The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Sunday, March 16, 2008

News and Commentary: Justice Prevails Finally in the David Serena Case

In July of 2006, Yolo County headlines in both the Davis Enterprise and Woodland Daily Democratic, in big bold letters depicted the arrest of David Serena, head of the Yolo County Housing Authority until just a month before, on 19 felony counts, all stemming from medical benefits received for the children of Serena's girlfriend, now his wife.

Now 20 months and tens of thousands in legal expenses later, all charges have been dismissed. Judge Richard Kossow--a visiting judge since all Yolo County judges had to recuse themselves due to the Grand Jury lawsuit--issued the order that according to preliminary hearing evidence, it was unlikely that there was sufficient evidence of criminal wrongdoing to convict David Serena.

The Vanguard spoke with an elated Mr. Serena yesterday. "I feel a ton of bricks is off my back."

It is the opinion of many, that the criminal charges were simply a witch-hunt by the Yolo County District Attorney's Office seeking to find some criminal act to charge the former Housing Authority Director. After several grand jury investigations into Mr. Serena's activities at the Yolo County Housing Authority this was the only criminal act they felt they could charge him with felony or other counts. And indeed there were problems under Mr. Serena at YCHA--no one denies that. However, those were handled administratively by the County and the Board of Supervisors. Were criminal charges in this case really in the interest of justice or protecting the public?

For all of their investigations into David Serena, the only evidence that they could find to support criminal charges had to do with his receipt of health and dental benefits for his girlfriend and her two children.

According to Mr. Serena and his attorneys, he had filled out the papers accurately himself but a clerical error occurred and Mr. Serena never knew that the papers had been filed incorrectly by his clerk. According to court papers, it was his clerk who executed policy changes after Mr. Serena had requested his girlfriend and kids be added to the policy without knowing that they were ineligible.

David Serena told me the key testimony actually came from the prosecution's witnesses. They asked both the insurance agents for the health insurance and the dental insurance how often people filed erroneous claims or make other errors when they fill out their insurance papers. They said about 5% of the time. They were then asked what sort of remedy the insurance company ordinarily sought for such errors--whether they sought to correct the error and recoup the money or if they normally forwarded it to the District Attorney. According to Mr. Serena, they said that they never would forward such a matter to the District Attorney.

However, based on this scant evidence of criminal activity, the District Attorney's Office charged David Serena with one felony count of grand theft for each month the housing agency paid for increased insurance premiums by covering David Serena's ineligible family members.

In all, 19 felony counts were filed against David Serena. The District Attorney's Office was seeking to put him away for much of the rest of his life for receiving ineligible medical benefits.

The District Attorney's Office now had to decide whether or not to refile the charges.

The Woodland Daily Democrat quotes Jeff Reisig as weighing their options at this point.
"Our options are to re-evaluate the evidence, to see if there's something we left out... We'll step back and take a look at it. Basically, this is how the system works."
However, our sources tell the Vanguard that it is unlikely that the DA will re-file the charges.

The charges as well as the YCHA were front page news in 2006. However, reading the Woodland Daily Democrat from yesterday you would think that Mr. Serena got off on a technicality.

The headline read: "Ex-housing chief off the hook." My response was yes he got off on a technicality, the technicality being that they did not have evidence that a crime was actually committed.

For all of the investigations against David Serena, this was the only thing they could find that they could file criminal charges against him on. This is a grave misuse of government power in my view. This is malicious prosecution at its worst and it illustrates the attitude of the District Attorney's Office both under David Henderson and now under Jeff Reisig.

David Serena now gets a chance to put his life back together. He did so at tremendous expense. He was able to afford to hire top notch defense attorneys in the form of San Francisco Law Firm Gonzales-Leigh. But as we have learned in the last few years, many others are not so lucky and have their lives literally destroyed for very small offenses with often meager evidence. Is this really in the interest of justice?

---Doug Paul Davis reporting