STOCKTON — Citing a prosecutorial error, a judge has dismissed the grand jury indictment of a former county school board trustee accused of receiving up to $63,000 in stipends and health benefits during a period when he was ineligible to serve because he was living outside the district he was elected to represent.

Judge Bob McNatt issued the ruling Monday morning at a hearing in the case of attorney Mark Thiel, the long-time San Joaquin County Office of Education board member who was indicted July 27.

Attorney Allen Sawyer, representing Thiel, called the ruling a “home run” and added, “There is nothing pending against him.”

Thiel declined to comment Monday, Sawyer said, because of the possibility the San Joaquin County District Attorney will continue pursuing the matter by filing a new complaint or seeking a new grand jury indictment.

A late Monday afternoon statement from Supervising Deputy District Attorney Robert Himelblau said, “The charges contained in the grand jury indictment remain meritorious and the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office will continue to pursue justice on behalf of the students of San Joaquin County and the Office of Education. … At no time did Judge rule that there was insufficient evidence in the findings of the grand jury.”

Sawyer said if the D.A. files new charges, he will seek another dismissal.

Himelblau said Thiel’s first indictment was derailed by a “Griffin error” by prosecutor Stephen Maier during the SJCOE trustees grand jury hearing. He said his office “accepts responsibility for the error that resulted in the dismissal of the indictment.”

A Griffin error is an infringement of the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment. Reading the grand jury transcript to prepare Thiel’s defense, Sawyer said he found that Maier “commented that Mark Thiel didn’t appear at the grand jury so (the D.A.'s) evidence was uncontroverted.”

Said Sawyer: “You’re entitled to a fair hearing and it can’t be tainted by a prosecutor. If that violation occurs, as a matter of law, any fruits of the poisonous proceeding are thrown out. … I am really disappointed that the D.A.’s Office does not follow the law.” He also voiced a sense of vindication, stating several times that Himelblau previously had said Theil's legal team had “a fundamental misunderstanding of the law; both in criminal law and criminal procedure.”

As for the background of the case, according to county records Thiel sold his house in Linden — which is in the SJCOE’s second district — in 2016. He subsequently bought a house 11 miles to the north in District 5, moving into it early in 2017.

During the period when Thiel was alleged to have been ineligible to serve, he received as much as $63,000 in stipends and medical benefits from the SJCOE, according to prosecutors. Thiel made a $48,966.81 repayment to the SJCOE in early August. Now there’s a chance Thiel will ask for reimbursement of that money.

“No announcement on that right now,” Sawyer said. “Mark is just enjoying the fact that he is going into the holidays with his family. He will make an announcement on that issue after we meet later. One victory at a time.”

Thiel served on the SJCOE board for 16 years. He resigned from his post eight months ago, citing his need to focus on an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for a judgeship.

 

Contact reporter Roger Phillips at (209) 546-8299 or rphillips@recordnet.com. Follow him on Twitter @rphillipsblog.