Michael Attanasio, attorney for former Southwestern superintendent Raj Chopra.
Readiness hearings for Southwestern College, Sweetwater Union High School District, and San Ysidro School District defendants were held October 29 in the South Bay courthouse. Defendants indicted in pay-to-play corruption cases had been ordered to appear by judge Ana Espana.
Prior to the readiness conferences, Yolanda Hernandez, a San Ysidro trustee, pleaded guilty to one perjury misdemeanor. When Hernandez is sentenced, she faces the possibility of being unable to serve in a public office for four years. She will, however, be allowed to serve out the remainder of her current four-year term, which began in November 2010.
The attorney for former Southwestern superintendent Raj Chopra was pleased with the conference outcome. Attorney Michael Attanasio, of Cooley, LLP, stated that two felony counts and several misdemeanors were reduced to a single misdemeanor of failure to disclose gifts on his conflict-of-interest form.
After the hearing, Attanasio stated that “The misdemeanor resolution was based on what was essentially a bookkeeping error. My client will serve no custody, and he will gladly perform some community services.”
After the day’s proceedings, deputy district attorney Leon Schorr commented, “There are only so many of us DA’s and there are a ton of things that we would like to be doing, including this case. I think the judge put it well today, when she said, ‘It’s in the best interest of the defendants and all the community to come to resolution; there’s a great expense that’s on the community, it’s a burden on the community and on everybody, so if we can get to resolutions that are appropriate, then that’s the best.’”
Some attendees worried that the outcome of the October 29 proceedings appeared to be in contrast with statements made by district attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
On January 27, 2012, Dumanis stated in a press conference: “The widespread corruption we uncovered during the investigation of this case is outrageous and shameful. For years, public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes in exchange for their votes on multimillion-dollar construction projects. The corruption was nothing short of systemic. Today’s charges begin the process of holding those officials accountable for their actions on behalf of those taxpayers who footed the bill for lavish dinners, concert and theater tickets, and much more.”
However, San Diego attorney Kevin Carlin, who has been monitoring the progress of the case, said in an October 30 interview that what happened at yesterday's readiness conferences was to be expected.
Carlin opined, "At this point in the proceedings there will be some inevitable paring of charges and defendants through negotiated plea deals between the District Attorney’s Office and individual defendants. While such negotiated plea deals must be reviewed and approved by the court, they are encouraged to promote efficiency and conserve resources.
"Court approval of individual plea arrangements at this point in the proceedings should not be interpreted as any type of indication of the strength or weakness of the overall case against any of the remaining defendants.”