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Pair of California lawmakers run afoul of the law


This news story was published on January 7, 2012.
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By David Siders, Torey Van Oot and Jim Sanders, McClatchy Newspapers –

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — It was an eventful day for a couple of gun-toting, shoplifting California state lawmakers.

Days after being cited for carrying a loaded gun into Ontario International Airport, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, all but conceded Friday morning that he didn’t have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Hours later, Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor shoplifting charge. Her lawyer, Doug Rappaport, said Hayashi’s behavior was affected by a benign brain tumor. He said she is being treated and that her judgment is no longer impaired.

“Fortunately, it is something curable and is treatable. It is being treated and so it no longer is affecting her,” said Rappaport, who said Hayashi was diagnosed prior to the incident.

Hayashi was sentenced in San Francisco Superior Court to three years of probation and less than $200 in fines. She was told to stay more than 50 feet away from the Neiman Marcus in San Francisco, where she was arrested in October after leaving without paying for a blouse, a skirt and a pair of leather pants worth a total of nearly $2,500.

“I’m reminded of what James Madison wrote: ‘If men were angels, no government would be necessary,’ ” said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College. “If James Madison came back today, he’d take a look at the California Legislature and say, ‘See?’ ”

Hayashi is not the first California lawmaker to attribute difficulties to a medical condition. In 2007, after an erratic driving spree that ended in her state-issued SUV rear-ending another car, then-state Sen. Carole Migden said she might have been impaired by leukemia medications.

But Friday was the first time Hayashi brought her tumor up. A spokesman previously said Hayashi meant to purchase the items at Neiman Marcus but became distracted by her cellphone and walked out of the store without paying.

Her plea followed the San Francisco district attorney’s signal earlier Friday that he would be open to the court reducing to a misdemeanor the felony grand theft charge filed against Hayashi.

“This is a case that clearly contains the elements, in our opinion, of the crime as a felony, but we also recognize that the defendant in this case is a first-time offender, and I think that also plays a part in the discussion,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said.

The charge’s reduction to a misdemeanor ruled out the possibility that Hayashi might effectively be forced out of the Legislature. Under Assembly rules, a member convicted of a felony cannot receive compensation or expenses.

While Hayashi’s case was wrapping up in San Francisco, Donnelly’s was still unfolding.

On Wednesday, when the federal Transportation Security Administration said it found a loaded .45-caliber handgun in Donnelly’s briefcase in Ontario, Donnelly was cited on a misdemeanor charge of possession of a loaded firearm, punishable by a sentence of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

But whether Donnelly had the right to carry a loaded weapon anywhere is a separate question that was not definitely answered that day. At the time, sheriff’s officials in San Bernardino County said they had not issued Donnelly a concealed weapons permit, and a TSA spokesman said his understanding was that Donnelly didn’t have one.

If charged under state law, someone convicted of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit could face a fine and up to one year in jail, a misdemeanor.

Asked directly Friday if he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, Donnelly said he felt enough information about the concealed weapons permit issue had been released or published already.

“It’s already been spoken to,” Donnelly said when asked if his first answer meant he did not have a permit. “It’s certainly not something that I feel that I need to address. I really don’t feel that there’s anything more that I want to add to that story. I tried to be very forthcoming and put all the information out there … so, I’m just going to leave it at that.”

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office was reviewing Donnelly’s case for a final decision on charges. Spokesman Christopher Lee declined to comment Friday pending completion of the review.

It was a rough week for Donnelly, who also announced Friday that he had failed in his signature-gathering campaign to overturn the California Dream Act, the new law that will allow undocumented immigrant college students access to public financial aid.

Edward Weese, range master for the San Bernardino Pistol Club, said he only knew what he’d read in the paper about Donnelly’s gun incident. But he said that even the couple of members of his club who have concealed carry permits don’t take them on airplanes.

“They never take it out of the house,” Weese said, “except when they’re going to the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Donnelly was preparing to board a flight to the Capitol for the first Assembly session of the new year.

Donnelly, 45, said he armed himself because of recent death threats but placed the gun in his briefcase to hide it from his wife last weekend and forgot to retrieve it before going to the Ontario airport for a flight to Sacramento.

Assembly Chief Sergeant at Arms Ronald Pane said Donnelly provided information about those threats on Thursday and that his office is investigating. Pane said a meeting with Donnelly was held at Assembly Speaker John A. Perez’s request.

“The speaker was concerned about him, and the safety of other members, too,” Pane said.

A day later, Perez, D-Los Angeles, turned his attention to Hayashi. He said in a prepared statement that her plea “clearly shows that, while she made a serious mistake, she has owned up to her actions and taken responsibility for them.”

He also expressed his “sincerest hopes for Ms. Hayashi’s speedy recovery from her recent diagnosis.”

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