A state appeals court panel Friday ordered a judge to dismiss the case against former Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez, who is charged with more than two dozen criminal counts including grand theft and embezzlement of public funds.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that the case against Noguez and two other defendants, Mark McNeil, once one of Noguez’s chief appraisers, and tax consultant Ramin Salari, must be dismissed because Los Angeles County prosecutors did not file legal paperwork in a timely fashion after the three were ordered to stand trial.
“We conclude petitioners are entitled to the dismissal they seek, which, we note, is not a bar to another prosecution for the same felony offenses,” the appellate court panel wrote in its 10-page ruling.
The decision also applies to a second case in which Salari is charged with tax evasion.
Defense attorneys for the three contended that the case had to be dismissed because the prosecution did not file an “information” detailing the charges against the defendants within the required 15-day deadline after their preliminary hearing. A judge denied that request, prompting the defense attorneys to ask the appellate court to intervene in the case.
The appellate court panel noted in its ruling that the document was filed 25 days after the three were ordered to stand trial — 10 days too late.
“We were confident we were going to win based upon the law,” Noguez’s attorney, Anthony Falangetti, told City News Service.
Prosecutors will have 60 days to request that the appellate court panel re-hear the case or to file a petition asking the California Supreme Court to review the matter, Falangetti said, noting that the prosecution will be entitled to file the case again.
“Any time as a defense attorney you get the case against your client dismissed … you hope that the D.A.’s Office will take some time and re-evaluate the case,” Noguez’s attorney said, while noting that he expects prosecutors to “proceed forward again at some level.”
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what course of action prosecutors plan to take.
Noguez, McNeil and Salari were charged in 2012 and had been awaiting trial on the case, pending the appellate court panel’s decision.
When the charges were filed, then-District Attorney Steve Cooley said, “Criminal charges filed against the assessor allege that instead of acting in the best interests of the citizens of Los Angeles County he turned his back on them to engineer assessment reductions for those who paid for favored treatment.”
Salari “is accused of bribing the assessor to win big tax breaks for his clients while lining the assessor’s pockets with cash,” Cooley said then, alleging that the assessor appointed McNeil as head of the Major Appraisal Division “to ensure that Salari’s clients got tax breaks, ranging in some cases to $150,000 or more per piece of property.”
When the case was filed, Noguez was on leave while investigators probed allegations that his office reduced property tax assessments in exchange for campaign contributions.
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