Burum attorney argues DA has conflict of interest in corruption case

Alleging a conflict of interest exists, the attorney for Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum wants the district attorney recused from prosecuting his client.

The alleged conflict stems from conversations the pair had before conspiracy charges were filed against Burum, said attorney Stephen Larson.

Larson also said Tuesday in San Bernardino Superior Court that District Attorney Michael A. Ramos had appointed Burum to his advisory committee.

The relationship between the pair, says Larson, results in a conflict for Ramos in the prosecution of Burum.

“It’s a very serious issue that we want to explore,” Larson told Judge Michael A. Smith during proceedings in San Bernardino Superior Court.

Many conversations occurred between the developer and district attorney, some of them about this case, according to the defense.

Prosecutors were ordered to turn over some of the documents Larson has sought in his bid to show that such a conflict exists.

“The judge granted our motion to compel District Attorney Mike Ramos to produce information showing potential conflicts of interest by Ramos in his prosecution of Jeff Burum,” the developer’s spokesman, Ric Grenell, said later, by telephone.

Larson told Judge Smith he’s prepared to file a motion of conflict of interest.

This is not the first time the issue has been raised in this case. But prosecutors say no conflict exists.

“I don’t expect them to drop this issue,” Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope told the court. “Nor do I want them to drop this issue.”

Burum and three county figures – former Supervisor Paul Biane; Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for Supervisor Gary Ovitt; and former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin – face conspiracy and fraud charges in connection with the county’s landmark $102million settlement with Colonies Partners LP in 2006.

San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Brian McCarville dismissed the majority of the prosecutors’ case against Burum in August, including all four bribery counts alleged against him.

Burum remains charged with criminal conspiracy and aiding and abetting a conflict of interest.

In court, Larson requested advisory council rosters, membership criteria, records of meetings between Ramos and Burum, campaign donations and letters of appreciation.

Smith tentatively granted some of the requests and denied others as being privileged, work product, vague or overly broad.

Smith also said perhaps it would be better if Ramos went ahead and provided the information not protected by privilege or work product.

Larson’s request for a roster of the advisory council and criteria for membership was denied.

But the judge granted Larson’s request for documents showing the appointment of Burum by Ramos to the advisory council; a record of all campaign contributions by Burum to Ramos – which the judge said were public – including letters of appreciation sent to Burum; and records of meetings between Ramos and Burum.

The judge also granted a defense request to receive statements from Ramos or other district attorney’s employees to Burum, either oral or written, urging Burum to testify before the Grand Jury as a witness, not a potential target of prosecution.

Burum testified before a county Grand Jury in 2009.

Cope asked the judge to make Larson produce an affidavit showing how the Grand Jury issue was relevant to the case and called the defense request “a fishing expedition.”

But the judge said he disagreed and that he thought the information was relevant.

Prosecutors can still argue against disqualifying the district attorney from prosecuting the case, the judge said.

mike.cruz@inlandnewspapers.com

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