Skip to comments.CA: Retirement chief refuses to testify (San Diego)
Posted on 12/07/2005 10:13:34 AM PST by NormsRevenge
Lawrence Grissom, the administrator of San Diego's retirement system, refused to testify yesterday, invoking his right against self-incrimination and becoming the latest high-ranking official connected with the city pension scandal to not answer questions in court.
Prosecutor Steve Robinson asked one question "Were you the retirement administrator for SDCERS in 2002?" when Grissom's lawyer, Brian Hennigan, announced his client would assert his Fifth Amendment rights.
He left a few minutes later, but not before defense attorneys for six former pension board members facing criminal conflict-of-interest charges tried to persuade Superior Court Judge Frederic L. Link to grant Grissom immunity from prosecution.
Link declined, but after more discussion seemed to leave the door open for lawyers to ask him again to grant the immunity. That means Grissom could still testify in the preliminary hearing, which might last several weeks. The judge will rule afterward whether there is sufficient evidence to order a trial.
Defense lawyers say Grissom can offer testimony that will help their clients and argued that prosecutors were unfairly granting immunity only to witnesses who help their case.
Grissom has been with the San Diego City Employees Retirement System since 1987 and has announced he will retire by the end of the year. He has not been charged in the case.
On Monday, former City Manager Michael Uberuaga, former city auditor Ed Ryan, and the pension system's top legal adviser, Loraine Chapin, invoked the right not to testify.
Doing so does not mean a person has committed a crime. The right protects an individual from disclosing information that could be used against him or her in a future prosecution.
Federal prosecutors have been investigating the city's pension system and its financial disclosure practices, and a federal grand jury has been meeting in secret for months.
The system has an estimated $1.4 billion deficit.
The six former board members cast votes on a city plan in 2002 that allowed the city to contribute less money into the system than required. The city had been doing so since 1996.
The District Attorney's Office contends that vote was linked to a package of enhanced retirement benefits granted to all city workers under new contracts. State law prohibits public officials from voting on contracts in which they have a financial interest.
Defense lawyers are seeking to show that the votes board members made were only over the amount of money the city would contribute to the fund. They also are arguing that numerous lawyers at the time did not say casting such votes violated state law.
After Grissom was dismissed, another former trustee, Ray Garnica, testified. He is not charged and testified under a grant of immunity from prosecutors.
That led defense lawyer Nick Hanna, representing former human resources director Cathy Lexin, to argue that the "selective immunity" prosecutors were granting was unfair.
He said prosecutors were giving immunity only to witnesses who help their case. Jerry Coughlan, the defense lawyer for Ron Saathoff, president of the city firefighters union, told the judge that Grissom has spoken to prosecutors before and has "substantial exculpatory information" that would help his client fight the charges.
Link admitted he was bothered enough by the practice that he would consider a request to grant Grissom immunity later.
Garnica abstained from a July 11, 2002, board vote that approved the underfunding proposal. He testified he did so because in large part he felt the board was rushing into approving the deal instead of taking time to analyze it.
In November when the board again voted on the proposal, Garnica changed his mind and voted yes. He said he did so because in the interim board lawyers and an actuary had examined the proposal, and he relied on their analysis as well as Grissom's.
But under cross-examination, defense attorney Lisa Damiani played extensive taped excerpts from the July meeting, showing there was a good amount of discussion on the proposal among the board. Garnica insisted the discussion seemed rushed and confusing, and more time to examine the plan was needed.
Besides Lexin and Saathoff, those facing charges are John Torres, Terri Webster, Mary Vattimo and Sharon Wilkinson.
>He said prosecutors were giving immunity only to witnesses who help their case
Not being that familiar with the law, isn't this what prosecutors do?
It's mind-numbing. At least we finally have a mayor.
"At least we finally have a mayor."
Just lucky that it wasn't that enviro whacko surfer broad!
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