Eye on the Courts: Prosecutors Don’t Want to Let Jull Verdict Go

Yolo-Count-Court-Room-600It has been over a month since Leona Jull, accused of more than $30,000 worth of embezzlement from Fourth and Hope, copped to a misdemeanor plea over the objections of Deputy DA Jennifer McHugh. Judge David Rosenberg accepted this plea, following the jury remaining deadlocked.

Ms. McHugh did not take well to the judge’s decision at the time and now has filed a motion to get the judge to reconsider it, calling the decision allowing Ms. Jull to plead to a misdemeanor to be outside “the bounds of reason.”

“The people do not believe this is a misdemeanor,” she said, as reported by the Daily Democrat. “Jull was given a position of incredible trust and unlimited access to money meant for the most vulnerable people in our community.”

She was not alone in her indignation. Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven was quoted as stating, “We are disappointed that the court unilaterally resolved this case by allowing the defendant to plead to the felony count charged with a promise that he would immediately reduce it to a misdemeanor.”

He added, “It was the people’s intent to retry this case to achieve the felony conviction, which we have always believed was justified.”

The likelihood that Judge Rosenberg, a veteran judge who has spent more than a decade on the bench, will change his ruling remains small. The decision by Judge Rosenberg is actually quite rare in this county. You rarely will see a judge overrule the prosecution on a plea agreement.

The motion gives some insight into the jury thinking, as they hung 6-6. According to the prosecution, the jury told both attorneys that they had agreed that Ms. Jull committed embezzlement on at least four items, totaling over $1000, “but could not agree on whether there was a common intent and scheme to embezzle the items, an issue not argued by defense counsel.”

In order to prove felony conduct, the jury not only had to find that the defendant deprived the lawful owner, in this case the non-profit and its clients, of the property, but had the specific intent to do so.

But the prosecution misses a key point. I watched the closing arguments. I didn’t see the trial, but when I came out of those closing arguments, I told people the verdict could go either way. As it turns out, the jury itself was split down the middle 6-6.

Judge Rosenberg explained his reasoning for accepting the misdemeanor plea.

He said California law allowed for good faith as a legal defense for grand theft, even if the good faith was to some degree mistaken or unreasonable. That is, a jury could accept the defense that the defendant stole only because she thought she had a right to the money or goods, as long as such belief was not completely unreasonable.

He said that the policies and procedures were amorphous and loose. Interestingly enough, he bought into the no credit card policy defense. Therefore, he felt that the misdemeanor grand theft charge was fair.

The ruling by Judge Rosenberg allowed the organization to move on and rebuild. Ms. Jull is not a threat to the public or the community. In taking the plea agreement Judge Rosenberg also cited Jull’s lack of a criminal record as well as her decade of service to the homeless as other reasons for reducing the charge.

There were a whole host of items that Ms. Jull was accused of using funds from Fourth and Hope to purchase. But Judge Rosenberg heard this all come out during the trial – is Judge Rosenberg likely to change his mind now?

But there is more here. The People are moving now not only to reinstate the felony charge, but also to have Ms. Jull pay restitution on the prosecution’s claims of $38,749 rather than the $2,411 that Judge Rosenberg imposed back in July.

This gets into strange legal arguing, because Ms. McHugh is arguing in her motion that Ms. Jull should pay back the entire amount, despite the fact that the prosecution did not prove all of the expenses at trial.

She argued, “However, even if such purchases were not presented because they cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, the victim is still entitled to restitution for those thefts.”

She also attempts to shift the burden of proof, arguing that Ms. Jull failed to show that the expenses “were legitimate and approved purchases.” Ms. McHugh argues, “Until the defendant shows proof, in the form of receipts or other documentary evidence, that these were approved purchases, the victim is entitled to full restitution.”

While some of this is new, most of it is rehashed from evidence available to Judge Rosenberg at the trial. The jury clearly was not convinced by this evidence and neither was Judge Rosenberg.

Ms. McHugh argued, “She was stealing money meant to feed and clothe the homeless people in our community. This money came from grants and from donations of Yolo County citizens. The defendant was given a incredible amount of trust which she then abused for her own benefit. This was more than a simple oversight or misunderstanding.”

She would add, “The fact that the defendant made many positive things happen while she was the executive director does not excuse the violation of the trust placed in her.”

At the same time, it is time for Ms. Jull and the organization to move on. Ms. Jull has to rebuild her life and reputation and Fourth & Hope must do the same to regain community trust. The organization has lost grant funding, donations, and employees in the last year, and they have had to cut back by 50 percent on staff.

The prosecution seems unlikely to prevail in this motion, but threatens to drag this out further and that really appears to be in no one’s best interest.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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16 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    ” “However, even if such purchases were not presented because they cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, the victim is still entitled to restitution for those thefts.””

    Fascinating. Ms.McHugh seems to have totally abandoned a basic tenet of our legal system “innocent until proven guilty” and moved to what seems to be a common prosecutorial stance, “guilty because I say so”. It would seem to me that enforcing our current laws, one might also believe in one’s own responsibility to prosecute only to the extent of what you yourself can prove beyond a reasonable doubt instead of prolonging the disruption of the lives of the accused and victims solely on the basis of your own failure to provide sufficient evidence to convict of charges decided upon by the prosecution.

    1. Offering Balance

      “Fascinating. Ms.McHugh seems to have totally abandoned a basic tenet of our legal system “innocent until proven guilty” and moved to what seems to be a common prosecutorial stance, “guilty because I say so”. ”

      Restitution hearings may have a different burden of proof. That may be why this is being argued.

