Court upholds shortened manslaughter sentence for son of ally of ex-Gov. Schwarzenegger

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FILE - In this Wednesday March 18, 2009 file photo former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, right, and his son Esteban Nunez, left, leave a hearing in Superior Court in San Diego. A California appeals court has upheld former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to dramatically reduce the manslaughter sentence of Esteban Nunez. The 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento ruled Tuesday, June 2, 2015 that Schwarzenegger’s actions may be seen as deserving of censure and grossly unjust. But the judges say the governor didn’t violate the state constitution by failing to notify the victim’s family beforehand. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy,File)

SAN DIEGO — A California appeals court on Tuesday upheld former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to dramatically reduce the manslaughter sentence of a political ally's son, saying his conduct may be considered wrong but it didn't violate any laws.

On his last day in office in 2011, Schwarzenegger commuted the sentence of Esteban Nunez to seven years from 16 years in the stabbing death of college student Luis Santos in San Diego. Esteban Nunez's father is Fabian Nunez, speaker of the state Assembly while Schwarzenegger was governor.

Frederico and Kathy Santos, the victim's parents, and San Diego County District Bonnie Dumanis sued to overturn the shortened sentence, arguing that the governor violated a voter-approved constitutional amendment that requires victims to be notified before a decision. But the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento agreed with a trial judge that the amendment approved in 2008 and known as Marsy's Law does not apply to commuted sentences.

"We are compelled to conclude that, while Schwarzenegger's conduct could be seen as deserving of censure and grossly unjust, it was not illegal," Associate Justice Harry E. Hull Jr. wrote.

"Back-room dealings were apparent," the court wrote of Schwarzenegger's decision.

Presiding Justice Vance W. Raye wrote in a concurring opinion, "As reprehensible as the Governor's action in this instance might have been, it would be equally reprehensible to ignore the clear language of a constitutional provision."

Steve Walker, a spokesman for Dumanis, said the prosecutor will appeal.

"Gov. Schwarzenegger deprived Esteban Nunez's victims of an opportunity to be heard, and he violated the intent of Marsy's Law, a constitutional amendment granting victims' rights to participate in the criminal justice system," Walker said.

Frederico Santos said that he and his wife were "very disappointed and sad" about the ruling. He said they had not decided on the next step but did not rule out an appeal.

Santos, then a student at San Diego's Mesa College, was killed in October 2008 during a confrontation with Nunez and his friends, who had been turned away from a party near the San Diego State University campus.

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