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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, July 20, 2001

Ravenswood's Knight acquitted Ravenswood's Knight acquitted (July 20, 2001)

Jury finds superintendent not guilty of conflict of interest

by Jennifer Deitz Berry and Elizabeth Lorenz

A San Mateo County jury acquitted Ravenswood schools superintendent Charlie Mae Knight yesterday on all 19 counts of conflict of interest.

Knight, 69, was charged in connection with an emergency loan fund that prosecutors alleged she was using to lend money to people who owed her money in return or were renting property from her.

As reported on Palo Alto Online yesterday, A smiling Knight faced reporters after the verdict saying, "I'm relieved. I'm ecstatic. I feel vindicated. I just feel good to be alive."

The jury deliberated for nearly three days, beginning Monday afternoon. At 10:30 a.m Thursday, jurors told Superior Court Judge Joseph Bergeron they were at an impasse on three of the 19 counts. The judge told the jurors to take a half-hour break and return to deliberations. Shortly before noon, the jury returned the verdict.

A court clerk read the counts one by one, while Knight sat with her sisters, daughter and son behind her. While Knight sat stoically, her daughter began to cry while her son raised his hands in the air.

Outside the courtroom, Knight's supporters celebrated.

"I have known her to be only a fine person with high moral character," said Dr. Patricia Hill, a professor at the University of San Francisco and a friend of Knight's.

If Knight had been convicted, she would have faced a maximum of 15 years in prison.

Prosecutors alleged the loans were supposed to be overseen by a committee, but that Knight had direct control over the distribution. Knight's attorney, Bill Osterhoudt, said the superintendent did not have personal knowledge of who the loans were given to.

Jurors heard testimony from Knight, as well as loan recipients, many of whom are school district employees. Knight has said all along that her motives were simply to help people in need.

Deputy District Attorney Peter Lynch argued that Knight directly authorized loans. Knight's attorney told the jury his client's only involvement with the loans was administrative.

The $15,000 emergency loan fund was created at Knight's request in the early 1990s by Bill Somerville, president of Philanthropic Ventures Foundation of Oakland. A four-person district committee was given oversight of the fund.


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