Superintendent pleads not guilty to new charge

LOS ANGELES — Newport-Mesa Unified Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court to an additional felony charge of misappropriation of public funds.

Hubbard, 54, is now facing three felony counts related to his last job as schools chief in Beverly Hills. Following his arraignment on the charge brought by the grand jury, Judge Patricia Schnegg released Hubbard on his own recognizance.

The new charge stems from prosecutors' allegations that Hubbard gave a pay raise — without the school board's required approval — to another administrator, Nora Roque, while the two worked together in the Beverly Hills Unified School District in May of 2005, according to a copy of the indictment.

Roque later joined Newport-Mesa Unified, where she is now director of classified personnel. She earns $142,175.06 annually, including bonuses, according to public records.

She was not accused of criminal wrongdoing by prosecutors.

The new charge is similar to his previous charges for, without school board approval, allegedly giving former Beverly Hills administrator Karen Anne Christiansen about $20,000 and raising her monthly car allowance to about $500.

The D.A.'s office in L.A. began investigating further potential misappropriation of funds in January of this year, after charges were already filed against Hubbard and Christiansen in a separate case.

In interviews, prosecutors said the district attorney's office learned of possible misconduct from a Beverly Hills employee, JudyAnn Allen-Mendez, who was working as assistant superintendent in human resources.

Allen-Mendez said she confronted Hubbard about not getting appropriate authorization from the school board for Roque's pay raise, according to the grand jury indictment.

Roque joined the Newport-Mesa school district in June of 2008 and moved to the position of director of classified personnel in November 2010. When she joined the district she began as a coordinator of administrative services, making $106,516.32 — an increase of $35,659, including bonuses. School board members said she was highly qualified.

"Nora is clearly the best candidate for the position," John Caldecott, executive director of human resources at Newport-Mesa, said of Roque's 2010 promotion in an email dated Nov. 3, 2010.

In the three and a half years since Roque joined the district, she has earned raises for professional growth and performance pay, a determination made by Hubbard for district administrators.

Roque had her car allowance for visiting schools adjusted downward from the time of her hiring from $4,500 to $3,250. She also receives a $600-a-year cellphone stipend.

Newport-Mesa officials on Tuesday defended the raises Roque was awarded.

"Mrs. Roque's new assignment as the director of classified personnel created significantly higher responsibilities, resulting in an 8.8% salary increase," according to a school district statement. "All other increases during the length of Mrs. Roque's employment since 2008 are the result of standard Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) and step and column increases that apply to every N-MUSD employee, per board policy."

The district also pointed to Roque's 22 years of experience as considerations for her hiring, saying that she applied to work at the district and passed through a series of merit system processes before being selected for the position of director of classified personnel.

"In both merit system processes, Mrs. Roque clearly established herself as a highly qualified applicant," the statement read.

All charges Hubbard faces date from 2005 and 2006, when he was schools chief in Beverly Hills. None have to do with his tenure at Newport-Mesa.

Both Hubbard and Christiansen have pleaded not guilty to all charges in the case. They are to be tried separately.

In January, the board approved a voluntary paid leave for Hubbard to prepare his defense. He returned to work in July.

The additional charge could add one year to Hubbard's sentence, if he is convicted, meaning he faces up to six years in prison. Hubbard will not likely serve that long a sentence if he is convicted, said Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman, who is prosecuting the case.

Hubbard is expected back in court in Los Angeles on both cases Nov. 10.

Staff writer Britney Barnes also contributed to this report.

lauren.williams@latimes.com

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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