SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A judge sentenced a California lawmaker to three years of probation after she pleaded no contest to stealing leather pants and other merchandise, thefts that her attorney blamed on a benign brain tumor.
Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi was arrested on Oct. 23 after surveillance cameras at a Neiman Marcus store at Union Square showed her walking out the doors with unpaid merchandise in her shopping bag. She was accused of stealing nearly $2,500 worth of clothing.
She entered the plea in San Francisco Superior Court Friday after the judge reduced a theft charge against her from a felony to a misdemeanor at a prosecutor’s request.
In addition to probation, Judge Gerardo Sandoval 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.
Hayashi declined to speak to reporters after Friday’s court hearing, but her attorney, Douglas Rappaport, said 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.
“It is being treated,” he added. “It’s no longer affecting her concentration or her judgment.”
Ross Warren, a spokesman for Hayashi, said Friday the Democratic lawmaker “acknowledges that she did accidentally walk out of the building with unpaid merchandise.”
“She admitted that she made a mistake, and today she is accepting the consequences of that mistake,” said Warren, adding that her condition “can lead to some absentmindedness.”
Hayashi has no plans to resign from office, Warren 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.
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.
“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.”
“While she made a serious mistake, she has owned up to her actions and taken responsibility for them,” Perez said in a statement.
Barbara O’Connor, a communications professor at California State University, Sacramento, said Hayashi’s conviction is another example of bad behavior by politicians whose public standing has plummeted.
“It doesn’t make people feel better about their elected officials,” she said.
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