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  • Randall Benton / <252>rbenton@<252>

    Supervisor Ray Nutting is accused of failing to properly disclose revenue from the state.

  • Randall Benton /

    El Dorado County Supervisor Ray Nutting on the first day of his trial at the El Dorado County courthouse in Placerville on April 22, 2014.

El Dorado supervisor not guilty of felony malfeasance, guilty of misdemeanors

Published: Wednesday, May. 14, 2014 - 11:00 am

Supervisor Ray Nutting was acquitted of three felony malfeasance charges Wednesday as jurors returned a mixed verdict in a criminal prosecution revealing deep fissures in El Dorado County politics.

In the end, Nutting, a four-term county supervisor, was convicted of six misdemeanor counts that were unrelated to the essential criminal allegation brought against him by El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson.

Jurors found Nutting, 54, guilty of misdemeanor violations for improperly accepting loans from two county employees and a construction contractor to post $55,000 in bail. The money was put up after authorities told Nutting he needed to surrender at the county jail on four felony charges.

However, Nutting was found not guilty of three key charges of political misconduct and jurors were unable to reach a verdict on the fourth.

The supervisor was acquitted of two felony counts of failing to report state income for brush-clearing and other fire safety work on his 340-acre timber ranch in Somerset.

He was also acquitted on a felony conflict of interest charge for voting to fund two local fire districts. Prosecutors alleged he had been legally required to recuse himself from voting because two board members of the districts served on a separate state agency that awarded more than $70,000 in California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection grants to Nutting.

Jurors deadlocked 7-5 in favor of conviction on a fourth felony charge alleging that Nutting submitted false paperwork to the state when he completed herbicide work on his ranch.

Judge Timothy S. Buckley declared a mistrial on the last count. Then, after dismissing the jurors, he offered this observation: “Somewhat of a mixed bag. Congratulations, Mr. Nutting.”

Nutting rose from his chair, walked into the courtroom gallery, hugged his wife, Jennifer, and began to cry.

“The only thing I want to say is that I can’t wait to go home and hug my 10-year-old son, who has been worried sick,” Nutting said after leaving the courtroom. “Everything is going to be fine.”

Had Nutting been convicted of a felony, he would have had to relinquish his county supervisor post under state law. He is unlikely to serve jail time as a result of the misdemeanor convictions.

Buckley scheduled sentencing on the misdemeanors for June 6 after county prosecutor James Clinchard asked for time to consider whether to retry the fourth felony charge.

The verdict was a setback for Pierson, the El Dorado County district attorney who was joined in the prosecution by the state attorney general’s office.

Underscoring the vitriol of the case, Pierson and top deputy Clinchard branded Nutting, a stout defender of private property rights and limited government, as a “hypocrite.” In court documents, the prosecutors blasted him for appearing “at tea party events … as a conservative candidate for smaller government” while he “secretly applies for hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer financed handouts.”

Nutting in turn called Pierson “ruthless” and said the district attorney “will stoop to the lowest levels” to destroy his enemies. Supporters claimed the supervisor’s prosecution was rooted in long-running political antagonisms, including a particularly combative sheriff’s race in which Nutting and Pierson backed separate candidates.

In June, after the criminal charges were filed in El Dorado County, the California Fair Political Practices Commission fined Nutting $400 in an administrative action for failing to report brush clearing income on a campaign disclosure form required of public officials.

Mary-Beth Moylan, a McGeorge School of Law professor specializing in political law, said after Wednesday’s verdict that it was unclear whether prosecutors made a good decision to pursue criminal charges.

“I think the basic problem with this case is that it really doesn’t call for a legal commentary as much as it appears to be a political circus up there,” said Moylan. She added: “If I had been on the jury, I would have been confused by the politics underneath everyone’s actions.”

While prosecutors argued in court that Nutting deliberately cloaked government income to preserve his reputation as a conservative politician, Nutting said he openly discussed his participation in the state fire safety program. He said his errors were honest paperwork mistakes.

The jury determined that the supervisor broke the law in the frenetic moments after he was told he had to surrender at the county jail.

Nutting was convicted of four misdemeanor offenses for accepting loans for bail money from two county employees, Katherine “Kitty” Miller, his personal assistant; and Catherine Tyler, a clerk for the Board of Supervisors.

Nutting also was convicted of two misdemeanors for accepting money from Douglas Veerkamp, a wealthy construction contractor who does business with the county. He was acquitted of a seventh misdemeanor for allegedly soliciting a loan from a local bail bondsman, Chuck Holland.

Miller, who put up $47,000 towards her boss’s bail, had her money refunded by the county after Nutting’s appearance in court. Shortly after his release from jail, Nutting and his wife repaid Tyler the other $8,000 that accounted for his bail.

Jennifer Nutting also wrote a $20,000 check to Veerkamp, telling him that the money he had wired into her family’s account wasn’t needed to free the supervisor from jail.

Prosecutors had tacked on the additional misdemeanor charges, saying the state government code bans elected officials from borrowing money from any person working for their office or governmental agency. The law also bars county supervisors from taking loans from people with business contracts with the same county.

In opening statements, Nutting’s lawyer, David Weiner, said his client acted innocently under duress after learning of his pending arrest.

“All of a sudden, he had two hours’ notice to turn himself into jail or make $55,000 bail,” Weiner said. “People stood up because they knew him.”

Call The Bee’s Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.

Read more articles by Peter Hecht

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