Defendants Gregory Opinski and Tommy Jones each pleaded not guilty Thursday to five felony counts related to bribing a Los Banos school trustee, leading to the scheduling of a jury trial next year.
Opinski and Jones are accused of bribing former Los Banos school trustee Dominic Falasco $12,000 for several votes on the school board.
During a Thursday arraignment hearing, visiting Santa Clara Judge Leslie Nichols set a tentative trial date of Feb. 27, 2018, nearly 18 months after Opinski and Jones were arrested on the charges.
That’s when Nichols and attorneys will start jury selection.
During a July preliminary hearing, Steve Slocum, the Merced County supervising deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, said he would ask for a “speedy trial” to start within 60 days of the arraignment.
Also at that hearing, defense attorneys suggested they need more time to prepare their defense following new information they obtained at the hearing.
Nichols said Thursday that the late-February date was set after an in-chamber discussion Slocum and Jones’ attorney Kevin Little, who also was speaking for Opinski.
Nichols said one of the reasons for the later date was because he was busy helping a chief justice with other court matters until February.
Case reports from a 10-month investigation by the Merced County District Attorney’s Office suggest that Jones, a former Los Banos school trustee, and Opinski, a Merced-area contractor, bribed Falasco to vote on three items: firing former Superintendent Steve Tietjen, replacing the district’s law firm and hiring Opinski’s construction firm as construction manager for the district’s $7 million Mercey Springs Elementary school expansion.
Jones and Opinski’s lawyers have argued conversations between the defendants and Falasco that Falasco secretly recorded for the district attorney’s investigation don’t tell the whole story, and are missing key discussions the three had.
Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562