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Court rules UCLA professor can’t be prosecuted for conflict of interest

By Sam Hoff

Aug. 28, 2014 11:37 p.m.

A state appeals court ruled Wednesday that a UCLA political science professor cannot be criminally prosecuted for an alleged conflict of interest after he was involved in the hiring of his wife as a program assistant at the university.

According to court documents, Michael Lofchie was responsible for hiring his wife, Kelly Comras, for a four-week study abroad course in 2008 because of his official role as chairman of the Department of Political Science. Comras was hired as a program assistant and paid about $3,100 plus additional money for expenses abroad.

Wednesday’s decision, entered by three justices in the Second District Court of Appeal in downtown Los Angeles, said that the matter was an internal issue at UCLA and not one of statewide concern.

The University of California restricts staff members from participating in the hiring of near family members, such as spouses, siblings, parents, children and in-laws, though it does not prohibit near family members of employees from being hired, according to UC personnel policies.

“Allowing the (district attorney) to sanction Lofchie … would infringe upon not only the University’s conflict of interest policies, but its internal disciplinary policies as well,” the justices wrote in Wednesday’s decision. “Their impairment would substantially interfere with the (regents’) full powers of governance over University affairs.”

After hearing that Lofchie’s wife had been hired, Richard Anderson, another political science professor who taught a class during the summer session, filed an anonymous whistle-blower complaint, according to court documents. He also met with university officials to discuss whether there was a conflict of interest, according to court documents.

After university officials rejected his internal complaint, Anderson brought the case to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, which filed a felony complaint against Lofchie in early 2012. If Lofchie had been found guilty as charged, he would have faced up to three years in state prison. Hundreds of students and alumni joined a Facebook group soon after in support of Lofchie.

The case was dismissed in 2013 after a judge ruled that a state government code Lofchie allegedly violated, section 1090, does not apply to UC employees.

The district attorney’s office later appealed the ruling, leading to Wednesday’s decision.

Compiled by Sam Hoff, Bruin senior staff.

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