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Judge rules on ex-councilmen

A federal judge reversed most of the strippergate convictions of ex San Diego City Councilman Michael Zucchet, but upheld convictions against former Councilman Ralph Inzunza and strip club lobbyist La

A federal judge stunned a packed courtroom yesterday when he reversed most of the strippergate convictions of ex San Diego City Councilman Michael Zucchet. Judge Jeffrey Miller ordered a new trial for Zucchet on two remaining counts. But he upheld convictions against former Councilman Ralph Inzunza and strip club lobbyist Lance Malone. The two men were also given prison sentences but not before Inzunza broke down while he apologized for his actions. The judge called the case a tragedy for San Diego. KPBS Legal Reporter Amita Sharma has more.

Judge Jeffrey Miller said it would be a miscarriage of justice to let the jury's guilty verdicts on extortion and wire fraud stand against Zucchet. Miller said there was little proof of a promise by Zucchet to strip club associates to trade official action to repeal no-touch rules at strip clubs for campaign contributions. By law, a conviction on those charges requires a quid pro quo. Zucchet's reaction to the judge's decision ranged from disbelief to relief to jubilance. Outside the courtroom, the ex-politician choked up as he described how the case had taken its toll.

Zucchet: As happy as I am. I'll never get my name back. I'll never get my job back. I'm financially ruined. My physical and emotional health and the health of my family's been devastated.


A spokeswoman for the U-S Attorney's office declined to comment on the judge's decision and it's not clear whether prosecutors will appeal. But Miller cited several instances on the government's secret recordings of the councilmen and lobbyist Lance Malone to back up his ruling. He said Malone's statements about who was on board with the plan repeatedly omitted Zucchet.

The judge pointed to Zucchet's comment during one of the conversations that any changes to the no-touch rule had to be supported by police.

And the judge said strip club owner Michael Galardi's testimony that he had lobbyist Malone deliver cash to the councilman in April 2003 was not credible.

Judge Miller ordered a new trial for Zucchet on the remaining conspiracy and wire fraud counts. Both Zucchet and Inzunza resigned their seats after a jury convicted them in July. Zucchet said he wished that the judge had also granted acquittals and a new trial for Inzunza. Zucchet: Ralph's a good friend of mine. He's always going to be a friend of mine. But I don't believe what's happening to him. I believe Ralph deserved my outcome.

Sobbing could be heard throughout the courtroom when Inzunza tearfully apologized for his actions. He said he was elected to build parks and libraries and couldn't believe the mistakes he made.


Inzunza told the judge the case had devastated him and his family. He said quote, It's like taking a baseball bat to my gut. It's been so hard and so painful. I can't Believe how dumb I was to get sidetracked on this issue.

Judge Miller was visibly moved. He called Inzunza's comments among the most poignant he'd ever heard. Miller said quote, I don't know where you go from here. I wish I could reach out and provide some guidance to you.

Miller showed lenience toward Inzunza by sentencing him to less than two years in prison rather than the nearly five years prosecutors had recommended. Miller said Inzunza should do time to deter other politicians from crossing the corruption line. Inzunza plans to appeal his case.

The judge sentenced Malone to three years in prison. The two men and Zucchet are due back in court Dec. 12th.

Meanwhile, Judge Miller used the hearing to express for the first time his views on the trial. He said the human wreckage of the case had been extraordinary. He also said the offenses were serious and validate every cynic's suspicion about government. And he added that those who say the case was nothing more than politics as usual must be cynics who already disrespect government. He said many politicians have strong morals and want to serve the public good.

San Diego's Mayor Elect Jerry Sanders also commented on yesterday's hearing. In a written statement, he said the judge's ruling don't end the questions about ethics at city hall.

He said San Diegans have a right to transparency, good conduct and accountability and he is committed to making sure they get it. Amita Sharma, KPBS News.