by Jane Fitzsimmons
Opening statements in a case involving felony grand theft and embezzlement began this morning, July 22, with Judge David Rosenberg presiding. Defendant Leona Jull, represented by defense counsel, Robbin Coker, faces serious charges in connection with her former employer, Fourth & Hope, a Woodland based non-profit centered on helping the homeless of Yolo County.
Jull, a former director of Fourth & Hope, allegedly spent more than 32,000 company dollars on personal expenditure. She is pleading not guilty to multiple counts. A dozen supporters were present in court today as Jull sat smiling softly, unperturbed throughout hours of condemning testimonies.
This afternoon, Board President Jean Jordan testified as one of Deputy District Attorney Jennifer McHugh’s key witnesses.
Allegations about Jull’s improper spending were made in late 2012, and, as Board President of Fourth & Hope, Ms. Jordan felt obligated to begin a human resources investigation. She perused Jull’s cell phone bills, credit card statements, personal files, and “many, many documents,” which led her to the firm conclusion that “policies were in violation.”
McHugh asked Jordan to elaborate about the defendant’s phone bills. She replied, “With regard to Jull’s bill, there were numbers that didn’t belong to employers, such as the daughter of Ms. Jull’s boyfriend. Her bill exceeded $500… it was a quarter of the monthly expenditures. She had international calls, games, ringtones…”
McHugh handed Jordan a document, People’s number 62 for identification, then queried, “Looking at the document where purchases were made, did Fourth & Hope have dealings in all of those cities?”
Jordan took a minute to scan the document and think about her response. “I’m not aware of any business in Coalinga or Napa… There are indications of Dunnigan, Bakersfield, Sonora… I’m not aware of business in any of those places… Monterey-Santa Cruz area, Browns Valley, Vacaville, Redding… New York or Atlanta… There may have been some conferences in these places I’m not aware of, but…”
“Do you have any experience with law enforcement?”
“Yes,” Jordan confirmed, identifying 10 years as a prosecutor and four years in criminal defense. In a change of pace and with the direction of DDA McHugh, she admitted, “We were aware [Ms. Jull] was going to several events.”
“Did Ms. Jull’s boyfriend attend any of these events?”
“He went on four of those trips… an employer informed me.”
“And does Fourth & Hope own a pool?”
“Not that I’m aware of, no.”
Another document was handed to Ms. Jordan by McHugh, and she began to read the content out loud following a question posed by McHugh. “Objection! Lack of foundation,” interrupted Robbin Coker.
“Sustained,” nodded Judge Rosenberg, and he continued, “The question was: Were expenditures and purchases authorized?” “No,” Jordan acknowledged.
McHugh had no further questions and Coker began cross-examination of the witness. “You investigated Ms. Jull, yes?”
Board President Jean Jordan cleared her throat. “Initially, yes.”
“Because you were the Board President?”
“I believe you said that,” Coker probed.
“When Ms. Jull left, I became President. The board asked me to conduct an investigation.”
“What is the date of the memorandum?”
With some hesitation, Jordan stated, “February 28, 2013.”
“And you prepared it?” Coker was casual in her approach.
“When Ms. Jull resigned in March 2013, she was still employed, was she not?” “On Monday the 27th, we asked Ms. Jull to give us her keys and credit card. She was on paid leave of absence, but she was relieved of her duties.”
“You indicated that you had contacted a cell phone number from Jull’s bill–“
“I personally did not,” Jordan interjected, “but someone did it in my presence.”
“Do you recall that you told Detective Elliott you made the phone call on March 20, 2013?”
“I don’t recall. I’ve never seen that statement.”
Coker changed angles. “You mentioned that Fourth & Hope has a finance committee. Who’s on it?”
“At the time, it was Sarah Robinson, from the bank, and another gentleman — a lawyer, but I can’t remember his name since he is no longer on the board.”
“Did Fourth & Hope have company cars?”
After a pause, Jordan began her sentence with, “Um,” then replied, “There was one company car at the time, a van meant to transport clients. Maybe another car, but I’m not sure. We don’t have any company cars at this time.”
“Could there have been meetings in Napa or Vacaville that you’re not aware of?”
“Sure,” Jordan relented.
“Is there a policy of the company that includes 55 cents per mile reimbursement?”
“Yes. It applies to anyone employed by the organization.”
“Your Honor, I have no further questions,” was Coker’s response after shuffling through her notes for several seconds.
On re-direct, McHugh clarified with Jordan that, as an employee of Fourth & Hope, you can be reimbursed for gas money, but the trip has to be for business purposes. Coker, on re-cross, asked Jordan about gas cards that Fourth & Hope gave its employees.
“Yes, I remember them, but it was a couple years ago, before I worked there. I remember Chris Gutierrez used a gas card.”
“You stated in the hearing that it was NOT the board’s role to review credit card statements of Fourth & Hope, did you not?”
“Unless there’s a problem,” retorted Jordan. “Our assumption was that Ms. Jull was following the policies. It’s Ms. Jull’s duty to follow policy. It’s the responsibility of the executive director to make sure employees are following the policy. We did not look into daily, weekly, monthly credit card purchases of employees unless called into question.”
Coker had nothing further and DDA McHugh agreed that the witness could be excused, but at Judge Rosenberg’s prompting, a juror delivered a handwritten question to the bailiff. Rosenberg and the attorneys met at the sidebar, concluding that the question was permissible. McHugh read it before the court, “Was there a defined compensation package for directors?”
