's assistant superintendent of business services.

Prosecutors paid little attention to the charges against Hubbard, only establishing that nowhere in the Beverly Hills school board minutes was evidence that they had approved a $20,000 stipend for Christiansen, as required.

Defense attorneys focused on what they called a lax approval process for making payments.

Cherniss testified that many of the checks the district signs off on aren't actually reviewed by school board members.

Hubbard's attorney, Salvatore Ciulla, suggested that the board may have approved payments related to her client without realizing it.

Prosecutors said outside of the courtroom that the issue is irrelevant because Christiansen was a district employee at the time and any pay increase would require board approval, making it different than everyday district payments.

Prosecutors said they plan on Wednesday to lay more groundwork for their case against Christiansen. They claim she used her job as a school district facilities consultant in 2007 to make construction recommendations that ultimately benefited her own company to the tune of $2.2 million.

Attorneys estimated that the preliminary hearing could last until Thursday or later.

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