Beaumont’s ex-city attorney loses bid to toss charges against him in corruption case
Felony embezzlement charges against the last defendant in the Beaumont corruption case won’t be thrown out, a judge ruled Friday, Jan. 26.
Joseph Sandy Aklufi, Beaumont’s former city attorney, said his request for a speedy preliminary hearing was wrongly denied after he was arraigned on an amended complaint in 2017.
His attorneys said his right to a preliminary hearing within 60 days of his plea was absolute, regardless of the case’s complexity or whether his contention meant having a separate hearing from his six fellow defendants.
Prosecutors said Aklufi’s waiver of a speedy preliminary hearing for the original complaint in 2016 should stay in effect despite the amended complaint, and that Aklufi was banking on a recent court ruling that did not fit all aspects of his case.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Mac R. Fisher issued the decision denying Aklufi’s motion in writing.
Stephen G. Larson, one of Aklufi’s defense attorneys, expressed disappointment in an email and said they “respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling, and are considering an appeal.”
Riverside County District Attorney’s spokesman John Hall said his office would have no comment.
A preliminary hearing, held before a judge without a jury, determines whether evidence in a case is substantial enough for a trial.
In arguments before Fisher last week, Larson said a late-December California appellate court decision, Gregory Davis v Superior Court of Solano County, said reinstatement of criminal proceedings renewed Aklufi’s chance to demand a speedy preliminary hearing.
“Clearly, that’s what he had here,” Larson said. “We had a complaint, there was a waiver, and (if) that complaint had been the operative complaint going forward, with no additional triggering events, there’s no question we would have been stuck with that waiver.”
But the complaint was then amended, Larson said. Even if the charges were identical to the original complaint, as they were for Aklufi, the courts have said his right to a speedy preliminary hearing based on a revised complaint is “absolute,” the defense attorney argued.
Judges in the Davis case ordered the lower court to dismiss charges against him.
Deputy District Attorney Emily Hanks told Fisher the Aklufi and Davis cases were very different. Davis’ case was suspended after the court declared doubt about the defendant’s mental competence. It was reinstated about six months later. Davis was charged with two counts of human trafficking and two counts of pandering.
Beyond reinstating a case after a mental incompetence suspension, “there is no way to revoke your waiver. You can’t take it back. And that’s really what Mr. Aklufi is trying to do here,” she said.
“It really comes down to whether or not a filing of a non-substantive amendment in the complaint gives you a brand-new 60-day waiver,” she told Fisher. The law regarding preliminary hearings gives defendants a new chance at a waiver, if the case has been suspended for doubt of mental competence, “But nothing says you get a brand-new 60 if there’s a non-substantive amendment where nothing changes,” she said.
Staff writer Craig Shultz contributed to this report.