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Honig Fined, Sentenced to 1,000 Hours of Service

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Bill Honig, the longtime California schools chief convicted last month on felony conflict-of-interest charges, was sentenced last week to 1,000 hours of community service and ordered to repay the state grants that led to the charges.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge James L. Long agreed with the recommendation of state prosecutors and probation officials in not requiring any jail time, suspending a one-year sentence in the county jail.

Instead, Judge Long ordered Mr. Honig to pay a $337,590 fine, log 1,000 hours of community service within eight months, and spend four years on probation. Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Mr. Honig attacked the sentence as "harsh'' overkill.

"If they could have sent me to state prison, they would have,'' said the former superintendent, who had asked that the charges be reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. "I've paid my price, but the question is: How much is enough?''

Mr. Honig was convicted on charges resulting from four grants awarded by his office to the Quality Education Project, a national parental-involvement program that was run by his wife, Nancy, out of the Honigs' San Francisco home. While prosecutors did not dispute that the grant money paid for the local programs, a jury decided that Mr. Honig stood to potentially benefit from the grants and thus was guilty under a seldom-used state conflict-of-interest statute. (See Education Week, Feb. 10, 1993.)

With sentencing, the reins of the state education department were formally handed over to William D. Dawson, Mr. Honig's chief deputy, who will serve as the acting state schools chief until the legislature clears a replacement appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson. The Governor was expected to make an announcement as early as this week.

Mr. Honig said last week that the verdict, which he intends to appeal, has left him shattered.

The felony convictions "would cripple me in my ability to continue in education,'' he said.

The legal battle also has left him "broke,'' he said. California newspapers reported last week that Mr. Honig had used $192,000 in campaign contributions to pay legal bills in the case. State law allows public officials to use campaign funds to fight misconduct charges.

Mr. Honig, a lawyer, also faces disbarment as a result of the convictions. As a final blow, prosecutors asked that he not be allowed to perform his community-service work near children, calling him an unfit role model.--L.H.

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