News

Briggs' attorneys challenge police statements

Procedures were followed in handling of fund reimbursements and costumes, but attorneys say investigators have made facts appear 'sinister'

Attorneys for Pat Briggs, the embattled director of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre, sharply accused Palo Alto police investigators Thursday of misinterpreting innocuous facts and "stringing them together to make them look more sinister."

"Overall there is absolutely no criminal intent in any of the actions that have been raised by the affidavits," as so far reported, Diane de Seve, Briggs' criminal-defense attorney, said.

"Pat cooperated with the police and was interviewed for more than six hours," de Seve said. The affidavits illustrate "why we typically advise clients not to talk to police alone, because their comments are often taken out of context, misinterpreted and then used against you."

Jon Parsons, who separately represents Briggs in an administrative investigation, agreed in a joint interview that both the handling of finances and sales of surplus costumes were done according to longstanding procedures.

"It was all open and above board," he said of both how the costume sales were handled and how the city was reimbursed for funds used to pay for expenses when children involved in theater productions were taken on trips to see plays. He said the city issued funds to theater staff and that the city funds were reimbursed from payments from parents and donations for scholarships for children who otherwise could not go on the trips.

Leftover traveler's checks were to be used for Children's Theatre purposes or future trips, the attorneys said.

"The intent was always to reimburse the city once the funds were collected," de Seve said. This is all in the city budget -- there's a line item for this particular account, and to the extent that there was an imbalance there was no secret about it. The city was well aware of the money going in and out of the account."

Parsons said that years ago, perhaps more than 20, Briggs asked what to do about leftover traveler's checks once the city's advance was reimbursed. He said she was told that it would cost more to reimburse parents and donors for the small amount of leftover funds than the reimbursements would total, and that she should keep the checks for future trips or other uses.

Because the city had been reimbursed for the trip advances, the leftover checks were not "city funds," he said.

The sales of surplus costumes by the nonprofit Friends of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre also has been highly publicized over 15 years. The Friends group has retained its own attorney.

"All of this money, every penny of this has gone to benefit the kids," Parsons said.

Parsons and de Seve agreed that the "generally accepted accounting procedures" may not have been followed because the staff members' "energy was put into running the theater and putting on the plays," in de Seve's words.

"This is not a Fortune 500 company," de Seve said.

But there was even a line item in the city budget for the costume sales and trip expenses.

"Anyone from the city who wanted to look into this could have walked over there and done it," Parsons said.

He also objected to investigators citing expenses by the staff members at places such as Bazaar del Mundo but not noting that they were related to trips with the children.

"The kids did eat down there," he said. The expense "doesn't reflect wrongdoing."

But, he said, "it does reflect the police department's attempt to take innocuous facts and string them together to make them look more sinister."

The attorneys said they have not yet had a chance to review the affidavits, which were unsealed by the court Wednesday afternoon. They said they would be working on a more detailed response when they review the documents.

De Seve took special exception to a statement in the affidavits that the missing traveler's checks were not initially reported to police and alleged that the initial investigation of the burglary last June showed sloppy police work.

(Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at jthorwaldson@paweekly.com.)

Comments

Posted by pete, a resident of Professorville
on May 2, 2008 at 12:04 am

The attorneys "had not had a chance to review the affidavits" but as usual went into attack mode before they had read them. They've made statements that are unsubstantiated and are matters of opinion, not proof.

However, many will grasp on these opinions as facts and use them to justify their defense of the PACT personnel. Let's wait for the wheels of justice to finish grinding before deciding the case.


Posted by Sean Mahoney, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 2, 2008 at 9:06 am

The attorneys in this case are simply exposing the city's incredibly slow investigation for what it is. The gist of the story here seems to be that the city's policy was to write checks to city employees for personal expenses while on the theatre's trips. From another article in the Daily today it appears these checks were for personal expenses and not necessarily a forward for only what was spent. In terms everyone can understand, these were per diem checks. Am I committing a criminal act when I don't spend all of my per diem checks? No, I did what we all do, I try to live under that allotment so I can make a bit more money. These employees in particular spent all of their time working at the theatre, giving back in effort and financially to the theatre and the kids and took one vacation together in the summer. There is nothing criminal about this situation where the city doesnt have the accounting practices they now wish they had. The city manager who oversees the day-to-day workings of the city has gone back to scrutinize a set of circumstances that occurred years ago and were above board. If you want to update city accounting procedures by all means do it but don't crucify dedicated employees that worked under the previous system.


Posted by Big Al, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2008 at 1:46 pm

Well said Sean!


Posted by pete, a resident of Professorville
on May 6, 2008 at 3:00 pm

Sean. Do you know for a fact that the checks issued were for per diem expenses?

I worked in private industry and when issued per diem money, I was expected to make an accounting for all expenses and return the balance. Any remainder was not considered part of remuneration for working for the company.

I took vacations with my own money, not the company's. And I, too, often worked overtime without pay. The people in question were/are City government employees and should be held accountable in the same way that employees in private industry are.


Posted by Don't understand, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2008 at 9:34 pm

Pete,

"I, too, often worked overtime without pay"

Why would you subject yourself to that kind of abuse?...

For fear of losing your job?.....

Regardless of the reason, acts like that only perpetuate the greed and exploitation that is rampant in both the private and public sector.

Please think about that next time you pay $4/gal for fuel. Fuel is as necessary as food (and I won't even start with that) for survival in the 21st century.

Allowing them to "screw you" on overtime just feeds the corruption and exploitation.





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