Ray Nutting was stripped of his seat on the Board of Supervisors in a dramatic sentencing order Friday that will shake up El Dorado County’s political leadership and force an election to fill his job.
Three weeks after the embattled supervisor appeared to emerge victorious when he was acquitted of felony charges of political malfeasance, a judge declared that Nutting must forfeit his elected office because of misdemeanor convictions over how he raised his bail money.
Declaring that Nutting had committed “misconduct in office,” visiting Superior Court Judge Timothy S. Buckley issued a notice to the county that Nutting’s seat is now vacant. He also sentenced Nutting to 30 days of community service in lieu of jail time.
Suddenly, Nutting’s political career appears to be over with 2 1/2 years remaining on his board term. He is out of office as a result of his actions in the frenetic moments after he was ordered to surrender on felony charges that he had failed to disclose more than $70,000 in state grant income for brush-clearing on his family ranch.
A jury acquitted Nutting on May 14 on three felony counts and deadlocked on a fourth felony count of submitting false paperwork when the work was completed.
But he was convicted of six misdemeanors for accepting loans from two county employees and a construction contractor to bail himself out of jail on May 28, 2013.
In his sentencing, Buckley made particular note of the fact that one person who provided bail money for Nutting, Doug Veerkamp, was a wealthy contractor who does business with the county. Veerkamp, who had his money returned the same day, had said he was helping out a personal friend.
“I would point out that Mr. Nutting is responsible on the Board of Supervisors for voting on contracts involving large amounts of money,” the judge said. “Certainly he would look favorably on an individual who helped bail him out of jail.”
Buckley also said that Nutting’s acceptance of money for his bail from two county employees – his personal assistant Katherine “Kitty” Miller and board clerk Catherine Tyler – was an official abuse of power. “What Mr. Nutting did was really misconduct in office,” Buckley said.
After the sentencing, Nutting and his wife, Jennifer, rushed past reporters and spectators and bolted down the staircase of the historic Placerville courthouse where his trial had been held.
Reached later by phone, Nutting said he was astonished.
“We beat the felonies and the judge had total latitude to do whatever he wanted,” Nutting said. “I never dreamed he would take that position. I think my constituents are shocked at the outcome.”
He added: “The most important thing in my life is my faith in God, my wife and my children. And right now I have to focus on that.”
After the supervisor’s abrupt departure, his attorney, David Weiner, said: “He is an emotional wreck ... It’s a pretty dramatic event in his life.”
Weiner said he will file legal appeals Monday to overturn the judge’s order that Nutting’s seat be vacated and seek a new trial on the misdemeanor convictions.
Nutting’s fellow El Dorado supervisors previously had asked Buckley to decide whether he could remain in office.
Supervisor Norma Santiago, the board chairwoman, said supervisors will meet in private session Monday morning to discuss the sudden vacancy.
She said the board could schedule an election to fill Nutting’s seat Monday or at its regular meeting Tuesday.
“We are now having to move the organization forward based upon what the judge ruled,” Santiago said. “I feel for his family and for him personally ... We’ve just got to move forward and focus on the work in front of us and not on any kind of political drama that something like this can cause.”
Santiago said the county is trying to determine whether a vote to fill Nutting’s seat can coincide with the November election, saving taxpayers the cost of a separate election. She said Nutting won’t be replaced on the board before a vote is held.
Another supervisor, Brian Veerkamp, who is Doug Veerkamp’s brother, said the political storm stirred by the Nutting’s case “is unfortunate.”
But he said Friday, “Good, bad or indifferent, we have so many things we have to do for the county that have just gotten lost in the fray. We’ve got to get back in business of the people.”
In a statement, El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said his office “attempted to resolve this case and save taxpayer money” by offering Nutting a deal to plead guilty to misdemeanors and resign from office. He said the supervisor refused the deal and made no counteroffer.
Deputy Attorney General Peter Williams, whose office joined in the case, said prosecutors believed that Nutting should lose his job over his actions because “we put an extreme premium on ... the ethics of the people we elect.”
“Mr. Nutting now has a record. He committed crimes while a public official. That is a serious thing,” Williams said.
Outside the courtroom, Catherine Tyler, a Board of Supervisors clerk who had given Nutting’s wife $8,000 toward his bail and was paid back soon later, appeared horrified by the ruling.
“If you were lying down on the side of the road, I wouldn’t be able to help you,” she said. “I guess being a good Samaritan doesn’t count in this county.”