NEWPORT BEACH — Former utilities director Robert J. Dixon on Friday pleaded not guilty to embezzling up to $1.8 million in city money.
His attorney, Stephan A. DeSales, told reporters that Dixon's "psychiatric condition" would be a major point in defending him.
Dixon, 47, is accused of diverting Newport Beach funds to his private use. He has been held in the Orange County Jail since his arrest Jan. 13.
Looking pale and haggard, Dixon briefly appeared before Harbor Municipal Judge Susanne S. Shaw for arraignment. He was returned to jail after entering his plea.
DeSales did not rule out the possibility of changing Dixon's plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. "It's premature to say," he told reporters. "The law on insanity has changed dramatically in California. But there is very clearly a deep psychiatric problem which has been going on with Mr. Dixon for a number of years. There's no question about that.
"We're developing sources of psychiatric information about him. We've come up with information from at least three other sources relative to his psychiatric condition, which goes back 20 years, and which we believe we'll be able to document. We think this will go a long way to perhaps explaining some of the allegations in this particular case."
Newport Beach officials are now alleging that Dixon embezzled up to $1.8 million from the city. When the case became public last month, officials indicated that $60,000 was missing. Later, the estimated loss grew to $1.2 million.
DeSales said Dixon will not attempt to raise the $500,000 bail set earlier by the court.
"We honestly think with respect to Mr. Dixon's personal emotional situation, and with the body of psychiatric information which we've developed and are developing on him, that it would be much better if he remained where he is," DeSales said. "It's a very hard choice, but I've discussed that with him."