Assessor John Tuteur is officially free of the threat of removal from his elected office stemming from 2017-18 grand jury charges of “corrupt or willful misconduct.”
Napa County Superior Court Judge Mark Boessenecker on Thursday dismissed the case. He had said during a Nov. 9 hearing that he was inclined to take this action, but had some concerns with the wording of the dismissal order submitted by Tuteur’s attorney.
Tuteur on Thursday said the state Attorney General’s Office submitted a dismissal order and that is what Boessenecker signed.
“It’s unfortunate this process took place,” Tuteur said. “I’m glad it’s over. The time and money spent was wasted, but the results are what I had hoped for and expected.”
Court hearings in the Tuteur case lacked drama, given the accusations, Tuteur’s defense and the Attorney General’s Office response all came through court filings. Several hearings focused for the most part on whether the grand jury had to release investigative materials and transcripts.
Even the Nov. 9 hearing that focused on the charges themselves proved short and without tensions, given the Attorney General’s Office had already decided the evidence presented to the grand jury didn’t warrant prosecution.
The grand jury made four accusations against Tuteur last March after an Assessor’s Office employee approached the grand jury with complaints against Tuteur.
One grand jury charge involved a 2008 error assessing a cell tower lease on the Tuteur family’s south Napa County ranch. The Assessor’s Office found the error in 2016. The grand jury accused Tuteur of failing to pay $20,000 in back property taxes.
Tuteur’s defense said the chief appraiser continued working on the complicated corrections until this year. The ultimate back tax ended up being $1,453.
The dismissal order says the count “fails to allege willful misconduct by the defendant and is not supported by sufficient admissible evidence.”
Other accusations involved how Tuteur has administered the state’s Williamson Act, which provides a tax break to farm owners in exchange for keeping land in agriculture.
For example, 80 percent of vineyard property owners and 40 percent of grazing land owners failed to return complete questionnaires with agricultural income information in 2016. Tuteur failed to take action to make these Williamson Act beneficiaries comply, the grand jury charged.
The dismissal order says the count “fails to allege a mandatory duty of the defendant and is not supported by sufficient admissible evidence.” It uses similar language for the remaining two counts.
Tuteur has been Napa County Assessor since 1987 and won another four-year term last June. The office also includes the Recorder/County Clerk office that has Tuteur overseeing elections as the Registrar of Voters.
The grand jury also brought up Williamson Act issues in a separate report not involving the Tuteur charges. The county Board of Supervisors disagreed that the agricultural tax breaks have lax local oversight, cost taxpayers and do little to buttress existing laws protecting wine country farmland from development.