Former Rent Board Member Gets Jail Time

By Bay City News
Thursday May 08, 2008 - 10:09:00 AM

Former Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board member Chris Kavanagh was sentenced last week to five years probation, including six months in the Alameda County jail, for his conviction of one felony count of falsely registering an ineligible voter, namely himself. 

Kavanagh, 49, pleaded no contest May 1 to the charge on Feb. 22, saying there was a factual basis for his plea, which was an investigation by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office that concluded his primary residence is on 63rd Street in Oakland, not the address at 2709 Dwight Way in Berkeley that he listed when he ran for office and voted. 

In return for Kavanagh’s plea, Deputy District Attorney Trevor White agreed to drop five other felony counts against him, including voter fraud, filing false nominating papers, perjury, grand theft and fraudulently voting. 

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson also ordered Kavanagh to pay a $10,835 fine to the city of Berkeley for the monthly stipends and health insurance benefits he received while serving on the board. The stipends and benefits were the basis for the grand theft charge that was dropped. 

Kavanagh’s parents, who accompanied him to court today, paid $5,800 of his fine, and their check was given to an attorney for the Berkeley rent board. 

Kavanagh, who refused to talk to reporters, is to pay the remaining $5,035 over the next five years. 

In addition, Jacobson barred Kavanagh from seeking any elective office in California for the five years he’s on probation. 

The judge told Kavanagh, “If you should apply for elective office after you complete your probation, I’m ordering you to be truthful on your application and not commit perjury.” 

Kavanagh will begin serving his time at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin on May 9 but initially will only be there on weekends so he can continue working at his job teaching developmentally disabled children at a school in San Francisco. 

He will serve 60 consecutive days between July 1 and Sept. 1 and then will serve his remaining time on weekends in the fall. 

Although the maximum sentence for the charge to which Kavanagh pleaded no contest is three years in state prison, his attorney, James Giller, had hoped Kavanagh would be sentenced to something less than six months in the county jail. 

But Kavanagh apparently ruined his chances of getting a more lenient sentence when he sent an e-mail to reporters shortly after his no-contest plea on Feb. 22 saying he had only admitted to “a technical violation of the California election code.” 

Kavanagh said the plea agreement “reflects, in my view, the fact that since my 2002 election, I complied with the city of Berkeley’s residency requirement to hold public office as a Rent Stabilization Board commissioner—with the exception of a period of time during parts of 2006 and 2007.” 

White said today that, “I differ greatly about this being only a technical violation of the law. We don’t bring charges for technical violations.” 

White said, “The system depends on the integrity of the voting process.” 

Giller, who repeatedly advised Kavanagh not to talk to the press about his case, said Jacobson sentenced Kavanagh to six months in jail because “he felt very strongly about the nature of the offense.” 

Kavanagh took a three-month leave of absence from his post in October shortly after charges were filed against him and then resigned effective Feb. 1. 

Kavanagh was first elected to the Rent Stabilization Board in 2002 and was re-elected to a second four-year term in November 2006. 

The district attorney’s office first investigated Kavanagh in 2003 after Berkeley officials said he may have committed fraud when he was first elected based on allegations that his primary residence was in Oakland. 

But prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to file any charges against Kavanagh at that time. 

In a separate investigation, the Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission submitted information to the district attorney on Jan. 19, 2006, alleging that Kavanagh was chronically late in filing campaign finance forms with the city. 

But the district attorney’s office never filed charges. 

Giller said Kavanagh’s conviction is “very devastating” to him. 

The defense attorney said Kavanagh is “a pretty good guy who’s been involved in the Berkeley community and its politics for a good part of his life and loves the town, but unfortunately he used poor judgment.”