An Orange County Superior Court judge on Friday dismissed multiple sex-related felony counts against former Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante, who still faces other felony and misdemeanor charges.
Left intact are two counts of false imprisonment and single counts of stalking, attempted sexual battery by restraint and grand theft — all felonies and misdemeanor counts of assault, battery, touching an intimate part of another person and attempted touching of an intimate part of another person.
The charges that Orange County Superior Court Judge John Conley dumped were counts that the prosecution refiled following the defendant’s preliminary hearing last May. Conley dismissed five felony counts of false imprisonment and three felony counts of assault with intent to commit a sex offense.
Conley’s rulings elicited testy exchanges between him and Deputy District Attorney Matt Lockhart, who, at one time, wondered aloud if the judge’s views on the allegations were “generational.”
Lockhart drew an admonishment from Conley when he said, “I can’t believe a woman is making this argument,” referring to Bustamante’s attorney, Gina Kershaw.
Lockhart and fellow prosecutor Aleta Bryant failed to convince the judge that felony false imprisonment counts were warranted against Bustamante for having multiple women come to his office when he worked as an executive for the county and hugging and trying to kiss them.
Lockhart repeatedly argued that “luring” a woman to an office to try to make a sexual advance on them rises to the level of a felony. Conley cited language in the law that defined felony false imprisonment as using “force greater than necessary for restraint.”
Conley said it was possible the allegations could be considered misdemeanor false imprisonment, but the statute of limitations has tolled on those claims.
In many of the cases, Bustamante’s accusers had consensual sex with him, but Lockhart argued that the status of the relationship between the two did not matter if the alleged victim said she did not welcome the defendant’s sexual advances.
“Maybe it’s a generational thing. I find this behavior to be shocking,” Lockhart told the judge.
“I don’t hold your lack of age against you, so don’t hold it against me,” Conley retorted.
When Bryant tried to make the same argument about the unacceptable nature of the defendant’s alleged behavior with his co-workers, Conley interrupted.
“Counsel, don’t tell me how bad the behavior is … I don’t appreciate the behavior,” the judge said. “I find it shocking this happened in the county of Orange … Just tell me is this a felony punishable by a state prison sentence.”
Conley dismissed a felony charge of false imprisonment effected by violence, menace, fraud or deceit that involved the defendant masturbating in front of his accuser while they were in a car together.
Referring to Conley’s unwillingness to discuss the details of the encounter, Lockhart said, “I think we have to talk about this. What could be more menacing to a woman than a guy ejaculating in a car and saying, ‘Look at what you’re doing to me?”‘
While discussing another allegation, Kershaw argued that the alleged victim “French kissed” the defendant for nearly a half-minute.
“I can’t believe a woman is making this argument,” Lockhart said.
Conley responded, “That kind of comment is unprofessional.”
Bustamante said after the hearing that he felt partly vindicated by Conley’s ruling.
“I haven’t even been able to tell my side of it,” he said. “Every single one of them I had a consensual relationship with … I just wish the D.A. had just done a much better job of investigating.”
Bustamante said listening to the testimony in the preliminary hearing and the prosecution’s arguments today was difficult for him.
“I just want to scream that didn’t happen,” Bustamante said. “I’m not a violent person.”
Bustamante questioned whether the district attorney’s prosecution was racially motivated.
“I’m a Hispanic politician in Orange County,” he said.
When pressed on why the District Attorney’s Office would prosecute the case for racial reasons, Bustamante said, “I’m trying to justify in my mind why the district attorney would waste millions of dollars in judges.”
Bustamante is also accused of stealing up to $4,029 in county funds by misleading co-workers into thinking he could use tuition reimbursement funds and expenses for meals to cover part of the costs of Harvard University’s Kennedy School training program. At a minimum, he stole $3,150, Deputy District Attorney Brock Zimmon alleged.
Bustamante, who was arrested in July 2012 while on his way to a Santa Ana City Council meeting, was accused by prosecutors of sexually assaulting seven women with whom he worked between 2003 and 2012 while he worked as an Orange County Public Works executive.
— City News Service