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Hubbard breaks his silence

Hubbard breaks his silence
(Steven Georges, Daily Pilot)

TUSTIN — On any other weekday last year, he would be wearing a suit and tie as he stood at the helm of Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

But on a recent morning there was no longer a need for formality. The former superintendent who once oversaw 31 schools and 3,000 employees is now unwillingly retired, having been fired by the school board shortly after his conviction on misappropriation of public funds.

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So dressed in jeans and a beige button-down, Jeffrey Hubbard, 55, gives the first formal interview since his arrest between sips of a tall coffee at a bakery near his Tustin home.

He alternates from affable to agitated, fidgeting and gesturing passionately, as he addresses what he refers to as traumatic events that undid his career.

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He makes it clear that he never broke any laws and paints himself as a victim of a vindictive previous employer, the Beverly Hills Unified School District, and overzealous prosecutors whom he believes willingly ignored key facts that would exonerate him.

"The D.A. spun a conspiracy story that [the jury] believed," he says, adding later that the Los Angeles County district attorney's office was "clearly not interested in the truth."

Hubbard argues that the real problems started not with the Dist. Atty. but with BHUSD, which is where he worked until coming to Orange County.

He asserts that the BHUSD sought his prosecution as retribution for helping his co-defendant, Karen Anne Christiansen, 53, in the lawsuit she filed against the BHUSD.

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She sued for breach of contract after the district fired her and he took her side, calling her termination one of the "cruelest episodes" he has seen in his career.

After that, he says, the BHUSD sought retribution against him for helping her. Christiansen would go on to be tried and convicted of four felony conflict-of-interest charges.

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Time in Beverly Hills

Reflecting on his tenure as Beverly Hills schools' chief, which concluded in 2006, Hubbard says he was more concerned with an environmental lawsuit filed by Erin Brockovich and allegations that a principal was placing English-language learners in the classrooms of poor-performing teachers than he ever was with matters as seemingly minor as Christiansen's expenses.

"That was bigger than Karen Christiansen's mileage at the time," Hubbard says of prosecutors' accusations that he spiked his former subordinate's car allowance and gave her bonuses without required school board approval in order to win her attention. "I was in HR. I knew what it took."

Tracking paperwork and following protocol didn't take priority over the issues that Hubbard says loomed larger than routine human resources matters.

But Hubbard says that he left the details to others for payments he said the school board ordered for Christiansen. School board members testified in Hubbard's trial that they do not recall directing him to make payments to Christiansen, and Hubbard's attorney argued in earlier court proceedings that the school district wouldn't recover computer evidence that would have exonerated his client.

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Leave from Newport-Mesa

At the cafe, Hubbard addresses his hotly debated five-month paid leave from Newport-Mesa to prepare his legal defense.

Some members of the community, as well as a Daily Pilot columnist and its editorial board, soundly criticized the school board for giving Hubbard the paid time off, arguing teachers would be treated differently if they were in his shoes.

But Hubbard says he would have sued the Newport-Mesa school district if he wasn't granted the paid leave because his contract extended through 2014.

"The board knew that. They're not idiots," Hubbard says, adding that he promised the board that his case would go to trial nearly a year before his January 2012 court date. "It should have been a one-month or six-week leave.

"The board knew my head wasn't going to be in the game anyway. … You're out of your ever-loving minds if you think it was a vacation."

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The email evidence

The Daily Pilot and other media published emails between Hubbard and Christiansen that became evidence in the case.

Hubbard says the emails, which were laced with sexual innuendo and double entendres, were his attempt at humor and mollifying a high-maintenance employee who needed constant affirmation, not evidence of a romantic relationship that some mistakenly assumed existed between two friends.

Christiansen used dirty talk to communicate with everyone, Hubbard says, and he just spoke her language in emails. He maintains that the two never dated, and to his point, prosecutors never accused the two defendants of romantic involvement, saying only that they had a "special relationship."

In one of the emails, Christiansen asks Hubbard if he loves her. And on the day that email was sent, Hubbard increased her car stipend.

Hubbard says that the timing of that email was coincidental, adding that the school board "adored" Christiansen and directed him to pen the memo to HR ordering the car allowance increase.

Hubbard says he was never alone in a room with Christiansen, and turned down invitations to Christiansen's weekly TGIF parties because he was raising a daughter and son alone, and needed to be home with them at night.

A Beverly Hills employee testified that Christiansen appeared to be sitting on his lap when she walked into his office one day, but Hubbard says that never happened.

"This idea that I was some kind of playboy while I was at Beverly Hills cracks me up," Hubbard says.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Marcus said during Hubbard's sentencing that he believed the defendant was still yearning for Christiansen while at NMUSD, and said email evidence showed Hubbard pulling for her to get a job in Newport-Mesa.

Hubbard says he looked at the possibility of using Christiansen's services for an artificial turf project at Newport Harbor High School, but saw that the resources needed for such a job were within the district.

"[Asst. Supt. and Chief Business Official] Paul Reed was doing a brilliant job with construction issues," Hubbard said. "If I'd been her big advocate I would have said, 'Too bad, Paul. I want her to do the job.'"

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His time in jail

Hubbard has made defending himself against crimes he says he didn't commit a priority. He took to Twitter last week, firing off tweets about the district attorney, the BHUSD, his spiritual faith, what he calls inaccuracies in the press, the conditions during his four-day stint in Los Angeles County jail and why he thinks he's innocent.

Many of his tweets sought to call attention to the poor conditions in jail, something he wants to use his time in retirement to call attention to on behalf of families where a member is incarcerated.

He also used a page in a reporter's notebook to sketch an image of his cell set up, where he said he was restricted from phone access and socializing with other inmates.

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When he was first taken into custody, Hubbard says he was mistaken for an attorney and had inmates asking him for legal advice. Some of the deputies called him "Mr. Beverly Hills."

Although no "withering violet," Hubbard says the flies and filth in his cell toward the end of his jail time were "freaking me out quite a bit at this point."

After praying aloud for God to free him, Hubbard says he heard a knock on his cell door and was told he would be freed that day rather than serve his entire 60-day sentence. He was also given three years of probation and ordered to pay back the $23,500 he misappropriated to the BHUSD.

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Final arguments

Hubbard has three attorneys working on his appeal.

Part of his sentence restricts him from holding a position of public trust, so he is unlikely to work in that time as a superintendent.

The man who prosecuted Hubbard says assertions of malicious prosecution are evidence that Hubbard is "pathological."

"A really good place to figure out the truth is a criminal trial," Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman says, adding that the victim in a crime should be expected to seek help. "I don't call that being vindictive."

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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