Assessor John Tuteur walked out of Napa County Superior Court with the cloud of possible removal from office, though not officially gone, rapidly dispelling.
Judge Mark Boessenecker said he’s inclined to dismiss the accusations of “willful or corrupt misconduct” by the 2017-18 grand jury against Tuteur. But the wording on paperwork describing the reasons for dismissal must be finalized.
Boessenecker during Friday’s hearing set the next court date on Nov. 19, with that hearing to be canceled if he grants the order for dismissal before then.
The state Attorney General’s Office would prosecute the case to remove Tuteur from elected office, if the case moves forward. But the Attorney General’s Office last month decided not to oppose Tuteur’s request for dismissal. Deputy Attorney General Caroline Chen held to that view during Friday’s hearing.
After leaving the courtroom Tuteur said he felt “wonderful,” despite the slow-motion court case conclusion.
“This is one of the highlights of my 40-year career, to be able to withstand unfounded accusations and show my service to the public has always been above-board,” Tuteur said.
Indeed, since the charges surfaced last March Tuteur has been energetic and upbeat during public appearances, whether he’s addressing the Board of Supervisors on assessor matters or, as the county clerk, urging young people at a high school to vote. He hasn’t looked like a man with a sword hanging over his head.
“It’s actually been an invigorating process,” Tuteur said.
Before Friday’s hearing, Tuteur sat on a bench in the courthouse lobby and chatted briefly with a grand jury member. The Assessor’s Office employee who brought the accusations against Tuteur to the grand jury watched the short court hearing.
One of the grand jury charges said Tuteur in 2008 performed an assessment of his income stream from a cell tower lease on family property. That represented a conflict of interest.
In addition, Tuteur made a mistake in the assessment that wasn’t discovered until 2016. He then failed to pay $20,000 in back taxes, the accusation said.
The Attorney General’s Office in an Oct. 19 court filing said the conflict-of-interest allegation isn’t supported by evidence. Furthermore, the statute of limitation for charges involving such conduct in 2008 has run out.
Evidence shows Tuteur was notified of the error and believed steps would be taken to correct it, the Attorney General’s Office filing said. The chief appraiser testified to the grand jury that Tuteur told him “to do what he had to do because it’s passed onto my tenant,” the filing said.
Tuteur’s defense in July said the final calculations show Tuteur owes $1,453 in back taxes, not $20,000. Tuteur on Friday said he has begun making payments.
The grand jury made three other accusations against Tuteur that it said warranted removing him from office. All involved how he handles Williamson Act contracts, which provide tax breaks for agricultural land. In each case, the Attorney General’s Office concluded the evidence doesn’t warrant the grand jury charge.
In separate action, the grand jury in March asked the Attorney General’s Office to file a civil lawsuit against Tuteur and his family to recover approximately $20,000 in back taxes it alleged resulted from the cell tower incident, plus penalties. Tuteur on Friday said no suit has yet been filed.
Tuteur served on the Board of Supervisors from 1973 to 1980. He became Assessor in 1987 and today is Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk.