Town Hall position not a factor in Puckett’s custody status, attorney says

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — The attorney for Marc Puckett, while fielding questions related to a court ruling that kept the Apple Valley finance director out of custody, said his client’s standing in Town Hall did not provide the defense a “leg up” in successfully motioning for the decision.

Daniel L. Greenberg told the Daily Press that Puckett’s background, not his job, was considered when San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Kyle S. Brodie ordered his release during a Dec. 14 arraignment that also saw the town executive plead not guilty to a felony hit-and-run charge.

The Riverside-based attorney noted he would have argued similarly for any client in Puckett’s position with the same “track record” of good standing in the community. He added the own-recognizance release came with stipulations that limit Puckett’s driving privileges.

“It’s not like Mr. Puckett has carte blanche and can disregard the court’s orders. He’s on a conditional OR,” Greenberg said. “Obviously he can only drive from home to work and back … The judge basically felt that while the case is pending, he’s certainly not a danger to the public at this point.”

Puckett, 56, of Aliso Viejo, has been on paid personal leave since requesting it Dec. 7, two days after the San Bernardino County District Attorney filed the felony charge related to a July 20 crash on southbound Interstate 15 first reported by the Daily Press.

Puckett is accused of fleeing the scene and not rendering aid after rear-ending Lola Espinoza’s Toyota Prius near Foothill Boulevard shortly before midnight, an incident that sent his Cadillac CTS down a dirt embankment and Espinoza to an area hospital for treatment of multiple injuries.

Espinoza has since filed a claim with the Town of Apple Valley seeking $2 million in damages. The Town Council rejected the claim during its Dec. 12 meeting. Town officials, including Mayor Emeritus Scott Nassif, have maintained the crash occurred “outside of the town’s employment.”

Puckett previously confirmed he was “in an accident,” but denied the involvement of another vehicle, telling the Daily Press he left his Cadillac to search for someone with a cellphone.

His education, ties to the local community and absence of past criminal activity were all considered before Brodie issued the release ruling, according to Greenberg, who said bail is set primarily to ensure defendants appear at future court hearings.

He noted that Puckett’s driver’s license was valid at the time of the crash, adding that his client, if ordered to do so, is financially capable of posting bail.

District Attorney spokesperson Chris Lee said he could not comment on Greenberg’s interpretation of the ruling due to the case’s pending status; however, San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Nikki Agravante did argue for bail to be set as scheduled “based on the crime itself” during Puckett’s arraignment.

Meanwhile, Greenberg said he was not aware of the nine traffic citations (six for speeding, four of which were dismissed) Puckett collected in San Bernardino County between 2011 and 2014 that resulted in fines totaling $3,172.

Nor was the attorney privy to an October speeding citation, which came fewer than three months after the July 20 crash, that could result in Puckett paying an additional $417 fine; however, he said he doubted those infractions would factor into the hit-and-run case.

“Unless any previous violation had anything related to the type of charge, I would not expect it to be allowed into evidence,” Greenberg said. “In other words, if I have a speeding ticket, and I get arrested for drunk driving … that is not tangentially related to the crime charged.”

Neither the DA’s complaint nor a California Highway Patrol report taken after the crash directly address speeding, but the CHP report does state the Cadillac was traveling “at a speed greater than 60” miles per hour as it approached the rear of Espinoza’s Prius in the No. 2 lane.

Espinoza was driving at 60 mph, five miles per hour below the posted speed limit, according to the report, which listed the Cadillac’s speed as “unsafe.”

It should be noted that the aforementioned report was completed Aug. 2, weeks prior to CHP officials confirming they had identified Puckett as the driver. In it, he is listed only as the owner of the Cadillac.

If convicted as charged, Puckett could face up to three years in state prison. He is due back in court Thursday for a bail-review hearing, and Greenberg said a scenario still exists in which Brodie’s ruling might be altered.

“If there is a change in circumstances that the DA feels would override what the previous judge decided,” he said, “the new judge we’re in front of can always entertain a motion to require him to post bail.”

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press