[Napa County] Napa County to consider paying Tuteur's grand jury defense bill of $80,000

Napa County proposes to pay up to $80,000 to cover legal costs for Assessor John Tuteur’s defense against charges brought up by the 2017-18 Napa County Grand Jury.

The Attorney General’s office failed to find sufficient evidence to prosecute “willful or corrupt misconduct” charges that could have removed Tuteur from office. Napa County Superior Court on Nov. 14 dismissed the case.

“It is in the county’s interest to defend its employees acting in good faith in the course and scope of their employment against claims that cannot stand up in court,” a county report said.

Napa County could reimburse Tuteur for “reasonable legal defense costs against allegations that are within the scope of his employment and in his capacity as Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk.”

The Napa County Board of Supervisors will consider the matter when it meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the county administration center, 1195 Third St. The proposal is on the consent calendar, which is reserved for routine items that might be passed without discussion.

“I undertook the initial defense against the unfounded accusation with the understanding that when exonerated, I would be eligible for reimbursement from the county,” Tuteur said on Friday.

Tuteur hired Barth & Daley LLP to defend himself in the grand jury case. To date, the expenses are $66,917. The $80,000 maximum would cover this bill and remaining expenses that arise, a county report said.

One possible source of further expenses could be an appeal filed by the grand jury in the First District Court of Appeal to avoid releasing investigative materials related to the Tuteur charges. The court dismissed this case on Nov. 27, the county report said.

Another could be the grand jury’s order for a civil suit against Tuteur for failure to pay back taxes, an allegation that was also part of the dismissed ”willful or corrupt misconduct” case. That order is being reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office and state Board of Equalization, a county report said.

The grand jury in the “willful or corrupt misconduct” case made four charges against Tuteur.

One charge arose from a 2008 Assessor’s Office error on how much tax Tuteur should pay for property that included a cell tower lease. The office discovered the error in 2016. The grand jury said Tuteur failed to pay $20,000 in back property taxes.

Tuteur’s defense said the Assessor’s Office chief appraiser finished resolving the complicated matter this year after consulting with the state Board of Equalization. Tuteur owes $1,453 in back taxes and has begun making payments.

Three other charges involved how Tuteur administers the state’s Williamson Act locally. Napa County is among the California counties that choose to offer tax breaks for agricultural land if the owner agrees to keep the land in agriculture for at least 10 years.

December 2, 2018

Napa Valley Register

By Barry Eberling

County: