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People v. Thrasher

August 21, 2009

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
CARLOS MANUEL THRASHER, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Daniel J. Buckley, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. KA079484).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rubin, Acting P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

The People of California appeal from the trial court‟s dismissal of an information against Carlos Manuel Thrasher, a member of the West Covina Planning Commission, charging him with perjury and three misdemeanor violations of the Political Reform Act of 1974. (Gov. Code, § 81000 et seq.)*fn1 We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

In June 2001, Carlos Manuel Thrasher signed a three-year lease to rent office space from Eastland Tower Partnership. In January 2003, Thrasher, who was in the military reserves, was called to active duty and deployed to Iraq. Upon his activation, Thrasher sent a letter to his landlord, Ziad Alhassen, whose holding company controlled Eastland Tower Partnership. Thrasher told Alhassen of his deployment and asked that his lease be held in "abeyance" while he was in Iraq. Alhassen replied that the law permitted Thrasher to terminate the lease, but Alhassen did not know of any law that allowed Thrasher an "abeyance" in rent, which Alhassen demanded Thrasher continue to pay unless he vacated the office. Thrasher did not vacate the office; instead, he let someone else run his business while he was away and he stopped paying rent.

In the spring of 2004, Alhassen learned Thrasher had returned home from Iraq. Alhassen contacted Thrasher and demanded the unpaid back rent. Thrasher countered with the proposal that Alhassen extend the lease that was about to expire and forgive Thrasher‟s past due rent. Alhassen refused to waive the unpaid rent. When the lease ended that summer without the parties reaching an agreement, Thrasher vacated the office. Alhassen thereafter threatened to sue Thrasher. In December 2004, Thrasher and Alhassen settled their dispute. Thrasher signed a promissory note to Eastland Tower Partnership for $17,165.62 in past rent, with the outstanding balance to accrue 10 percent annual interest. Thrasher‟s monthly payments were $500 until the note was paid in full.

In December 2005, Thrasher was appointed to the West Covina Planning Commission (planning commission). Upon his appointment, he signed under penalty of perjury a "Form 700," a document required by amicus Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) that obligated Thrasher to disclose various economic interests. The form directed Thrasher to identify any "loans" he had received during the relevant reporting period. He did not list any.

During Thrasher‟s service on the planning commission, South Hills Homes Partnership, a company controlled by Alhassen, had business before the commission.*fn2 The partnership was developing a gated community in West Covina and needed an extension to file its final tract map. As a commissioner, Thrasher twice acted on the partnership‟s extension request: the first time in January 2006 to ask his fellow commissioners to postpone their decision on the extension to the next month‟s meeting, and the second time in February 2006 to argue against the extension. Following Thrasher‟s argument against an extension at the second meeting, the planning commission denied it. According to Alhassen, the denial had a devastating financial effect on the development.

In 2007, the People charged Thrasher with perjury and three misdemeanor violations of the Political Reform Act for not disclosing the existence of his promissory note to Eastland Tower Partnership. The People‟s theory was Thrasher‟s note represented a loan from the partnership to him that he should have identified on his Form 700. After a preliminary hearing, the magistrate found Thrasher‟s undisclosed note was a reportable loan. The magistrate therefore found probable cause to order Thrasher to stand trial.

The People thereafter filed an information. The information alleged Thrasher committed perjury by declaration when he signed Form 700, certifying the truth of its contents without disclosing his promissory note on the schedule identifying "loans" to him. The information also alleged Thrasher‟s failure to disclose the "loan" was a misdemeanor violation of the Political Reform Act requiring him to disclose his economic interests. (§§ 87300, 87302, subd. (b), & 91000.) And finally, the information alleged in two counts that Thrasher‟s participation in both the January and February 2006 planning commission deliberations involving the request by South Hills Homes Partnership for an extension to file its final tract map violated the Political Reform Act‟s prohibition against conflicts of interest. (§ 87100 [public official must not participate in governmental decision in which official knows, or has reason to know, he has a financial interest].)

Thrasher pleaded not guilty. Additionally, he moved under Penal Code section 995 for dismissal of the perjury allegation because his agreement with Eastern Tower Partnership over unpaid rent was settlement of a debt, not a loan from the partnership to him. Thus, he argued, probable cause did not exist to charge him with making a false statement for not disclosing the note as a loan on his Form 700. He also moved for dismissal of the misdemeanor charges because the three counts were predicated on Thrasher‟s having received income from Eastland Tower Partnership, which he had not under the applicable statutes. The court granted Thrasher‟s motion under section 995 to dismiss the perjury charge. The court also dismissed the misdemeanor charges under Penal Code section 991. The People appeal from the dismissals.

DISCUSSION

We independently review the preliminary hearing magistrateā€Ÿs order binding defendant over for trial. (People v. Laiwa (1983) 34 Cal.3d 711, 718; ...


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