The arraignment of four people accused of rigging bids in the Orange Unified School District was delayed Thursday until Aug. 21 after their attorneys said they needed more time to study police documents in the case.
Steven Presson, former maintenance supervisor for the district; his wife, Elizabeth, and two Orange contractors, William A. Gustafson and Ronald Brock, are accused of taking part in the 1979-84 bid-rigging scheme.
According to the indictment, the rigging diverted public money so that the Pressons could benefit from kickback gifts and services from the contractors.
The four were indicted by the Orange County Grand Jury in late March. Their appearance in Superior Court to hear the charges was postponed when defense lawyers said they needed more time to study the thousands of documents assembled by the district attorney's office and the Orange Police Department during a two-year investigation.
Judge Myron Brown agreed to the new arraignment date of Aug. 21.
By coincidence, a hearing is also scheduled in Brown's court Aug. 21 for three Orange Unified School District board members accused of "willful misconduct" in office. The board members are accused of being so lax in performing their duties that the bids could be rigged, according to the grand jury.
The accusation against the board members is a civil action taken under a seldom-used state law. The accusation, if proven in a jury trial, would require the judge to dismiss the board members.
Four Orange Unified board members were accused of "willful misconduct" by the grand jury. They are Eleanore Pleines, Joe Cherry, Robert J. Elliott and Ruth C. Evans. However, Pleines resigned from the board, effective July 17, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Martin Engquist said she no longer must face trial with the others.
"I don't know if any of the other three plan to resign," Engquist said outside court Thursday. "I do want to move the trial (for the board members) along as quickly as possible. Assuming that the grand jury charges against them are true, these people should not be allowed to remain in public office."
The board members are not accused of knowing about or benefiting in any way from rigging. But the grand jury accused the board members of failing to follow state-required procedures for checking on bids and contract work. Negligence in school board duties constituted "willful misconduct," according to the grand jury.
No figure has been made public on how much the Pressons, Gustafson and Brock allegedly benefited from rigged contracts and kickbacks, as charged by the grand jury. But the district attorney's office has said that at least $3 million in contracts were involved during the five years of alleged bid rigging.
In Thursday's brief hearing, Diane Presson asked for and got a public defender. She said she could not afford a private attorney. Her husband is represented by a private attorney, as are Brock and Gustafson.