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Friday, March 14, 2008

All Charges Against Former Yolo County Housing Authority Director David Serena Dismissed

In late-breaking news yesterday, the Vanguard learned that former executive director of the Yolo County Housing Authority, David Serena, had all charges against him dismissed by a Sonoma County Judge who was brought in to work the case due to concerns about partiality in Yolo County.

The former executive director was charged with 19 felony counts in 2006 including grand theft, insurance fraud and making false insurance claims.

David Serena filed suit against the Yolo County grand jury challenging the recruitment and selection process as being discriminatory against Latinos. However in January of 2007, the lawsuit was thrown out by US District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr.

Serena and his legal team that included James Hammer and Whitney Leigh, produced statistics that showed a 13.5 percent discrepancy between expected and actual Latino composition.

U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. ruled that the three year time period was not long enough to demonstrate substantial underrepresentation of Latinos. Moreover, they did not have direct evidence of intent to discriminate.

Over the past 10 years, Latinos have only been underrepresented by 6.5 percent which would be equivalent of around one juror on average. This was not enough to demonstrate a violation under the Constitution's equal protection clause.

However, Judge Damrell did say that while he could not consider solely the last three years, he did find the higher disparity in the last three years to be troubling. The Sacramento Bee quotes him as saying "Unaddressed or ignored, this continuing disparity is likely to provide future evidence of systemic underrepresentation of a constitutional dimension."

In a week when the Yolo County District Attorney's office has been under fire for alleged ethics violations from one of its top investigators, the dismissal of this high profile case seems to be another stain against the department.

Due to the late nature of this ruling, the Vanguard has not been able to obtain comments from either David Serena or his attorneys, Matt Gonzales and Whitney Leigh from the San Francisco based law firm. Matt Gonzales has recently been named as Ralph Nader's Vice Presidential candidate; however, he was reportedly in court for this case.

Our opinion has long been that this case should have been handled administratively, not criminally. The Yolo County Board of Supervisors had already dealt with this matter when the Yolo County District Attorney's Office and Grand Jury stepped in. This ruling would seem to vindicate that view.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting