A new judge presiding over the cases against more than a dozen defendants facing various charges of corruption in multiple South County school and college districts has pushed back the defendants’ arraignment dates once again.
Most defendants in the case were scheduled for arraignment Friday in Department 16 of the San Diego Superior Court’s South County branch in Chula Vista. But having just been assigned to the case, Judge Ana Espana ruled in favor of delaying the proceedings so as to familiarize herself with the case. Normally hearing cases in neighboring Department 15, Espana issued the continuance from the seat usually filled by Judge Stephanie Sontag, who announced to the court Friday morning that she had assigned the case out.
Defense attorney Jim Fitzpatrick, representing defendant Manuel Paul -- a San Ysidro School District governing board member, said the continuance was to be expected.
“Department 16 is really an assignment department, so at some point we knew that Judge Sontag would assign us to a particular judge, to a particular department, for all purposes,” Fitzpatrick said.
He said he expects all scheduled arraignments to go forward as scheduled by Espana on April 12.
Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr said the prosecution team was ready to move forward, but did not object to the decision.
Also rescheduled to be heard April 12 was a joint motion from all the defense attorneys in the cases to keep the transcripts of grand jury testimony leading to the indictments sealed. The defense attorneys hope to keep those records sealed to prevent details of the testimony from becoming public before a jury is convened.
The continuance on the arraignments marks the second delay in proceedings since their relocation to the South County branch in January. They were previously postponed due to a motion to return the cases to the downtown San Diego branch of the San Diego Superior Court.
Defendants in the cases are accused of various felony connections to the awarding of contracts by school officials following the alleged receipt of undocumented gifts from contractors and others associated with the contracts.
In addition to Paul, the defendants include one other San Ysidro School District board member; four active board members at Sweetwater Union High School District; Jeff Flores, the president of Seville Construction Services; five former Southwestern College officials; former Sweetwater Union board member Greg Sandoval; Sweetwater Union’s former superintendent Jesus Gandara; and bond underwriter Gary Cabello.