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A judge today refused to overturn former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's commutation of the prison term of one-time Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez' son, Esteban Núñez, who is serving time on a voluntary manslaughter conviction.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd G. Connelly characterized as "repugnant" Schwarzenegger's decision to cut Esteban Núñez' prison term from 16 years to seven. Schwarzenegger issued the commutation as one of the final acts of his administration in January 2011.

But even though Connelly said he believed the commutation was an abuse, he said it was still an authority the governor had under his executive powers.

Kathy and Fred Santos, the parents of Luis Santos, who was stabbed to death Oct. 4, 2008, in San Diego, today harshly criticized the state Attorney General's Office for defending "corruption." They vowed to press forward with their effort to have the commutation vacated on Núñez' son.

"They defended a backroom deal," Kathy Santos told reporters outside the courtroom. "They got away with it for today. Where's the justice for our son? He was murdered. Two conniving politicians got away with it."

Attorney General spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill declined to comment on the ruling, saying the judge's decision speaks for itself.

From the bench, Connelly said that even though he found the commutation of Esteban Núñez "distasteful," "repugnant," and "outside the normal realm...of fundamental justice," he said that the executive authority of the governor gives the office the right to make such decisions.

"It's a discretionary right," Connelly said of the governor's power to commute sentences. He added that the people, through the state constitution, have given the governor the right "to make decisions outside the normal criminal justice process."

Plaintiffs attorneys had argued that Schwarzenegger violated state law by not notifying the families of the victims within 10 days before commuting the sentence. Connelly said such notifications apply only to pardons, not commutations, and that the two processes are "as different as a horse and an elephant."

"Sorry," Connelly told the attorneys, "but I don't think you have it."


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