Local Politics

Friday, Jul 05 2013 10:00 PM

Perez adds income to amended financial report

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    By Californian file photo

    Leticia Perez

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BY THEO DOUGLAS AND JAMES BURGER Californian staff writers tdouglas@bakersfield.com, jburger@bakersfield.com

Democrat Leticia Perez amended her state Senate campaign's financial disclosure statement Friday to reflect an additional, previously unreported $9,350 in income that her husband earned this spring.

The move came after The Californian discovered the Kern County Public Defender's office payments and asked why Perez hadn't reported them on her so-called Form 700.

Perez, a Kern County supervisor, is facing off against Republican farmer Andy Vidak in a hotly contested, closely watched run-off race to represent the 16th Senate District.

The election to replace Michael Rubio, who resigned, is July 23. Vidak had to amend his economic disclosure form Wednesday after also failing to report certain income.

Perez's earlier Statement of Economic Interests, filed March 29 with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, failed to disclose three payments of $800 each that her husband, Fernando Jara, a minister, earned as an expert witness for the Kern County Public Defender's office.

All elected officials and those running for office must file these statements. And they must document their spouse's or registered domestic partner's income.

PAY OMITTED

Perez's Form 700 from March listed her spouse's income as $1,001 to $10,000 he earned from First Christian Church of Bakersfield from March 11, 2012, to March 11, 2013 -- omitting some of the money he received as an expert witness. March 11 to March 11 was the time period for which Perez needed to report income.

"I was mistaken, unfortunately. I really want to apologize for excluding $9,300 in income from my husband. I was under the impression that income from 2013 was reportable in 2014. I have corrected the record and I apologize," said Perez.

On her amended Form 700, she reported Jara's gross income as "$1,001-$10,000" earned from the County of Kern Public Defender and "$1,001-$10,000" earned from the County of Kern Indigent Defense Program.

The previously omitted $9,350 in income was in the form of three checks dated March 4 and four checks dated March 12, March 21, March 28 and April 3, according to county documents obtained by The Californian after filing a public records request.

HUSBAND ADVISED ON GANGS

The documents show that Jara, whose knowledge of Hispanic gangs was gained as a juvenile, earned $9,350 for cases he worked on from Dec. 20 to March 8.

Of these earnings, only $2,400 was required to be documented during the current Form 700 reporting period. The remaining $6,950 didn't have to be disclosed until a later reporting period covering all of 2013.

The county pay records show Jara received varying rates of pay, depending on whether he worked for private attorneys paid through the Indigent Defense Fund or directly for the County of Kern Public Defender.

The Public Defender's office represents defendants who can't afford a private attorney. The county pays a private attorney to represent defendants when the Public Defender's office has a conflict of interest or for some other reason can't represent the person.

Jara handled two cases for the Indigent Defense Program and was paid a substantially higher hourly rate -- $200 an hour on one case and $250 on the second -- than the $100-an-hour rate he received from the Public Defender's office.

He earned a total of $5,250 for 24 1/2 hours of work through the Indigent Defense Program, and $4,100 for 41 hours work for the Public Defender's office.

"My wife spent a considerable amount of time dotting the i's and crossing the t's," Jara said. "I'm really sorry that my own professional life is now going to be dragged into the spotlight again. That's very unfortunate."

PUBLIC DEFENDER PRAISES JARA

Asked whether it was appropriate for him to hire a man whose wife is a county supervisor -- and who took part in the unanimous Board of Supervisors vote Jan. 29 to appoint him -- Public Defender Konrad Moore said he became aware of Jara's expertise coincidentally in 2010 when he met the man through Perez.

Perez worked with Moore as a public defender at the time.

Moore said there has been an increase in the need for expert gang witnesses as prosecutors have sought penalties against defendants for committing a crime while participating in a criminal gang.

Jara has told The Californian that much of his family was involved in east Bakersfield gangs, and that he spent more than two years in the California Youth Authority for assault and battery.

"Juries are rightfully interested in someone who has a genuine understanding of these matters," Moore said, adding that there is a difference in what police understand about gangs and what someone with first-hand knowledge of gangs can share.

JARA FIRST CONSULTED FOR FREE

While Moore became aware of Jara in 2010, the Public Defender's office did not use him as a witness until early 2013 -- after his wife was sworn in as a supervisor helping oversee the department and controlling its budget.

Moore put Jara's name on a witness list for one case in mid-2011. But he didn't call Jara as a witness and -- according to county records -- Jara was never paid.

Moore said he is not sure why other attorneys didn't use Jara between 2011 and 2013.

Jara may, he said, have been offering his services at no cost -- a fact Jara confirmed Friday.

In total, Moore's office paid Jara $4,100.

He said he did consider how the decision to hire the husband of one of his five bosses to a $100-an-hour consulting position might look. He said he concluded the value to his office's clients was greater than the cost to his image.

"(If) I'm more interested in how others might see it," I am not representing my clients' best interests, Moore said.

And, he said, Jara was good at what he did.

"You find me someone that is more qualified and I'll engage them," Moore said.

NO CONFLICT OF INTEREST

Perez said Friday that there are no potential conflicts in the Public Defender's office hiring her husband to testify as an expert witness.

Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner agreed, first discussing Perez's taking part in the unanimous supervisors' vote to hire Moore.

"That's not a vote to hire her husband to do work for the public defender. There's no conflict of interest for her to have participated in that vote," Goldner said. She added that conflicts of interest "are triggered generally when there's a financial interest at play," and that didn't happen here.

Goldner also said there is no problem with Jara's work for the county of Kern.

"She does not direct and control the work of expert witnesses," Goldner said of Perez. "I don't think there's an issue there."

A consultant for Vidak's campaign declined to comment on the matter.

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