SANTA ANA — In an emotional plea, former Budget Director Ronald S. Rubino on Tuesday asked the Board of Supervisors to have taxpayers pick up his legal expenses as he defends himself against criminal charges stemming from his role in the county's bankruptcy.
"I came here today to tell you personally I did nothing wrong," Rubino told county supervisors during their public meeting. "I am also here to ask for your support for the county to provide funding for my defense. . . . I am fighting for my life, my reputation and my family. It is a fight I cannot afford to lose."
The board did not take any action on Rubino's request, but Supervisors William G. Steiner and Roger R. Stanton, who are having their bankruptcy-related legal bills paid by the county, expressed support for the former budget director.
"I have strong feelings on this," Steiner said. "I believe the county has an obligation to defend its employees."
County Executive Officer Jan Mittermeier said she is reviewing Rubino's request and will make a recommendation to the supervisors within a few weeks. Rubino is charged with aiding and abetting former Treasurer-Tax Collector Robert L. Citron's misappropriation of public funds. If convicted, he faces a maximum punishment of nine years in prison.
Rubino said the criminal charges against him were "a total shock" and have caused him "untold personal and professional difficulties." He said he already has depleted his savings defending himself in preliminary court matters and has had to borrow money from his brother.
After Rubino finished addressing the board, his 18-year-old daughter, Michele, stood at the lectern and also asked the supervisors to pay for her father's legal defense.
"I know my father did his job well, and did nothing illegal," said Michele Rubino, who is a freshman at the UC Santa Barbara. "My family cannot afford the tremendous legal fees needed to prove my father's innocence."
She said she fears she might have to drop out of college because of his legal expenses, and her younger sister fears that the family pets won't be fed.
Previously, county officials have drawn a distinction between civil and criminal matters when deciding whether to pay legal bills. Steiner, Stanton and county Auditor-Controller Steve E. Lewis are charged with civil misconduct accusations and are getting their legal bills paid. Citron and former Assistant Treasurer Matthew Raabe face criminal charges and have been denied the county's assistance. Raabe, however, was ultimately declared indigent and is having his legal bills paid by taxpayers.
Citron, whose risky investments plunged $1.64 billion in value forcing the county into bankruptcy Dec. 6, 1994, has pleaded guilty to the six felony counts against him, and is scheduled to be sentenced next month. He faces a maximum punishment of 14 years in prison.
On Tuesday, Rubino told the board he committed no wrongdoing and wants to clear his name.
"I have been thrown into a legal process which has a life of its own," said Rubino, who left the county nearly two years ago after being with county for 20 years.