The arraignment of Los Banos school trustee Tommy Jones and Merced-area contractor Gregory Opinski on corruption charges was continued Wednesday to Nov. 21 after Opinski’s attorney requested a different judge.
A request by the Contractors State Licensing Board to suspend or revoke Opinski’s contracting license also was continued to that date.
Jeffrey Hammerschmidt, who represented Opinski in Merced Superior Court Commissioner Jeanne Schechter’s court, requested moving the case to a different judge using a peremptory challenge, meaning he did not need to offer a reason.
Jones’ attorney, Kevin Little, also asked for a new judge. Jones and Opinski’s cases are being heard together.
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The request was granted and the arraignment was moved to the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Ronald Hansen on Nov. 21.
Hammerschmidt declined to state to Schechter why the defense was requesting another judge. The attorney also declined to comment to the Enterprise after the hearing.
Jones and Opinski, a member of the Merced High School District school board, were arrested in August for allegedly bribing another Los Banos school trustee, Dominic Falasco, to vote in favor of awarding Opinski a $540,000 contract to expand Mercey Springs Elementary School.
Case reports from the Merced County District Attorney’s Office’s investigation, obtained by the Enterprise and Merced Sun-Star, detail conversations secretly recorded by Falasco.
Those conversations, monitored by investigators, suggest Jones gave Falasco $12,000 on behalf of Opinski for voting on three separate items: placing then-Superintendent Steve Tietjen on administrative leave, changing the school board’s legal firm to one favored by Opinski, and accepting Opinski as the construction manager for the Mercey Springs project.
Jones and Opinski sat next to each other in court Wednesday while waiting for their case to be called.
Opinski’s name will appear on the Nov. 8 general-election ballot as a challenger for state Assemblyman Adam Gray’s seat even though he dropped out of the race in May because of “business and personal circumstances.”
Jones, the former mayor of Los Banos, is running for re-election to the Los Banos school board.
The Los Banos Teachers Association and others have denounced Jones and endorsed his opponent, Megan Goin-Soares. Jones has been supported by the Community Advocacy Coalition, a local group focused on supporting underrepresented people.
The school board voted 5-2 Thursday in favor of considering a possible censure of Jones atits next meeting, which is scheduled for Nov. 10, after the election.
Three trustees, Falasco, Anthony Parreira and Dennis Areias, attempted to place the censure vote on Thursday’s agenda at a special board meeting Sept. 22. That meeting, however, failed to attract the four trustees needed for a quorum, with Jones and trustees Carole Duffy, Marlene Smith and Ray Martinez all absent due to scheduling conflicts.
Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562