Deputy D.A.: Hubbard OK'd illegal bonuses [Corrected]

LOS ANGELES — A prosecutor argued Wednesday that Newport-Mesa Unified Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard used his former position as Beverly Hills schools chief to hand out illegal bonuses and a pay raise to two employees and that he had a "special relationship" with one of them.

An earlier version incorrectly stated that Nora Roque received a bonus. She received a pay increase of about $20,000. Also, her first name was incorrectly stated as Norma.

Hubbard's defense attorney countered that his client approved legal and deserved increases for the employees, and that the relationship in question was professional, not personal.

Hubbard, 54, is on trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court. He faces three felony counts of misappropriation of public funds for allegedly giving illegal bonuses, a pay raise and a car allowance increase totaling $40,000 to two subordinates, Karen Anne Christiansen and Nora Roque, about five years ago while superintendent of the Beverly Hills Unified School District.

Christiansen was convicted of four felony conflict-of-interest charges in November, and sentenced to four years and four months in prison earlier this month. Roque, who now works for Newport-Mesa Unified, has not been accused of wrongdoing.

In opening statements, Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman argued that Hubbard abused his authority in Beverly Hills. The bonuses and pay raise required school board approval to be legal, according to the D.A.'s office.

"We're talking about a public official, somebody who has control over public funds, and someone who should have known ..." Huntsman told the jury. "He knew, or should have known, or [was] grossly negligent in passing out that money."

Defense attorney Sal Ciulla argued that Hubbard gave the OK to approve the bonuses and pay raise based on merit.

Christiansen "earned it," Ciulla said. "There was never any attempt to hide it from the (school) board."

Melody Voyles, who worked in payroll, testified that she recognized the memo from Hubbard's office that said, "Please note that Ms. Christiansen is to receive a $20,000 stipend. Thank you."

The memo had Hubbard's initials but not Roque's, who worked in human resources, or those of then-Assistant Supt. Sal Gumina.

Roque at the time of her pay raise was working in a coordinator position at Beverly Hills Unified, but was paid as a director, Huntsman said.

When an employee put the payment in writing, Hubbard became angry, Huntsman said, adding that the employee told Hubbard he did not have the authority to make the pay increase.

Roque's position at Beverly Hills did not have ordinary steps for advancement, but she was promised raises when she was hired, Ciulla said.

Hubbard was just adjusting her compensation respective to her time with the district, which, normally for employees of a similar level, was an annual raise, according to Ciulla.

Roque went more than two years without a promised raise, he said.

"There was never any intention to make her a director of something," Ciulla said.

Arguments about the appropriateness of Hubbard's relationship with Christiansen also were made. Ciulla said it was purely one-sided, that she wore "outrageous" clothing, and acted in "unprofessional" and "flirtatious" ways to bring out the "bawdy nature in others."

But that doesn't mean anything else was going on, he argued.

Among the evidence presented in the trial were suggestive emails between Hubbard and Christiansen.

"There was no intimate relationship between the two," Ciulla said. "It was just how they communicated."

Prosecutors see the relationship differently.

Huntsman introduced an email thread between Christiansen and Hubbard where she asked, "You don't love me anymore?", to which Hubbard responded, "I do … ."

The same day those emails were sent, Christiansen's car allowance increased to $500, Huntsman said, adding that at another point Hubbard changed her reporting relationship so that she reported directly to him.

Hubbard's decision to increase Christiansen's car allowance was also defended by Ciulla.

At the time, Christiansen was managing more than 50 projects, often making trips between Los Angeles and Orange counties; she needed the car allowance increase, he argued.

Before opening statements, prosecutors and defense attorneys wrangled over whether to permit a photo of Christiansen in a bikini.

Judge Stephen A. Marcus ruled that prosecutors could use the photo.

Jurors have, so far, seen two pictures of Christiansen: a headshot in blue light where she looks off to the side, and one of her posed with other women and wearing a tight blue dress.

Among those observing in the courtroom were Newport-Mesa Unified school board President Dave Brooks, Beverly Hills Unified attorney Stan Karas and Newport-Mesa Unified attorney Michael Travis.

Newport-Mesa school representatives have said that a member of its law firm would be monitoring the trial and reporting back to the school board.

Hubbard faces a maximum sentence of six years in prison. If convicted he would lose his credentials and job. The trial is expected to take between seven and eight days.

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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