LOS ANGELES — A judge on Friday denied a request to drop the felony criminal charges filed against the Newport-Mesa Unified schools chief.
An attorney for Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard had argued that Hubbard was only following procedure when, in his last job as superintendent for the Beverly Hills Unified School District, he wrote memos to subordinates requiring them to make payments to Beverly Hills' former facilities director, Karen Anne Christiansen, 53.
Though the request by Hubbard's lawyer, Sal Ciulla, was denied, the judge said he could see both sides of the case before allowing it to proceed to trial.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office alleges that Hubbard, 54, gave authorized payments to Christiansen in 2005 and 2006 without the required approvals from the Beverly Hills school board.
Hubbard, who left Beverly Hills for his Newport-Mesa Unified job in 2006, is charged with two felony counts of misappropriating public funds. Prosecutors also say he raised Christiansen's car allowance to $500 per month.
At the time, Ciulla said Hubbard assumed that human resources and payroll employees would know enough about Beverly Hills school district policies and procedures to place a motion on a school board agenda to approve the payments.
Hubbard did not think the approval would "pass through all these levels and nobody would do their job," Ciulla said. "It's ridiculous to think Mr. Hubbard would have that mindset. He had no belief the check would get cut on his say-so. For him to think, 'I think I can sneak this through,' that's ludicrous."
L.A. Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman said Hubbard knew full well that his actions were against the law when he gave his approval to give the public funds to Christiansen.
In his testimony in preliminary hearings, Hubbard "describes understanding [that] when a contract is made [it needs] board approval, which shows he's lying," Huntsman said, adding that when a subordinate told Hubbard his actions were unlawful, Hubbard said to go ahead and make the payment anyway.
Huntsman argued that Hubbard's actions were breaking "hard, solid law" that everyone knows.
The judge pointed out that subordinates were likely intimidated by Hubbard's position, and may have given Christiansen — who is also facing felony charges — money because the directive came from someone in a position of power.
"I wonder if, because he was the superintendent, whether it is less likely, and unlikely anybody is going to challenge [him]," Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Marcus said. "If he knows all these procedures and all these rules, how come it never ended up on the agenda for the board to approve?"
Marcus later explained his decision to deny the defense's motion to dismiss Hubbard's case.
"This is my final decision. I am not as confident about this one," he said. "I think it is a very close issue. … This is a very, very close case, and I'm able to see both sides."
Later, Ciulla and Stan Karas, a representative for the Beverly Hills school district, discussed whether the defense would be able to get emails sent from Hubbard's address — emails the defense believes could potentially clear Hubbard of wrongdoing.
Ciulla submitted two subpoenas asking for Hubbard's emails, but to no avail, he said.
Information technology employees at the Beverly Hills district were told not to talk and were generally uncooperative, Ciulla said.
Karas said that since Hubbard left Beverly Hills, his work computer was wiped clean. Restoring emails from five years ago would require a procedure that would cost Hubbard's defense about $10,000, he said.
Ciulla will be back in court Tuesday with Karas to determine whether he can get the emails, and if Hubbard will have to pay to get them.
Other emails entered into the evidence in the case, some sent from Hubbard's Newport-Mesa account to Christiansen, include sexual innuendo referring to oral sex and other acts. Hubbard has denied any romantic relationship with Christiansen, saying in an email to the Newport-Mesa school board that it was "impossible."
Hubbard is next set to appear Sept. 30 in court for motions. Hubbard's trial could begin in early November, according to Marcus, but may be moved.