San Diego Superior Court Judge Ana Espana sentenced former Sweetwater Union High School District board member Bertha Lopez to three years probation with a $4,589 fine for accepting gifts above state limit in a pay-for-play scheme that has left the school district in disarray
Lopez must also complete 40 hours of community service by Dec. 1.
Espana also ruled that California government code 91002, which prevents a person convicted of a misdemeanor from running for office, does not apply to Lopez.
Instead, the decision for her to sit on the board of the largest secondary school district in California is put in the hands of the voters.
“I will have the voters of the South Bay decide whether or not they want Ms. Lopez representing them in elected office,” Espana said.
Lopez was suspended from the school board earlier this year after pleading guilty. She is expected to ask a judge in July to allow her to return to her place on the board. If she is reinstated she will finish her current term, which runs through 2016.
After reviewing all of the evidence, Espana said she found Lopez to be “one of the least culpable offenders” in the case that netted 15 school officials and contractors.
Defense Attorney Jill Cremeans said her client plans to fight the school district’s suspension from the board at a July 11 injunction hearing at San Diego Superior Court in downtown San Diego.
It is at that hearing where Cremeans said the specifics of Lopez’s bid for a reelection would become clearer.
Lopez said she has unfinished business at Sweetwater.
“If I was to consider to run again I would consider to run for Sweetwater,” she said. “My job is not over yet, and there are a lot of things that are going on that I feel that I have to finish that job in the school district.”
The question, however, is if voters will hang the misdemeanor charge over her head or if they can overlook that and give her the same victorious results she achieved in previous elections.
In the November 2012 election, Lopez managed to get 65,103 votes.
The former Chula Vista Elementary School District board member first ran for Sweetwater in November 2008, where she garnered 48,804 votes in defeating then-incumbent Jaime Mercado.
Espana made the same ruling regarding reelection for former board president Jim Cartmill on June 7. She also characterized Cartmill as one of the lower offenders in the case.
Espana received more than 100 letters in support of Lopez over the course of a few months.
Sweetwater Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand submitted a letter asking the judge to not allow Lopez the opportunity to run for reelection.
“I had addressed direct experiences with Ms. Lopez that I thought were, at best, unethical and, at worst, illegal,” Brand said about the letter.
Brand said in the end he respects Espana’s ruling.
Before her sentencing, supporters of Lopez addressed the court asking for Espana to repeal the misdemeanor charge, saying she helped tip off the district attorney about the corruption.
John Brickley, a retired teacher from the district and a whistleblower for the district attorney, said Lopez shouldn’t have been involved in the case.
“I will tell you this, had I known that this case was getting ready to go against Bertha Lopez, I would have never gone to the District Attorney’s Office,” he said.
Former San Ysidro superintendent Manuel Paul was absent at court Tuesday but received three years probation and a $4,589 fine. He also got 47 hours of community service, which he has satisfied.
Jeffrey Flores, president of Seville Construction Services, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of aiding and abetting the false filling of a document.