Judge wants to set schedule for retrial in Genesis case

A retrial of two Fresno women accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Genesis child-welfare agency will occur next year, but the exact date has yet to be determined.

On trial are Elaine Bernard, chief executive officer of Genesis, and her sister, Carol Dela Torre, the nonprofit's clinical director.

A 16-count indictment charges them with theft, tax evasion and filing false state income tax returns.

Their first trial in Fresno County Superior Court lasted five months before ending in a mistrial in May.

During a status hearing Wednesday, Judge John Vogt said he wanted the retrial to begin in early 2008. Bernard's lawyer, Roger Nuttall, however, said he has several trials pending, and that the earliest he will be available is September 2008.

Among Nuttall's clients is Larissa Schuster, who is accused of killing her husband, Timothy, and putting his body in a barrel of acid in July 2003. Her trial is expected to begin in October.

Despite Nuttall's busy schedule, Vogt said it was his intention to start the trial as early as January. He told Nuttall that he has until Oct. 10 to determine whether he should remain Bernard's lawyer.

Vogt also said any pretrial motions by either the defense or prosecution will be heard Oct. 10.

Nuttall said after the hearing that he does not intend to withdraw from the case. But he also said that Vogt may have legal grounds to start the trial in early 2008 without him. If that happens, it would take Bernard's new lawyer seven to eight months to fully understand the case, so he said it would be unreasonable to replace him.

Bernard, 47, and Dela Torre, 46, are Fresno State graduates and longtime civic leaders. They are accused of spending Genesis money on vacations and shopping sprees between 1996 and 2001. They could go to prison if convicted and would lose their licenses as social workers.

Court records show Bernard and Dela Torre have repaid Genesis and that the agency's board of directors supports the women's efforts to prove their innocence.

Bernard has said her legal bill so far is about $300,000, and that her sister also is paying for a lawyer.