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Family of victim in Esteban Núñez case sues Schwarzenegger

The parents of Luis Santos, the 22-year-old college student killed in a confrontation that involved the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, sued former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sacramento on Thursday, claiming he violated their constitutional rights under the state’s Victims' Bill of Rights.

During his last hours in office, Schwarzenegger cut Esteban Núñez’s 16-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter to seven years, without notifying the Santos family. Schwarzenegger noted in a statement that Núñez, although involved in the fight that ended in Santos' death, did not inflict the fatal knife wound.

Under the California Constitution, family members have a right to be heard “upon request” in any proceeding involving a “post-conviction release decision.”

One of the Santos attorneys, Nina Salarno Ashford, said the family didn’t have a chance to request a hearing because they didn’t know Schwarzenegger was going to take action.  Under the Victims' Bill of Rights, which was amended to the state Constitution following a successful 2008 ballot measure, Schwarzenegger had a "duty" to inform the family, Ashford said.

“It shouldn’t have been done in the eleventh hour, when you’re leaving office, and you don’t think you’re going to be held responsible,” she added.

Fred Santos, the victim’s father, accused Schwarzenegger of reducing the sentence as a favor to Fabian Núñez, who as Assembly Speaker sponsored AB 32, the raft of stringent environmental regulations that make up a large part of Schwarzenegger’s legacy.

The suit asks the court to reinstate Núñez’s original 16-year sentence, which he agreed to through a plea bargain.

Asked if the lawsuit was driven by emotion, Fred Santos said, “I did not act with my emotions to interfere with the judicial system of this country.  It was the other father -- the criminal’s father -- that acted with emotion and interfered with justice,” by requesting the sentence reduction from Schwarzenegger.

Days after releasing the commutation order, Schwarzenegger sent the Santos family a letter apologizing for not informing them of his decision.

-- Jack Dolan

 
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