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After court executive officer John Montgomery abruptly retired from Marin County Superior Court a year ago, court officials questioned whether he had covered up a conflict of interest. County prosecutors say the answer is, yes. Late last week, they filed felony conflict of interest charges against the longtime administrator, who owned property with a woman who’d worked for the superior court under contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. He’s accused of breaking a law that prohibits public officials from being “financially interested” in any contract they make in their official capacity. Montgomery, arrested over the weekend in Virginia, could face anything from probation to nine years’ imprisonment if he’s found guilty of the 10 counts he faces, according to prosecutors. Court officials have said they first caught wind that Montgomery had owned a house with Linda Lau, a contract employee with whom he had a personal relationship, when a subordinate raised the issue with the presiding judge in early 2005. Lau’s employers were paid $517,000 over three years for her work as a consultant, according to a prosecutor’s affidavit. Now prosecutors allege that Montgomery repeatedly failed to disclose that he’d bought two properties with Lau and had approved the contracts she had worked under. Montgomery’s defense attorney, San Francisco solo Stephen Shaiken, said his client is “absolutely innocent.” Though he hadn’t seen the complaint by Tuesday, Shaiken said he thought the contracts at issue were not signed by Montgomery. And he noted that Lau was an employee, not an owner, of the contracting companies. “There is no policy � [that] says the CEO can’t buy property with someone who works for a company that has a contract with the county signed by a different employee,” Shaiken said. “And John had absolutely no role in these contracts, or the supervision of these contracts.” Chief Deputy District Attorney Barry Borden noted that prosecutors won’t give Shaiken discovery until Montgomery is extradited back to California and arraigned. “So whatever statements they are making, they are making without the benefit of voluminous discovery,” Borden said. His affidavit lists several contracts that he said Montgomery had been “aware of and approved,” though a subordinate had signed them. Last February, the presiding judge asked the Administrative Office of the Courts to look into whether the shared property created a conflict of interest, as well as whether Montgomery had gone on business trips without proper authorization. Around that time, the AOC was conducting a routine, broader audit of the court. That audit was finished first, in May, and concluded that oversight for approving contracts and business trips had often been lax. And, it said, Montgomery had been allowed to “operate very independently and without appropriate supervision.” When the focused investigation that the presiding judge had requested was finished in September, the court passed it on to the district attorney’s office. That audit concluded that under the court’s personnel manual, Montgomery’s stake in property owned with Lau created a conflict of interest that he’d had “an affirmative obligation to disclose.” Prosecutors say that, in fact, Montgomery may have taken active steps to conceal his conflict of interest by hiding his address from the court.

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