Nearly two years after a jury found former Newport-Mesa Unified School District Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard guilty of misappropriating public funds, a state appellate court panel reversed his two felony convictions Tuesday.
Hubbard was convicted in January 2012 of two counts of misappropriating public funds while superintendent of the Beverly Hills Unified School District from July 2003 to June 2006.
The charges stemmed from allegations that Hubbard paid Karen Christiansen, former district director of planning and facilities, an unauthorized bonus and increased car allowance while the two worked for Beverly Hills Unified.
Christiansen's car allowance was boosted from $150 monthly to $500 in 2005. She was also granted a $20,000 stipend in 2006, according to the appellate court panel's 10-page ruling.
However, the three-justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal agreed with Hubbard's lawyers, who argued that according to state law, as superintendent, he was not "charged with the receipt, safekeeping, transfer or disbursement of public moneys," and overturned his conviction, according to the ruling.
"At trial it was undisputed that both the increased car allowance and the stipend required approval by the district's board of education — Hubbard did not have the legal authority to order them unilaterally," Judge Frances Rothschild wrote in the ruling.
Hubbard had testified that he discussed Christiansen's compensation enhancements with school board members in closed-session meetings.
Throughout the appeals process, Hubbard's lawyers contended that others in Beverly Hills Unified failed to follow proper protocols when Christiansen's compensation was enhanced. They also asserted that emails between Hubbard and school board members would have absolved him, but the court declined to order the district to recover the communication.
The state appellate court panel did not address those specific issues in the decision Tuesday.
Beverly Hills Unified School District officials could not be reached for comment by press time.
Hubbard joined Newport-Mesa after working in Beverly Hills and was fired in 2012, the day after he was convicted in Los Angeles Superior Court.
"He was let go from Newport-Mesa because we were legally required to terminate him," school board President Karen Yelsey said Wednesday.
Since the power to authorize funding increases like bonuses and other allowances rests with the district's board, Yelsey said she was not surprised by the court's decision.
"I personally never thought he should have been charged," she said. "A superintendent isn't responsible for authorizing funds."
After being sentenced in February 2012, Hubbard served four of his 60 days in jail. He was also sentenced to 280 hours of community service and three years' probation and ordered to pay $23,500 in restitution to the school district and a $6,000 fine.
The appellate court vacated all of his penalties. He will get the restitution and fine money back.
Even though Hubbard prevailed in the appeals process, Newport-Mesa Unified is not required to rehire him, said Hillel Chodos, one of the attorneys who represented Hubbard during the appeals process. Hubbard was also represented by Los Angeles attorney Philip Kaufler.
The panel directed the Los Angeles Superior Court to enter an order dismissing all charges against Hubbard, which must be done to completely clear his name, Chodos said.
Prosecutors have until Feb. 9 to seek review of the appellate court panel's decision. If they are denied review, the trial court will dismiss the charges within about two or three months, Chodos said.
"Even though he can demonstrate this was a gross travesty, anyplace he goes he still has a mugshot on the web," he said. "It's tough to get back from that."
Hubbard declined to comment on the court's decision.