A politically charged marijuana cultivation case against a Ukiah High School teacher was dropped Tuesday only weeks after District Attorney Meredith Lintott unexpectedly decided to press prosecution.
For Burrell, Tuesday's decision allows him to finally get on with his life and teaching career after more than two years in legal limbo.
But prosecutors' move in Mendocino County Superior Court to dismiss charges against Burrell marked yet another confusing chapter in the saga of DA Lintott.
Deputy DA Scott McMenomey cited "insufficient evidence" in asking Judge Clay Brennan to drop charges.
Just three months ago Lintott's office forged ahead with plans to prosecute the 52-year-old Burrell even though there was no public announcement of any new evidence.
Lintott, fighting for her political life in the June 8 election, was accused by challenger David Eyster - Burrell's attorney - of making an “extreme” decision for potential political gain. Eyster during his campaign has criticized the DA’s office for confusing and ineffective marijuana prosecution policies.
Eyster at the time said he couldn't help but wonder if Lintott wasn't seeking to draw political attention to his legal defense of a defendant accused in a commercial marijuana growing operation.
Eyster said then and again Tuesday that no new evidence had developed since 2008 in the Burrell case, so why file felony charges and then just as abruptly dismiss them a week before the June 8 election.
“I’m gratified that my evaluation there was no case against Jeff Burrell two years ago was finally confirmed,” said Eyster.
Lintott’s move in March to charge Burrell stunned the well-known teacher, his family and wide circle of friends. It also raised questions about the DA’s motives.
For example, Eyster said he wasn’t personally notified of the DA’s decision to finally charge Burrell as is typical in criminal cases.
Instead Burrell learned of the pending felony charges after reading a three-paragraph letter dated Feb. 25 from Lintott under the signature of prosecutor Dan McConnell.
The letter stated Burrell was being charged with felony cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale, and ordered him to appear for an arraignment in late April.
A similar letter was received by Burrell friend Steve Laino, who was arrested at the same time. Their cases, however, are being treated independent of each other.
Eyster and others familiar with the Burrell case have questioned the DA's rationale.
“They sat on the case for two years, and ignored our requests for information, investigative reports and other related documents,” said Eyster in March.
Eyster said he has long suspected that there in fact was no new evidence in the two-year-old case
For Burrell the DA’s action in March returned him to the unwelcomed public spotlight he had avoided since his arrest, and his return to teaching last year.
Burrell was on leave from arrest in 2008 through the end of that school year. When the DA took no action, the school reinstated him for the 2008-2009 school year and he has continued since.
But since the filing of charges in March by the DA, the teacher's case was rehashed in the local media, and became fodder for a debate over how effective the county’s marijuana prosecution policies are.
The Burrell dismissal is the second Lintott action in recent weeks to make local headlines.
In April county residents learned that Lintott had filed for personal bankruptcy, contending she and her husband couldn’t make payments on their Redwood Valley residence, a rental house in Fort Bragg, college tuition loans and credit card debt despite $200,000 in combined annual income.