Bill Honig, the controversial former California schools chief who had been saddled with the tag of felon since 1993, has had his conflict-of-interest convictions reduced to misdemeanors.
Last month’s ruling by a state judge culminates a long effort by Mr. Honig to have the convictions overturned or his sentence eased. He now hopes that his work teaching and promoting reading improvements will eclipse his criminal record.
“These things take their toll,” Mr. Honig said in an interview. “It’s just nice to have it behind you.”
A jury found Mr. Honig, then the state superintendent of public instruction, guilty in 1993 of criminal conflict of interest for approving four state contracts worth $337,000 to consultants working with his wife’s nonprofit Quality Education Project. (“Political Maneuvering Begins in California After Honig Is Convicted,” Feb. 10, 1993.)
A state appellate court upheld the convictions, but left the question of restitution open.
In the Dec. 18 ruling, Sacramento Superior Court Judge James L. Long reduced Mr. Honig’s restitution from $274,754 to $47,000.
“It’s a compromise, and in cases like this, you compromise,” Mr. Honig said. His lawyer, Arthur J. Shartsis, had argued that restitution was unnecessary because it was not clear that the state had lost money in the case.
During the recent hearing, Judge Long asked Mr. Honig if he accepted personal responsibility for the crimes. Mr. Honig responded, “Yes, Your Honor.”
Mr. Honig, who performed 1,000 hours of court-ordered community service, remains ineligible to run for political office in California. Because of his convictions, he was forced to relinquish the state chief’s post he had first been elected to in 1982.
But he said last week that he is happy with his current work, which includes teaching at San Francisco State University and promoting reading reform.
He is one of the leaders of the Consortium on Reading Excellence, which consults with 25 school districts on balanced strategies for reading instruction that blend phonics and whole-language techniques. He also wrote a book on the subject called Teaching Our Children to Read.
“What I’m doing now, I think is useful,” he said. “It’s something that’s needed.”
--ROBERT C. JOHNSTON