Family sues Schwarzenegger for Nunez commutation

January 20, 2011 6:44:18 PM PST
A Concord family has filed a lawsuit against former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for commuting the sentence of a man convicted in their son's stabbing death.

"He messed with the wrong family," Luis Santos' mother Kathy Santos said.

Surrounded by pictures of Luis Santos, the family of the 22-year-old murdered college student said they cannot let what they call an injustice prevail.

One of the men convicted of Santos' murder, Esteban Nunez, got his sentence reduced from 16 years to seven by Schwarzenegger just hours before he left office.

The move sparked outraged because Nunez is the son of a Schwarzenegger ally, former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who the family says may have used his influence to call in a favor.

"It was the other father, the criminal's father, that acted with emotion that interfered with justice; this was a political interference on the judicial system," father Fred Santos said.

Now despite an apology letter from Schwarzenegger, the Santos family has filed a lawsuit claiming the commutation was illegal under Marsy's Law, passed to protect victims' rights.

The family says they should have been notified before the commutation.

"He betrayed all victims of California when he betrayed the Santos family," Santos family attorney Nina Salarno Ashford said.

Neither the older Nunez, nor Schwarzenegger responded to ABC7's calls, but both have said the sentence was excessive considering Esteban was not the one who fatally stabbed Santos.

The attorney for the younger Nunez said, "I do not believe their lawsuit would have any impact on the commutation of Esteban's sentence because the rules and regulations were followed and because Marsy's Law does not apply to the executive decision-making power of the governor related to pardons and commutations."

The Santos lawsuit seeks no compensation, only that the 16 year sentence be restored.

Some legal analysts say the case is a stretch.

"The governor's power to pardon or commute sentences is something that goes back even before the American Constitution and it's virtually unassailable," ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson said.

Kathy and Fred Santos say they are ready to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, a proposal to force governors to notify families of commutations 30 days in advanced is working its way through the legislature.