Legal setback for Stark
The state Attorney General's Office advised the state Supreme Court on Wednesday against reviewing felony charges against Sutter County Auditor-Controller Robert Stark.
The court is expected to rule on Stark's petition for review by February. A denial would open the door to a jury trial in Sutter County.
Stark filed the petition Dec. 5 after the 3rd District Court of Appeal declined to review a decision by Sutter Court Judge H. Ted Hansen to dismiss only one of 13 felony charges of misappropriation of public funds.
Deputy Attorney General Clifford E. Zall, who wrote the brief delivered to the Supreme Court, said he advised the justices that “the issue is not significant enough to take review,” especially because Stark has not been convicted.
“There are only a select few things the Supreme Court gets involved in,” said Zall.
Stark's defense is that he did not know his actions were illegal. While ignorance of the law is occasionally accepted as a defense, “it wouldn't do for a public official,” said Zall.
Stark would have to prove he did not know his acts were illegal and were “honest mistakes,” said Zall.
Stark's attorney, Bradley Wishek, said he was not surprised by the brief.
“It's not really an opinion. They're a counsel for the government. They're required to take this position,” said Wishek.
Wishek has 10 days to respond to the brief. He said he had not reviewed the contents and could not comment further.
Sutter County District Attorney Carl Adams, who filed the charges against Stark, also declined comment, saying he had not seen the brief.
Stark, who is expected to seek re-election in June, would be forced to leave office if convicted of a felony.
In a related matter, the Board of Supervisors has directed County Administrator Larry Combs to refer further allegations of “malfeasance of misfeasance” by Stark to the grand jury. Stark failed to make corrections to the county budget as ordered by supervisors, said Combs.
Supervisors told Stark to make the corrections by Friday.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Rob Young can be reached at 749-4710. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.