“Yes,” asserted Jordan. “Salary and benefits, and a raise.”
Ms. Coker stood up, “Now I have another question — Was it in writing anywhere?”
Jordan answered, “I believe so. I don’t recall what’s in her personal file.”
A follow up question by the juror was begun, but Coker objected to it and her objection was sustained.
After a short recess, another witness was brought to the stand — Sarah Robinson, a board member from December 2011 until early 2014. Robinson has known Ms. Jull on a personal level for 13-14 years since their kids played sports together, and they know each other professionally through Fourth & Hope. Robinson served on the finance committee, and had/has alternate employment at American West as the VP bank manager.
“When did Ms. Jull leave the board?” wondered McHugh.
After some confusion and encouragement by Judge Rosenberg, Robinson decided, “I began to review credit card statements in June 2012 before Ms. Jull left. Ms. Jull left in March 2013.”
McHugh asked, “Who decides who’s on the board?”
“Well, you’re commonly approached by board members, then your name is voted on by the members. That’s how it worked for me. Leona and Chris approached me to get on the board.”
“When you joined, was there a credit card policy?”
“Not until this problem arose,” Robinson sighed.
McHugh solicited, “Why did you want to look at Ms. Jull’s receipts?”
“When I joined, I learned that expense reporting was not being done. The finance committee wanted to change that. Brad emailed the credit card procedure, and Leona reviewed it, but it was not implemented.”
“Why was it not implemented?”
“I don’t know why it wasn’t. The executive director never implemented the procedure.”
“Did Ms. Jull turn in receipts on a regular basis?”
“No. We had to ask her for actual credit card statements for 3 months.”
“Did you explain to Ms. Jull why you felt the procedure was necessary?”
“I spoke about transparency. On the phone, I explained that we need to be as transparent as possible since we depend on the public for support. I brought up a previous director that got in trouble.”
“Did you ever speak to Ms. Jull about how gas should be tracked?”
“Yes. I mentioned 55 cents per mile.”
“Is it within company policy to buy AAA for your personal vehicle?”
“Absolutely not!” Robinson reacted before Ms. Coker could object, but her objection was sustained and Judge Rosenberg asked the jury to dismiss the last question and Robinson’s answer.
On cross, Coker demanded, “Who was working on the credit card policy with you?”
“We all wanted to change the procedure after reviewing credit card expenses. Items were being bought that should not have been.””
“We?” Judge Rosenberg broke in.
Robinson apologized, “Sorry. The finance committee.”
“Who would implement the credit card policy?” Coker advanced.
“The executive director.”
Judge Rosenberg broke in again, “Is there any reason why the credit card policy was not implemented?”
“It wasn’t done the right way. The executive director is responsible for approving the procedure. We asked and kept asking, but the executive director prepares the board packets. A gentleman left because he was upset with–“
“Objection! Non-responsive!” Judge Rosenberg seemed to anticipate the objection as he nodded to Coker, “Sustained.”
“Is it the finance committee’s only job to advise the executive director?” Judge Rosenberg then pressed, disbelieving.
“No, but she didn’t listen to our direction… the finance committee’s direction.”
Sarah Robinson was handed a document with credit card policies and an email “that Brad drafted,” listed under People’s number 67-69. Coker asked Robinson to announce to the court what was in front of her, but Robinson was confused by the prompt. “Do you want me to read the email? The date? What?”
“All of it. Just the first page”
“The date is August 21. It’s an email from Brad to Leona.” The content of the email was not read.
“Were all individuals on the finance committee emailed?” Coker inquired.
“I’m not sure. There have been a lot of changes. I’d have to look.”
“That’s okay. What is the job of the finance committee?”
“When I joined, the finance committee just looked at things like profit and loss, balance sheets… but no expense reporting at the time.”
“I have nothing further,” Coker retreated.
On re-direct, McHugh asked why Robinson felt expense reporting was important. “We felt funds were not being spent properly,” was the response.
“Do you have an example?” McHugh pried.
“Ms. Jull and a few other board members went on a Las Vegas trip for a convention that included an expensive dinner at the Bellagio. Ms. Jull brought her boyfriend on the trip. We felt there should be an allowance.”
On a quick re-cross, Coker asked, “Did you approve the convention?”
Robinson was forced to admit, “Yes.” The witness was excused.
A third witness was called on the afternoon of July 22 — Rebecca Robinson. She served on the board of directors for Fourth & Hope for five years. In October of 2009, Rebecca Robinson was present during a monthly board meeting that shed light on $15,000 of indebtedness that had been accumulated on 4-5 credit cards. The board asked for receipts of credibility to explain these unknown expenditures. “We asked Leona to provide them,” announced Robinson. “She never did. I don’t know why.”
Defense Coker then began her line of questioning for the witness. “Were board meetings recorded?” “Yes.”
“And minutes kept?”
“Our secretary, Leona, was supposed to track minutes.”
At this point, Judge Rosenberg interjected, instructing the jury to not consider information provided from 2009 as the truth, but as “state of mind” and nothing else. This is undoubtedly because incidents that may have occurred in 2009 are not relevant to the charges in question. With Rosenberg’s instructions having been made, Coker and McHugh had no further questions and the witness was excused.
Court was adjourned early on July 22 in Department 4 of the Woodland Superior Court. The trial will continue tomorrow morning at 9:00AM and is predicted to conclude for jury deliberation by Friday of this week.