Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

Start watching
SoCal Update

SoCal Update

Start watching
a large damn with graffiti of a woman with a hammer on it, mountains in the background

Earth Focus Presents

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
Professor T

Professor T (Belgium)

Start watching
Artbound

Artbound

Start watching
Emma

Emma

Start watching
Guilt

Guilt

Start watching
Line of Separation Key Art.

Line of Separation

Start watching
Us

Us

Start watching
The Latino Experience

The Latino Experience

Start watching
Key Art of "Summer of Rockets" featuring Keeley Hawes and Toby Stephens.

Summer of Rockets

Start watching
Death in Paradise Series 10

Death in Paradise

Start watching
millionaire still

KCET Must See Movies

Start watching
Independent Lens

Independent Lens

Start watching
MJ250sC-show-poster2x3-Bflky7i.png

Tending Nature

Start watching
Earth Focus

Earth Focus

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

Governor Schwarzenegger's Controversial Last Act

Support Provided By
Fabian Nunez

Proving that money isn't the only way to get the attention of politicians, in one of his last acts as chief executive of California, Governor Schwarzenegger partially commuted the prison sentence of Esteban Nunez, the son of the former Speaker of the California Assembly, Fabian Nunez. The press has been abuzz about this decision, but is this much ado about nothing?

Less than half a year ago Esteban Nunez pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, and was sentenced to 16 years in state prison, for his involvement in the death of Luis Santos at San Diego State University in 2008. In exchange, the prosecutors agreed to drop a murder charge that would have carried a life sentence.

Governor Schwarzenegger reduced that sentence to seven years, stating that Esteban Nunez was not the one to inflict the mortal knife wound that killed college student Luis Dos Santos. Governor Schwarzenegger also pointed to the fact that Nunez had no prior criminal record.

Santos' family is reportedly considering filing suit against Schwarzenegger for failing to notify the Santos family prior to the commutation. After the commutation, Schwarzenegger sent a letter apologizing to the Santos family for not giving them advance notice of his plans, but not for the commutation itself.

I'm going to go against what I assume is popular sentiment and presume for the sake of argument that there may have been viable reasons to shorten Esteban's sentence. In addition to the rationales that Governor Schwarzenegger suggests, Esteban's trial attorney contends that the trial judge indicated before the plea bargain was reached that Esteban would obtain a more lenient sentence. For a number of reasons, that is an issue that cannot be appealed. Therefore, Governor Schwarzenegger was essentially the last stop for that argument.

But here's the issue, and it is not one unique to Esteban, former Speaker Nunez, or Governor Schwarzenegger. Esteban's case, even assuming it was worthy of commutation, got the Governor's attention because of his father's ties to the governor.

Governor Schwarzenegger worked closely with former Speaker Nunez to pass AB-32, California's landmark clean energy law. The former speaker now works at a consulting firm with Governor Schwarzenegger's former communications director.

If Esteban deserved a lighter sentence, that fact is a failure of the criminal justice system. It is also a tragic reminder that similarly situated criminals, whose relatives do not have the governor's ear, likely receive dissimilar treatment.

If Esteban received a fair and appropriate sentence, Governor Schwarzenegger's actions strike at the foundation of our form of government. Political decisions based on connections, like those based on monetary donations, harm the public confidence in the integrity of a democratic system.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday at noon. She is the Director of Political Reform at the Center for Governmental studies and an Adjunct Professor at Loyola Law School.

The photo used in this post is by cindylu. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

Support Provided By
Read More
Three people stand looking at the destroyed landscape after a mudflow, one woman has her hands on her head

What Happens After a Mudflow Destroys Your Home? The Hidden Costs of Rebuilding Post-Fire

Even after a wildfire is fully suppressed, the danger may not be over. Fires increase the likelihood of devastating mudflows after a rain. And unforeseen costs place financial burdens on those looking to rebuild.
Operations Section Chief Jon Wallace wearing a yellow jacket looks at and reached out to touch the protective foil wrapping around a big sequoia tree called General Sherman at Sequoia National Park, California

California Moves on Climate Change, but Rejects Aggressive Cuts to Greenhouse Emissions

Drought, wildfires, extreme heat: California lawmakers cast climate change as the culprit in an emerging series of public health threats, setting aside billions to help communities respond. But they stopped short of more aggressively reducing the state’s share of the greenhouse emissions warming the planet.
A wide shot of families walking along the concrete banks of the LA river with a bridge in the background

Near, Far, Wherever They Are, Angelenos Love the L.A. River

In a new, multilingual poll, 91% of L.A. residents supported river revitalization, while only 48% of those would support a tax increase to do it. Meanwhile, 76% of respondents prioritized ensuring that revitalization projects don’t displace locals.