Prosecutors and attorneys for Mayor Roger Hedgecock said Thursday that negotiations had broken down on an out-of-court settlement of the conspiracy and perjury charges against the mayor, but sources said that a plea bargain still could be reached, perhaps as early as today.
Michael Pancer, Hedgecock's criminal defense attorney, emerged at 6 p.m. from a long plea-bargaining session with Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller and said, "We're not discussing any plea bargain. I see no possibility of a plea bargain . . . I believe there will be a second trial, and we're going to get prepared for a second trial."
Miller and his top assistant, Asst. Dist. Atty. Richard D. Huffman, left the meeting a few minutes earlier with the same message. Huffman said the meeting--the fifth "readiness conference" called by Superior Court Judge Ross G. Tharp to work on a possible plea bargain--was their last negotiating session before Hedgecock is scheduled to appear at a court hearing Monday on a request by Pancer to be removed from the case.
"It implies we're going to go to trial, unless something changes, and I don't anticipate that it will," said Huffman.
Asked if there was any hope for a plea bargain, Huffman replied, "Not at this time."
Despite those statements, three sources close to the negotiations predicted there could be a settlement in the criminal case as early as today. The sources said that there will be pressure to come to an agreement because Tharp is scheduled to leave town in the afternoon.
The sources said any plea bargain of the criminal case also hinges on a settlement of the state Fair Political Practices Commission's (FPPC) $1.2-million civil lawsuit filed against Hedgecock and several supporters for alleged campaign contribution violations. Enough progress was made during Thursday's negotiations on the civil case to make a plea bargain in the criminal case possible, the sources said.
Thursday's discussions on the plea bargain broke down, the sources said, when prosecutors and Pancer could not agree on the sentencing that would result from a plea.
Pancer said late Thursday night he would not comment on the possibility of an agreement today. He said, "I stand by what I said when I left court."
The four hours of discussions Thursday were the most involved of the conferences held by Tharp in his chambers. It was the second long negotiating session in as many days between Miller and Pancer. Before attending a three-hour conference Wednesday at Tharp's request, the district attorney had delegated discussions with Pancer to Huffman.
Thursday's session grew even more complicated. The meeting included Dan Stanford, chairman of the FPPC, who flew from Sacramento at Tharp's request to see if he could hammer out a settlement in the lawsuit.
Others called to the conference by Tharp were J. Michael McDade, Hedgecock's chief of staff; Peter Q. Davis, president of the Bank of Commerce and treasurer for Hedgecock's 1983 election committee, and Leo Sullivan and John R. Wertz, attorneys defending Hedgecock in the FPPC suit.
Also included in the discussions were San Diego businessman Malin Burnham and banker Murray Galinson, two of the three local businessmen who have been trying independently to put together a plea bargain between Miller and Hedgecock. The number of people in the sessions number 12 or more.
Even after Pancer and the prosecutors left at 6 p.m., Stanford, McDade, Davis, Sullivan and Wertz continued meeting until 8 p.m. to negotiate a settlement to the FPPC suit.
It was unclear Thursday evening under what authority Tharp conducted discussions of the civil suit. The FPPC suit is assigned to Superior Court Judge Mack P. Lovett. Sources close to the plea-bargain negotiations have said any resolution in the criminal matter would hinge on whether the FPPC suit could be settled simultaneously.
"I don't know how this (the FPPC suit negotiations) ended up with Judge Tharp," Miller said after he left the courthouse Thursday. "How that got into the matter is unclear to me."
However, the main concern Thursday was clearly the criminal case facing Hedgecock. The mayor's first trial on 13 felony conspiracy and perjury counts ended in a mistrial Feb. 13 when the jury was deadlocked 11-1 for conviction.
The lopsided vote prompted prosecutors to press for a second trial, and they added two felony perjury charges and a misdemeanor count of conflict of interest. A trial date on all the charges has been set for May 8.
Hedgecock is scheduled to appear in court Monday at hearing before Superior Court Judge Barbara Gamer. Pancer has asked the court to be removed from the case because of commitments to other clients and because Hedgecock had no more money to pay him.
After the meeting Thursday, Pancer said he informed Hedgecock--presumably by telephone--that no plea bargain was possible. Asked for Hedgecock's reaction, Pancer said:
"There was really nothing to be disappointed about. . . . He feels very good about getting ready for a second trial."
Hedgecock could not be reached for comment Thursday night, and McDade declined comment.
Pancer predicted that Hedgecock would name a new defense attorney on Monday and added that a May 8 starting date for a second trial is unrealistic because "clearly the new counsel will not be ready."
Both Pancer and prosecutors were tight-lipped about what kept them from agreeing to a plea bargain.
Stanford, corralled by reporters as he left the courthouse for a waiting car, also was mum, except to say that the discussions ranged from being "at various times extremely pleasant" to at other times erupting into heated disagreements.
Staff Writer H.G. Reza contributed to this report.