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 email@example.com.)