Joseph Felz
Former Fullerton City Manager Joseph Felz. Archive image: City of Fullerton

Former Fullerton city manager Joe Felz pleaded guilty Tuesday to a “wet reckless” charge and was immediately sentenced to 40 hours of community service stemming from a crash on election night in November 2016.

Felz admitted one misdemeanor count of reckless driving involving alcohol. Two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence and hit-and-run with property damage were dismissed.

Felz was placed on three years of informal probation and ordered to participate in a three-month alcohol program for first offenders and pay restitution to the city, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

In the early morning hours of Nov. 9, 2016, Felz’s car jumped a curb and slammed into a tree. Police tracked Felz down near the crash scene, but he did not immediately stop, prosecutors said.

Felz received a ride home from police, which is being investigated by prosecutors in a separate case.

Prosecutors were at a unique disadvantage in the case because police who responded to the scene did not do all of the field sobriety tests or check his blood-alcohol level with a breathalyzer or from a blood draw, Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh.

“The police sergeant concluded he was not under the influence and drove him home,” Baytieh said. “We were at a disadvantage because it’s not like we can take his blood or do a breath test.”

Prosecutors had an expert view police-camera video of the sobriety tests to determine Felz was under the influence, Baytieh said.

Felz got a stiffer sentence than most first-time “wet reckless” defendants, and even first-time DUI offenders, Baytieh said. Community service is unusual in either conviction, he added.

Former Orange County District Attorney investigator Abe Santos alleged in a claim filed with the county in July that Felz told a responding officer he was the city manager and to call then-Chief Dan Hughes, who has since taken an executive security job at Disneyland.

Santos claimed Hughes sent Sgt. Jeff Corbett to give Felz a ride home because the chief could count on Corbett to handle the matter discreetly as Hughes allegedly gave Corbett a break after the sergeant was caught having sex in his police vehicle while on duty.

Santos also concluded that Hughes had “obstructed justice” and told his boss,  Baytieh, that he was concerned the DUI and obstruction of justice allegations would be hushed up.

“ADA Baytieh’s response was, ‘I am friends with Chief Hughes and we are only going to be investigating the DUI and not anything else,”‘ according to Santos.

Baytieh declined to comment on specifics of the internal investigation, but said Santos’ claim was “duly investigated by the county and was rejected.”

Baytieh said it was “completely untrue and baseless” that his office resisted any investigation.

Santos’ attorney, Joel Baruch, said he had to file an amended complaint with the county, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, which covers “events that have happened since the last claim was rejected.”

–City News Service

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