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Buttner Trial: Jury to Begin Deliberations in Election Fraud Case

BRAWLEY — Jurors in the criminal case against county Board of Education Trustee Annette Gonzalez-Buttner are expected to being deliberations on Thursday morning, April 22.

Following more than a week of testimony, the jury had gathered at the Superior Court here on Wednesday, April 21 for jury instructions and closing arguments, but was dismissed early by the court.

In doing so, Judge Christopher Plourd indicated that the court intended to provide the jury with two more instructions after matters brought up during closing arguments revealed the court’s need to do so.

Plourd did not disclose what specifically had prompted his desire to provide additional jury instructions. He dismissed the jury following the closing argument of defense attorney Jill Cremeans and prior to the rebuttal of county Deputy District Attorney Anthony Valente.

Plourd had spent nearly an hour on Wednesday reading aloud the court’s initial instructions to the jury. Following that, both Valente and Cremeans spent about an hour on their respective closing arguments.

Buttner is facing four felony counts that, in part, allege she established her permanent residence, or “domicile,” in Santa Clara County in mid-2014 and was not living at the Calexico address she provided in her 2017 candidacy filings for the Board of Education trustee seat.

Those charges include two counts of perjury that allege she falsified her 2017 candidate intention statement under penalty of perjury and had submitted a California driver’s license application in 2017 listing her father’s Rockwood Avenue address in Calexico as her own.

Gonzalez-Buttner is also facing a count of grand theft that alleges she illegally obtained board member stipends and health insurance under false pretenses. The charge of filing a falsified candidacy declaration alleges that she provided a fraudulent address on the document, which is a form not signed under penalty of perjury.

Valente told the jurors that evidence and testimony presented during the trial showed Gonzalez-Buttner knew that she was submitting fraudulent candidacy forms in 2017 and never intended to return to Calexico after having relocated to Santa Clara in 2014.

Some of that evidence included a yearlong apartment lease she had signed in Santa Clara, signed registration forms enrolling some of her children in Santa Clara schools and obtaining employment.

And despite the monthly trips the defendant frequently took from Santa Clara to Calexico, she always returned to Santa Clara, Valente said.

“Her habitation was fixed when she moved there,” he said.

To prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for the perjury charges, the prosecution must demonstrate that the defendant had knowledge that her actions were illegal and nonetheless intended to carry out those acts, Cremeans reminded jurors during her closing argument.

Such knowledge was lacking on Gonzalez-Buttner’s part, Cremeans said, because her client has believed all along that education and election code allowed her to reside elsewhere but maintain her “domicile” in Calexico.

Although it is not uncommon for a person to have more than one residence, a domicile refers to an individual’s permanent residence.

Cremeans also dismissed the prosecution’s argument that Gonzalez-Buttner attempted to exploit a “loophole” in the law that allows individuals to enroll in an institution of higher learning in one location and still legally maintain their permanent residence elsewhere.

Though Gonzalez-Buttner did not enroll in community college courses until a year after her arrival in Santa Clara, the timing of her enrollment made no difference in the eyes of the law, so long as she intended to return to her alleged domicile in Calexico, Cremeans said.

“It doesn’t really matter,” she said.

The court will reconvene the Gonzalez-Buttner matter at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Brawley east courtroom, with additional jury instructions and Valente’s rebuttal to Cremeans closing argument. Jury deliberations will start afterward.