No justice for victims in fraud case

The criminal proceedings — or rather, lack of proceedings — in an $8 million North County fraud case have some investors feeling as if they’ve been victimized twice, first by the defendants and now by the criminal justice system. We don’t blame them.

Here’s a recap: Money lenders Rodney Virgil Jarmin, 75, and Marian Jordan, 53, were charged with several felonies. They were accused of failing to disclose some critical information to investors and were set for trial last week. However, the trial was called off when a plea agreement was struck that reduced the felonies to misdemeanors.

That, according to the District Attorney’s Office, was a mistake.

“I can’t think of any scenario where a case with $8 million claimed in restitution could reasonably be considered misdemeanor conduct,” said District Attorney Dan Dow.

We agree. The DA’s office is now trying to reverse what happened; it says the agreement was the result of a misunderstanding, though the defense disagrees and claims the prosecution now has “buyer’s remorse.”

If that’s not complicated enough, it also turns out that the victims in the case should have been notified in advance of a change of plea and restitution. (Restitution was set at $107,200 during the plea proceedings; the DA says it should be $8 million.)

Ultimately, the defendants are responsible for the losses, and they deserve the bulk of the brickbats. But the criminal justice system let the victims down. The DA’s office is trying to set things right. That’s good. But this snafu should never have occurred in the first place, and for that, the prosecution gets a briefcase of brickbats.

More Poly housing — just not there

As part of its master planning process, Cal Poly administrators floated the idea of building student or faculty housing on a stretch of farmland at the west end of campus — a proposal that was about as welcome as a dense bank of fog on the Fourth of July.

But the sky has cleared. The university announced last week that it will not build there after all. That’s excellent news. The orchards and vineyards at the end of campus, near Highway 1, not only serve as a laboratory for students, they’re also a visual treat for us all — a rural oasis, if you will, on the outskirts of SLO.

As for master planning, we agree that more university housing is needed, but this particular piece of land is not the right spot for it. After all, any college can grow buildings, but how many can boast of vineyards and a lemon grove?

For leaving ag land in peace, we offer university officials a pitcher of freshly squeezed lemonade and a side of citrus blossoms.

A teachable moment in transparency

Was the city of Morro Bay less-than-transparent when it hired a deputy city manager without first advertising the vacancy?

In a word, yes, though there technically was nothing wrong with doing it that way. Morro Bay’s city attorney says it is a “legally acceptable process” to hire without going through the usual advertising and recruitment process. But some Morro Bay residents felt shut out of the process when the city filled the $113,000-per-year city position. We can see that; it reeks of favoritism when someone is hand-picked for a job.

Then again, it’s equally frustrating when job seekers apply for a position — and get their hopes up in the process — when employers already have made up their minds and are simply going through the motions in posting a job announcement.

On balance, though, we believe public agencies should err on the side of transparency. We aren’t saying that cities should go through an expensive headhunting process, but they should at least advertise openings and invite applications. Who knows? Maybe an outstanding candidate or two will turn up, making the process not such a slam-dunk after all.

No brickbat — but we’ll offer Morro Bay a highly qualified bouquet wrapped in a resume if it revamps its hiring process to make it more transparent.