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Inzunza vows to return

Juror: Prosecution did its job well

Not long after being convicted of accepting illegal campaign contributions from strip club officials, councilman Ralph Inzunza steadfastly maintained his innocence.

The District 8 representative, standing in front of the courthouse with his wife by his side, pledged to fight the verdict.

"I want to let everyone know that I believe I have done nothing wrong," he said. "I believe everything I did was in the public's interest. I'm not going anywhere. I will be back."

Inzunza was found guilty of conspiracy, extortion and fraud along with fellow Councilman and acting mayor Michael Zucchet.

The government's case, which included countless hours of taped conversations between the councilmen and the other defendants, proved to be too overwhelming to overcome.

"It was very hard on all of us," said Niki Coates, one of the jurors who spoke afterward. "I feel for all the families involved. I have children the same age as the councilmen's children, but justice was done, and it was the right verdict."

Coates didn't cite any single piece of evidence that turned the case, saying it was more an accumulation of the facts presented during the course of the two-month trial.

"The prosecution did their job well," she said. "We had no other recourse but to find them guilty. The audios just don't lie."

Legal analysts gave the government high marks as well.

Gary Gibson, an adjunct professor at the California Western School of Law and a deputy public defender, thought it was a tough task to convict the councilmen.

"I guess my defense lawyer instincts kicked in," he said. "I started off with the premise that it's OK to give politicians money. It's a pretty high bar to hit that in this instance it was illegal. The prosecution must have done a masterful job."

The turbulent political climate in San Diego may have played a part in the verdict, Gibson added.

"People are predisposed that politicians are corrupt," he said. "People are predisposed that politicians make bad choices. People are predisposed that politicians don't do things for the public interest."

Attorneys for both defendants said they would appeal the decision while asking the judge for a motion of acquittal. Gibson said the chances of being successful on an appeal are remote, however.

"I think it's likely they'll serve some time," he said. "The question is how much and where."

Shaun Martin, a University of San Diego School of Law professor, said an appeal might not make a difference.

"Even if the appeals were successful, the political careers of these defendants are over forever," he said.

Martin was surprised that the jury, which deliberated for three days, came back so quickly with a decision.

"I thought it was a difficult case with a lot of evidence," he said. "And in high-profile cases, juries often take a lot of time."

Neither Inzunza nor Zucchet took the stand during the trial, causing some to question that strategy.

"I always thought one would take the stand," Gibson said. "There are two sides of the argument: Are you trying to sustain your freedom or your political viability? What's more important: Winning this case or winning the next election?"

Jerry Coughlan, Zucchet's attorney, continued to defend his client, claiming he was simply doing his job.

"Mr. Zucchet is a wonderful and an honest person," Coughlan said.

The reaction in City Hall was measured.

"My heartfelt thoughts go out to my colleagues and their families at this difficult time," said Councilwoman Toni Atkins, who has been named Mayor Pro Tem this week to fill the absence created by Zucchet. "This is truly discouraging news, and it is a sad day for all of San Diego."

"This makes a challenging time at City Hall all the more difficult," Councilman Jim Madaffer said.

The verdicts might serve as a cautionary tale for other politicians.

"At a minimum, they have to be very careful with who they get into bed with," Martin said. "The case would not be brought, and certainly not won, if Exxon Mobil was making the contributions and not a strip club."

But Martin quickly added that the verdicts won't end the current system of political finance.

"Anyone who hopes this will stop the influence of money on politicians is dreaming," he said. "It will have an affect on politicians' willingness to have contacts and take money from very unpopular people and very unpopular industries."

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