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People v. Aldana

June 8, 2009; as modified June 26, 2009

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
DANIEL ALDANA ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND APPELLANTS.



Appeals from judgments of the Superior Court of Riverside County, Stephen D. Cunnison, Judge. Reversed. (Super. Ct. No. RIF111207).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fybel, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

INTRODUCTION

Defendants Daniel Aldana and Donna Matney were each charged with two counts of grand theft, and one count each of misappropriation of public funds, knowingly keeping false accounts, and altering public records. A jury acquitted Aldana of all but one count. The jury was unable to reach a verdict as to one count against Matney, and similarly acquitted her of all but one of the remaining counts against her. The jury also found not true all sentencing enhancements alleged against Aldana and Matney.

Aldana and Matney separately appeal their convictions for violating subpart 3 of Penal Code section 424, subdivision (a), which prohibits those charged with control over the expenditure of public moneys from keeping false accounts or making false entries in accounts.*fn1 Matney had hired Aldana to perform administrative services at a regional county medical facility. Matney obtained Aldana‟s signature on blank timesheets, estimated and averaged the number of hours Aldana performed administrative duties, and prepared and signed Aldana‟s timesheets, thereby authorizing Aldana‟s paychecks. The timesheets did not accurately reflect the hours Aldana worked for the county, although the evidence showed, and the Attorney General does not dispute, Aldana worked many more hours for the county under an agreement to perform administrative tasks than he was paid for or than were listed on his timesheets.

We reject Aldana‟s and Matney‟s claim that the jury was erroneously instructed regarding the element of intent. Section 424(a)(3) is a general intent crime, and the trial court correctly instructed the jury that it was not necessary for the prosecution to prove Aldana and Matney had an intent to deceive. Although the crime is a general intent crime, proof of Aldana‟s and Matney‟s guilty knowledge was required; the jury instructions correctly included this requirement.

We conclude there was insufficient evidence to support Aldana‟s conviction, because he was not an "officer of this state, or of any county, city, town, or district of this state, [or a] person charged with the receipt, safekeeping, transfer, or disbursement of public moneys." (§ 424(a).) Additionally, there was insufficient evidence Aldana knowingly kept a false account or knowingly made a false entry on his timesheets. Therefore, we reverse the judgment against Aldana.

Finally, we conclude there was insufficient evidence of Matney‟s guilty knowledge to support her conviction. Under the well-settled Supreme Court precedent as set forth in People v. Salas (2006) 37 Cal.4th 967 (Salas) and People v. Simon (1995) 9 Cal.4th 493 (Simon), the prosecution was required to prove that Matney had knowledge her actions constituted criminal conduct, or that she was criminally negligent in lacking such knowledge. Such proof was insufficient, and we must therefore reverse the judgment against Matney.

STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In April 2000, Matney was named the hospital administrator at Riverside County Regional Medical Center (RCRMC), and assumed full control in January 2001. At the time, RCRMC faced a deficit of $18 million. Matney regularly worked 16 hours per day, seven days a week. She had responsibility for 2,000 employees, and oversaw the operations of a 364-bed acute care facility, a 77-bed psychiatric facility, and a level two trauma center. Matney was "absolutely overwhelmed" in her job. Nevertheless, Matney was able to turn the hospital around financially, and leave it $11.2 million in the black by June 30, 2001.

Aldana was a physician practicing at RCRMC. He received a salary of $150,000 through his medical group, Riverside Regional Pediatric Medical Group, and served as the head of the pediatric unit at RCRMC. Aldana received an additional $50,000 in salary from his medical group for his duties as a physician-liaison for hospital risk management.

In December 2000, Matney hired Aldana as an administrative liaison in risk assessment for RCRMC. Aldana was compensated through the Temporary Assistance Pool program (TAP), which provides county funds so county agencies may hire workers on a temporary basis to fill the agencies‟ needs. Aldana was paid $81.88 per hour as a TAP employee. He worked for RCRMC through TAP from December 28, 2000 through July 25, 2002. There is no dispute that Matney had the authority to hire Aldana in that capacity.

TAP required employees to report their actual hours worked during each pay period, and required supervisors to certify the hours the employees worked. Aldana signed blank TAP timesheets, and provided them to Matney, who filled in the number of hours worked each day on Aldana‟s behalf and signed them to indicate her approval. Both Matney and Aldana*fn2 acknowledged the timesheets did not accurately reflect the actual hours Aldana worked on any particular day. Matney explained it was impractical and impossible considering the nature of Aldana‟s administrative consulting work- given that he was available to Matney 24 hours a day, seven days a week-as well as the time Aldana spent on his other duties at the hospital and elsewhere. Aldana was Matney‟s "co-pilot" during the time he assisted her in those administrative duties.

Matney did not keep track of the actual hours Aldana worked. Instead, Matney estimated and averaged the number of hours she recorded on Aldana‟s timesheets. Matney recorded hours on Aldana‟s timesheet for days she knew he did not work, including his wedding day, because he had worked previously, and Matney believed the county owed him money for the time he had already worked.

Aldana was also paid with TAP funds for producing 10 paintings for the RCRMC pediatric unit. In a letter to RCRMC‟s chief operating officer, Aldana stated he had asked Matney to track the time he spent painting, and, in response, Matney increased the number of hours logged on Aldana‟s timesheets. Matney never asked Aldana how much time he spent painting, as opposed to his administrative tasks for TAP. Based on investigations of the cost of artwork conducted by her and her assistant, Matney decided ...


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