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Roger Clinton Gets Fine and Probation in Plea Bargain

August 08, 2001|JEAN MERL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Roger Clinton, the younger half brother of former President Clinton, on Tuesday was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving in connection with his Feb. 17 arrest in Hermosa Beach.

Clinton, 44, did not appear in court in Torrance but, through his attorney, accepted the city's plea offer, thus avoiding trial on three other misdemeanor charges. Those charges, which were dropped as part of the plea bargain, involved disturbing the peace at a popular downtown nightclub and drunk driving.

According to the agreement approved by Judge Jesse I. Rodriguez, Clinton, who lives in Torrance, will be on probation for two years and must pay $1,351 in fines and costs. (About half can be worked off with 113 hours of community service if Clinton so chooses.)

Clinton agreed not to drive after drinking any amount of alcohol. He also must stay at least 100 yards away from the Lighthouse, where Clinton allegedly tried to pick a fight with a bouncer shortly before police pulled over his vehicle at 2:26 a.m. Police said he was driving erratically--improperly navigating two stop signs and straddling the center line--and failed two field sobriety tests and another test at police headquarters.

But prominent defense attorney Mark Geragos, whose clients have included former Los Angeles Councilman Arthur K. Snyder and Whitewater scandal figure Susan McDougal, said his client was set up because he is related to the former president. Geragos said there were audiotapes that bore evidence that Hermosa Beach officers had watched and discussed Clinton for nearly an hour before his arrest. Police denied the allegations, saying they were too busy on that typical weekend night to conduct a surveillance.

Rodriguez earlier had granted a defense bid to postpone the trial and ordered prosecutors to obtain the tapes. And Tuesday, Geragos continued to insist that the arrest was politically motivated. He cited the prosecution's willingness to drop the original three charges.

"Clearly they wouldn't have just had all three counts dismissed unless that was the case," Geragos told reporters as he left the courthouse, adding he and Clinton were "tickled pink" with the outcome.

City Prosecutor Kenneth Meersand, however, strongly disputed that interpretation. Meersand said he "bent over backward to be fair" and, after hearing of Geragos' remarks, wished the case could have gone to trial.

Meersand said he had decided to offer the plea bargain after evaluating the case, particularly the sobriety tests, which he said presented "potential problems," in part because they showed Clinton was at or just above the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08%.

He said that he believed Geragos could have "blown enough smoke" to stir doubt in at least one juror's mind and that he preferred to see Clinton plead guilty to one charge rather than risk losing the entire case. Meersand said the audiotapes "played no role" in his decision to offer a deal.

Meersand also said he was satisfied with the punishment, noting that the plea bargain effectively bans Clinton from the city's Pier Plaza bar scene for two years.

Tuesday's plea bargain is hardly the end of Clinton's legal troubles. He is being investigated for his role in several controversial pardons his brother made at the end of his presidency. Roger Clinton was the beneficiary of one such action, when President Clinton pardoned his brother's 1985 cocaine distribution offense, for which he had served a year in federal prison.

A musician and actor, Roger Clinton moved to the Los Angeles area about a decade ago. In 1998, a jury ordered him to pay a then-neighbor in Redondo Beach about $1,200 in medical bills and other costs after his dog attacked the neighbor's Rottweiler.

Meersand said he believes Clinton still must undergo a hearing before the state Department of Motor Vehicles before he can get back his license, which was suspended after the Hermosa Beach arrest.

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