      1. Davis Progressive

        the da has the burden to establish that the defendant owes the money. it makes it more tricky in a case where the jury deadlocked and the defendant copped to a plea. moreover the da has to overcome the fact that the judge already ruled a particular way.

  2. Offering Balance

    “She also attempts to shift the burden arguing that Ms. Jull failed to show that the expenses “were legitimate and approved purchases.” Ms. McHugh, argues, “Until the defendant shows proof, in the form of receipts or other documentary evidence, that these were approved purchases, the victim is entitled to full restitution.””

    Is she right or wrong here. If she is right it would not seem like strange legal reasoning.

    “The prosecution seems unlikely to prevail in this motion, but threatens to drag this out further and that really appears to be in no one’s best interest.”

    Even if the misdemeanor doesn’t get increased but some additional restitution is returned it is clearly in someones best interest. It is in the best interest of the most vulnerable among us, the homeless. Jull victimized those who rarely have a voice and are often overlooked by society. An additional $30,000 could go a long way to feed the needy.

    I wonder if the homeless and hungry want the DA’s office to let go of $30,000 worth of food or warm clothes.

  3. Tia Will

    Offering Balance

    “I wonder if the homeless and hungry want the DA’s office to let go of $30,000 worth of food or warm clothes.”

    And I wonder, in the grand scheme of things, if we might not be able to provide far more than $30,000 dollars worth of food or warm clothes if our DA’s office were not in the habit of wasting large amounts of tax payer money trying and re trying cases that they were unable to prove as charged in the first place.

    1. Offering Balance

      I would prefer to let the DA’s office keep the 30K to go after those, like Jull, who victimize the defenseless. Here you have someone who used money for the homeless to pay for her daughters cell phone bill, traffic tickets, and couches. I’m OK with going after her for the remaining 30K IF it is allowable under the law.

  4. Tia Will

    Offering Balance

    I do not have strong feelings about this case one way or the other from the evidence as presented on the Vanguard since there seem to have been problems at many levels within this organization for determining what was and what was not legitimate expense which could be claimed.

    However, I will stand by my statement regarding the Yolo County DAs office over reaching and retrying on multiple cases over the few years that I have been following the cases on Court Watch. This does represent money that I feel would be best spent elsewhere.

  5. Antoinnette

    The actual amount she spent on herself came down to very little, over 2$ grand…the rest was not proven she embezzled for personal use.

    Ms. Jull did work an over abundance of 8 hours a day, although paid very well, don’t believe she willfully intended to take from the homeless….sometimes the temptation to do something you know you shouldn’t can overtake us but we just didn’t hear enough evidence either way.

    I am pretty darn sure there is Not a snowsball chance in you-know-where, that Judge Rosenberg will change the charge..he made it abundantly clear to DDA that he was NOT going to make her pay back the 30 grand…and he was pretty serious!

    His reasoning did make sense….but I can understand both sides…although, yes, it may be a waste of time and money all the way around.

    Don’t we have enough serious cases to try? lol…Why not go after someone who committed a far more serious crime?

    Her ruined reputation might be enough to satisfy most…..I am sure she has a big enough battle there..

    1. justme

      There are some of us who see this as a much more serious crime than you do…

      “The actual amount she spent on herself came down to very little, over 2$ grand…the rest was not proven she embezzled for personal use.”

      How many meals for the homeless would that “very little” 2,000.00 have fed????????????

      I work many hours also but would NEVER even think to pay my childs cell phone or boyfriends boat battery with employers money!!!!!

      She needs to be held accountable and pay EVERYTHING back!!!!

      1. Antoinnette

        Understood…@justme…many of us would not think of doing such, just making the point that the other money allegedly owed was not proven well enough for a jury, obviously??

        Too, if Ms. Jull actually raised the amount of donations given on a yearly basis…do you really think the homeless suffered much?

        Do the math…1million minus 2,000…..however, no matter what still a crime…just not felony one to me???

        Although, by law it could be…but the judge didn’t feel so…his ruling.

  6. theotherside

    Sounds to me that the DA is not so worried about what charge the defendant is convicted on, misdemeanor v felony. Rather the amount of restitution she owes.

    Interesting, that some of you are so anti YDA that you would side with the person accused of using her position to take from those that need it the most…especially since she was “paid very well”. As a representative of the people, it is Ms McHugh’s obligation to seek all the restitution she can for the victim. Remember everyone…Jull is not the victim here.

      1. theotherside

        OK, and I think that if Jull were ordered to re-pay the entire amount she stole, the People would be content with a misdemeanor plea. But common sense would dictate both parts of the motion.

    1. Antoinnette

      @theotherside….personally, not Anti-DA at all…I just believe we have bigger fish to fry, don’t you?

      I bet it will take a whole more than 2,000 dollars to take her back to trial, correct?

      Let’s use the funding for testing evidence that is so imperative to either convict or aquitt…or the putting away of murderers, child molesters, rapists, drug dealers…elder abuse, child abusers…etc….

      Once again…I would bet a ruined reputation amongst her church friends and the like is a great punishment in itself…no one hurt worse more than the Lord when we do bad things….sin…

      I respect the Judge Rosenberg’s decision…

      1. theotherside

        Sure, let’s take the DA’s budget and give it to social programs. We won’t prosecute “minor” offenses since everyone will be getting paid by the government. We’ll sit back and watch the crime rate plummet. Before long we will be living in a utopia where money doesn’t exist and everyone shares. I like it, you have my vote.

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