Published January 06, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO – A California lawmaker pleaded no contest Friday to stealing leather pants and other merchandise from a Neiman Marcus store in an incident her attorney blamed on a benign brain tumor.
Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley, entered the plea in San Francisco Superior Court after the judge reduced a theft charge against her from a felony to a misdemeanor at a prosecutor's request.
Hayashi was arrested on Oct. 23 after surveillance cameras at the store at Union Square showed her walking out the doors with unpurchased merchandise in her shopping bag. She was accused of stealing nearly $2,500 worth of clothing.
After the plea, Judge Gerardo Sandoval immediately sentenced Hayashi to three years of probation, ordered her to pay $180 in fines and court costs, and told her to stay at least 50 feet away from the Neiman Marcus store.
Shortly after her arrest, a spokesman for Hayashi had explained that she was distracted by a cellphone call and forgot to pay for the merchandise.
Her attorney, Dennis Rappaport, said Friday that Hayashi was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor that contributed to the shoplifting incident.
"Now that Ms. Hayashi's medical condition resulting in her arrest has been taken care of, she decided that she would resolve the case as well," Rappaport said.
"Fortunately it's something that is curable and it's treatable," he added. "It is being treated. It's no longer affecting her concentration or her judgment."
Rappaport did not immediately respond to a request for proof of Hayashi's medical condition.
Like many returning lawmakers, Hayashi was greeted earlier this week with hugs from her colleagues at the start of the new session of the Legislature but did not speak during the Assembly session or to reporters and camera crews clustered near her desk.
Hayashi has no plans to resign from office, Rappaport said.
If she had been convicted of a felony, Hayashi would have lost her pay but not necessarily her job in the Legislature.
Assembly rules do not say what happens if a lawmaker is convicted of a misdemeanor, though someone could file a complaint with the Assembly's Special Committee on Legislative Ethics that might prompt unspecified sanctions.
Hayashi, 44, who is married to Alameda County Superior Court Judge Dennis Hayashi, has represented Castro Valley since 2006 but can't run for re-election because she is termed out of office after this year.
Prosecutors said they agreed to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor because Hayashi was willing to enter the no-contest plea and had no prior criminal record.
"While the defense attorney never said anything about her health condition on the record, her condition never factored into our decision," said Stephanie Ong Stillman, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.
Speaking at a news conference before the court hearing, District Attorney George Gascon said his office would accept the judge's decision.
"She is a first-time offender. She has no criminal record. So while what she did is inexcusable and she needs to be held accountable for her actions, I think it's appropriate to examine and explore all the different possibilities," Gascon said.
Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said Friday that he's confident Hayashi will "continue to ably serve her constituents with the same talent and passion she has displayed throughout her time in office."
"While she made a serious mistake, she has owned up to her actions and taken responsibility for them," Perez said in a statement.