James Fleming Gets An Extension on His Homework

Two-and-a-half years since resigning as superintendent of the Capistrano Unified School District, 21 months since being first arraigned, and more than three hours after showing up for trial on the second floor of the Santa Ana courthouse this morning, James Fleming -- along with ex-assistant-superintendent Susan McGill and both of their attorneys -- got up in front of a judge and asked for more time.

This would be the fourth time that Fleming and McGill's trial has been delayed since it was originally set to begin in October 2007. Judge Thomas Goethels, who had spent much of the morning deciding whether to provide pro bono public lawyers to various criminal defendants -- very few of whom  could be placed in the "elderly white man in a suit" category alongside Fleming --  wasn't sure what was going on at first.

"What kind of case is this?" he asked.

Fleming is charged with misappropriation or embezzlement of funds by a public officer, use of school funds for political purposes and conspiracy to act in a manner injurious to the public; McGill is charged with the latter offense in addition to perjury. Both have pleaded not guilty. Ronald Brower, Fleming's lawyer, said an extension was warranted because he hadn't had time to process all 7,000 pages of documents presented by the DA in October 2008.

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"Mr. Brower is apparently a slow reader," Goethels responded. "You folks are doing a heck of a job to age this case."

The District Attorney opposed a continuance, saying Brower had had plenty of time to go through the documents. Goethels acknowledged the case was "older than dirt," but pushed the trial back to April  7 -- with a warning that he wouldn't be so lenient with delay requests when the matter returned to him.

"I have a bad memory when I age," the judge said, "but I will remember this case on April 7."

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