(UPDATED at 3 p.m. Feb. 2 with a statement from Imperial County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Todd Finnell.)
An Imperial County Superior Court judge granted a motion by the defense attorney for Annette Gonzalez-Buttner, the Imperial County Board of Education trustee accused of election fraud, to postpone the start of the trial during a hearing on Monday, Feb. 1.
Prior to the decision by Judge L. Brooks Anderholt, Gonzalez-Buttner’s trial was scheduled to start Tuesday, Feb. 2, with jury selection that was expected to last a couple days.
Instead, Anderholt agreed to schedule the case to resume March 29, with a readiness conference, followed a day later with the start of jury selection. The trial itself is expected to last at least a week, possibly two.
San Diego-based defense attorney Jill Cremeans had filed a motion seeking a continuance of the trial’s start date because the homeschooling of her grade-school daughter would conflict with the trial’s projected two weeks of successive daylong hearings.
Cremeans suggested, and Anderholt approved, scheduling the start of the trial for March 29, when it could proceed while students are on a weeklong spring break from school.
Anderholt also indicated that the postponed start of the trial should provide additional time for both Gonzalez-Buttner and her parents to potentially receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Cremeans told the court on Feb. 1 that the defendant has an immunocompromised health condition, and that her elderly parents, who are likely to testify, have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to potential exposure.
However, Anderholt’s ruling in favor of the motion did not take into consideration those safety considerations. Although the safety of the public and the court’s justice partners is paramount to the court, the precautionary measures currently in place have allowed jury trials to be convened locally, he said.
While one of those trials was paused when a juror had to be quarantined after their spouse tested positive, no other juror or alternate was exposed.
“We’re very proud of our track record,” Anderholt said.
The Imperial County District Attorney’s Office did not object on Feb. 1 to the continuance of the trial’s start date.
Gonzalez-Buttner was initially charged with two felonies in February 2019, and an additional two felonies in July 2019. She is alleged to have established her permanent residence, or “domicile,” in Santa Clara County in mid-2014 and of not living at the Calexico address she provided in her 2017 candidacy filings for the Board of Education trustee seat. She has denied all charges to date.
Those charges include two counts of perjury that allege she falsified her 2017 candidate intention statement under penalty of perjury and had submitted a California driver’s license application in 2017 listing her father’s Rockwood Avenue address in Calexico as her own.
The count of grand theft alleges Gonzalez-Buttner has illegally obtained board member stipends and health insurance under false pretenses. The charge of filing a falsified candidacy declaration alleges that she provided a fraudulent address on the document, which is a form not signed under penalty of perjury.
In November, Gonzalez-Buttner was successfully elected to the Imperial Community College District area 1 trustee seat and was subsequently sworn in in December. The board sets policy over operations at Imperial Valley College.
The Imperial County Office of Education is currently seeking legal guidance from the state Attorney General’s Office to determine if the county Board of Education and IVC trustee seats are incompatible, as defined by state Education Code.
The ICOE is also seeking an opinion from the state AG’s Office to determine whether the Imperial County Office of Education can move forward with a potential civil lawsuit in Superior Court that would seek to have Gonzalez-Buttner removed from the county education board seat by an order of the court.
The time and resources that ICOE has deployed to have Gonzalez-Buttner vacate her trustee’s seat would be better used serving students and their families, especially as the agency is attempting to safely return local children to school, Superintendent Dr. Todd Finnell stated.
“Most reasonable people wishing to serve in public office would recognize that serving in two incompatible public offices is not in the public interest,” Finnell explained in a written statement on Feb. 2. “While I had hoped that Ms. Buttner would reach this conclusion, she has left us no choice but to seek her removal through the courts.”