An Irvine attorney who tried to frame a school volunteer for drug possession by planting drugs in her car in retaliation for a perceived insult to his then-6-year-old son was sentenced Friday to six months in jail and three years probation.
Kent Easter, 40, was also ordered to perform 100 hours of community service for his Sept. 10 conviction for false imprisonment by fraud and deceit.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals gave Easter credit for 76 days already served in jail. Easter was also ordered to stay away from the victim and her family, with the exception of proceedings related to a lawsuit the woman filed against him.
Easter’s 41-year-old wife, Jill, pleaded guilty last year on the eve of her trial for playing a role in the smear attempt and was sentenced to 120 days in jail and 100 hours of community service. She was disbarred Thursday, and Kent Easter told the judge he expects to lose his license soon.
On Feb. 16, 2011, school volunteer Kelli Peters was detained by Irvine police. Police found a marijuana pipe, Vicodin and Percocet in Peters’ car and questioned her, but officers quickly grew suspicious of the allegations and turned their attention to the Easters.
The conflict between Peters and the Easters started a year earlier, when Jill Easter went to pick up her then-6-year-old son after classes at Plaza Vista School in Irvine, but he couldn’t be found right away.
Jill Easter grew enraged when Peters said the boy was “slow,” meaning he lagged when it was time to line up with the other children, Deputy District Attorney Chris Duff said. Jill Easter took the comment as an insult to her son’s intelligence, he said.
The dispute culminated with the drug-planting and Kent Easter calling police, using a fake Indian accent and giving the dispatcher a false name.
During the sentencing hearing, Goethals criticized the defense theory that Easter did not know drugs were planted on the victim’s car when he called police to report Peters’ erratic driving and drug possession.
“Why did you give that crazy name?” Goethals said.
The judge said Easter was a high-powered attorney who could have used his influence to demand action against Peters if he truly believed she was driving while intoxicated.
“Get the cops over there to arrest her instead of making up that crazy name and using that crazy accent,” Goethals said. “The jury saw through that and that is why you’re sitting there.”
The judge also lashed out at the defendant for embarrassing the legal profession.
“As an officer of the court, you did the worst possible thing you could do — you worked to corrupt this system,” Goethals said.
“In a perfect world, a world of absolute justice, I would probably send you to prison largely as a statement of disgust at what you and your wife did,” Goethals said.
But he said due to prison overcrowding, such a move might lead to the release of a more dangerous inmate.
A representative of the Irvine Police Department read a statement from Peters to the judge, explaining how the conflict with the Easters affected her family. Peters said she was threatened “with a daily regimen of bullying and harassment.”
The Easters tried to get Peters’ daughter kicked out of school and tried to get her booted from the PTA, she said.
“I actually started to fear for my life and the life of my daughter,” she said.
Peters said she was humiliated when she was detained by police, and even after police focused their investigation to the Easters, many people still eyed her with suspicion.
“My life was literally spinning out of control,” she said. “… I was so humiliated and I will never forget that feeling of helplessness.”
Kent Easter’s attorney, Thomas Bienert Jr., unsuccessfully argued for a new trial, contending that Duff “sandbagged” him during closing arguments when he raised a last-minute contention that phone records showed the Easters were near Peters’ home when the drugs were planted in her PT Cruiser.
Bienert noted that the jury foreman told a City News Service reporter that the phone-record argument helped convict the defendant.
Goethals said Bienert should have objected at the time. He also said the case came down to whether jurors believed Easter’s testimony and that based on how fast they convicted him — one hour — it was clear they did not find him credible.
—City News Service
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