No drug conviction, Nora Aunor’s lawyer insists
MANILA, Philippines–A lawyer who defended Nora Aunor in a drug-related case in the United States said Tuesday the actress was not convicted of a crime involving drugs—contrary to President Aquino’s claim.
“I am pulling the court docket on this issue and I hope it sheds light on the falsity of the claim of conviction. The President is sadly misinformed on the status of the case here in California,” Claire Navarro Espina said in a Facebook message to Inquirer Hollywood correspondent Ruben Nepales.
Espina’s Facebook status read: “NO DRUG CONVICTION – ONCE AGAIN: Nora Aunor was never convicted of a crime, let alone a crime involving drugs here in Los Angeles.
“I should know—I was the attorney who represented her. Two reporter friends have already pm’d [private messaged] me this issue—again today. Apparently misinformation over in the Philippines on this issue.”
Aquino told the media Tuesday that Aunor was dropped from the roster of national artists because she was “convicted” of drug possession.
In an earlier story published in the Inquirer, Aunor’s lawyers explained the difference between the drug court and the drug diversion programs: “Drug court requires no plea to be made while undergoing the program, while diversion does, plus, drug court requires random drug testing and diversion does not.”
On Oct. 1, 2007, drug charges against Aunor were dismissed and the case against her has been closed.
In a press statement, her lawyers said that “the court found that Aunor has successfully complied with all terms and conditions under the law and has performed satisfactorily during the drug diversion program.
“Thus, the arrest of Aunor shall be deemed to have never occurred and she shall be considered not to have been arrested in the first place, leaving her with no criminal record of the incident all pursuant to Section 1000.4 of the California Penal Code.”
In response, Espina released this statement: “Reports that my client, … Aunor, was convicted on drug charges in California is incorrect.”
Espina said that “[w]hile it is true that she was arrested for alleged possession of drug paraphernalia in 2005, a disposition was made with court approval for her to be entered into a diversion program which she fully met, despite a hectic concert … tour schedule.”
In her statement, Espina said Aunor “underwent and passed over 40 random drug tests. At the conclusion of the diversion program, the court dismissed the case. There was never a judgment of a conviction that was entered on the record.”
In a conversation conducted on Facebook, Espina told the Inquirer: “During the time she was under diversion, she was free to move about. She traveled extensively in the US,” performing in various concerts.
“She was not punished nor did she spend any time in jail. The impression therefore that she was in a detoxification program or addicted or deemed to be addicted in some manner is false,” Espina said.
President’s basis incorrect
Espina pointed out that “[i]f the President’s decision to deny her (Aunor) the [national artist] award is based on an alleged drug conviction, that basis is incorrect.”
The lawyer expressed concern “that there appears to have been a failure to get to the source of information to determine its accuracy prior to the official statement having been made. It bespeaks of a disregard for important details that matter in an already controversial issue.”
What went before
On March 30, 2005, Aunor was arrested after security screeners at Los Angeles International Airport said they found eight grams of methamphetamine (shabu) in a film container in her carry-on bag.
Aunor was booked under her real name—Nora Cabaltera Villamayor—at the Van Nuys jail on a felony drug possession count and was released the following morning after posting bail.
One of her lawyers, Sherwin Edelberg of the law offices of Edelberg & Espina, said Aunor paid only 10 percent, or $1,000, of the bail, which was set at $10,000.
Zero time to 18 months in jail
During the arraignment on April 21 of that same year, which took only three minutes, Aunor pleaded not guilty before LA Superior Court Judge Paula Adele Maybrey at the LA Airport Courthouse.
Under California law, the penalty for such offense is from zero time to 18 months in jail, Edelberg said.
During a court hearing on Dec. 22 that year, Judge Bernard Kamins, of the LA Airport Courthouse, ordered Aunor to undertake a rigorous drug detoxification program.
The program, which is under the California Penal Code Section 1000.5, could last 12 months and involves counseling, education and other therapeutic interventions.
Espina said at the time that her client welcomed the opportunity to voluntarily submit herself to scrutiny to dispel speculation that she had been involved in any untoward conduct. While attending the program, Aunor remained free to go about her business, unencumbered in her movements.
In March 2006, however, Aunor left the drug rehab program after failing to reach an agreement with another judge over her request to be allowed to travel outside of Los Angeles.
Her lawyers decided to enroll Aunor in an 18-month drug diversion program, which allowed her to meet her filming and concert schedules for 2006.
In the four months that Aunor was enrolled in the drug court program, she remained “in full compliance” with the requirements and passed all subsequent drug testings, Espina said then. “Nora underwent in excess of 40 individual tests.”
Later that month, Aunor pleaded guilty to drug possession before Superior Court Judge James Brandlin and joined a drug diversion program.
Sentencing was delayed for 18 months, and Aunor could then request the charge be dropped if she would finish all the diversion requirements.–With a report from Almi Ilagan-Atienza, Inquirer Research, based on Inquirer archives
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.