Pressured by DA, county board turns over key letter in Leticia Perez case

FILE - Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez speaks at a county board meeting April 10, 2018. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) – The Kern County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to unseal what the District Attorney's Office considers to be a key document in the criminal case against Supervisor Leticia Perez.

Perez faces misdemeanor charges for allegedly failing to disclose a conflict of interest prior to a vote about marijuana last year.

Allegations have swirled that her husband, Fernando Jara, earns a living working with marijuana dispensaries.

Perez's opponents say her household stood to profit from marijuana legalization, so she should have recused herself from the vote.

The vote failed, rendering her support for the measure moot.

Perez has publicly defended herself, asserting that County Counsel Mark Nations reviewed her circumstances prior to the vote and issued a memo clearing her to proceed.

But that letter from Nations has been kept under seal. Nations has repeatedly said its contents are considered privileged attorney-client communication.

District Attorney Lisa Green disagrees. She says Perez can't use the letter as a "sword and shield" to fend off criminal charges while also keeping its contents a secret.

Since June, the two sides have swapped letters debating the merits of Nation's claim of attorney-client privilege.

In a phone interview Wednesday morning, Nations said he was caught between two competing legal opinions.

Perez's attorney, H.A. Sala, came to him asserting that Perez alone held the privilege. No one except her could authorize Nations to reveal the memo.

Green, however, said it is the full board that holds the privilege, and thus, the ability to break Nations' confidentiality agreement.

Nations said court precedent on the issue is muddy and a misstep could bring action against his ability to practice law.

Certain Nations wouldn't produce the letter, the District Attorney's Office on Sept. 21 hand-delivered an official request to the other members of the board, that they conduct a closed-session meeting and vote to unseal the document.

Green warned in the request that a denial would result in a court order, so the board convened and agreed Tuesday to hand it over.

The contents of the letter have not been made public.

The District Attorney's Office says it needed to see what's in the letter before entering any negotiations with Perez regarding a plea deal.

Prosecutors hope to learn how much Nations knew when he issued his legal advice to Perez.

How forthcoming she was with Nations about her circumstances would affect the kind of deal she could hope to broker, according to the District Attorney's Office.

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