Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi has been charged with felony grand theft after allegedly being caught by security officers stealing nearly $2,500 in clothing from a San FranciscoNeiman Marcus store.
The 45-year-old Castro Valley Democrat, wife of a Bay Area judge, pleaded not guilty Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court and is free on $15,000 bail pending further proceedings Nov. 15.
Sam Singer, spokesman for Hayashi, said the arrest occurred after she left the store while using her cellular phone.
"The incident in San Francisco was a mistake and a misunderstanding," Singer said. "The assemblywoman strongly believes in the justice system and is hopeful that this matter will be cleared up soon."
Hayashi, who is scheduled to be termed out of office next year, chairs the Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee.
The veteran lawmaker was placed under citizen's arrest by security officers outside Neiman Marcus after leaving the store without paying for clothing items, said Officer Carlos Manfredi of the San Francisco Police Department.
Hayashi had passed several cash registers without stopping and the incident was captured on videotape, said Manfredi, adding that the clothing was recovered and has been booked into evidence.
Leather pants, a black skirt and a white blouse were the merchandise involved, Singer confirmed. He did not know their brand names or value.
Hayashi, after being stopped by Neiman Marcus security officers about 12:15 p.m. Sunday, was taken into custody by San Francisco police and released on bail about seven hours later – at 7:28 p.m., reports said.
Maximum sentence is three years in prison for grand theft, but first-time offenders typically do not receive such stiff sentences, said Assistant District Attorney Omid Talai, spokesman for the San Francisco DA's office.
Talai declined to comment on Hayashi's likely punishment if convicted.
Hayashi is embarrassed, distraught and she apologizes for any misunderstanding, but she has no intention of resigning from office, Singer said.
"Absolutely not," he said. "She is one of the most respected members of the Assembly – a fine, upstanding citizen and a role model. This is a mistake and nothing more."
Hayashi had entered Neiman Marcus with two shopping bags. One contained items purchased from another store; the other had merchandise that she intended to return to Neiman Marcus, Singer said.
While inside Neiman Marcus, she picked up some additional items to purchase. Distracted while using a cellular phone, she stepped outside briefly "without really thinking about it," Singer said.
She immediately realized her mistake, but before she could rectify it, she was stopped by store security officers, Singer said.
"She was probably trying to do too much at the same time and was distracted," Singer said. "She made a mistake, but she did not intend to do what she's been accused of doing."
The arrest does not disqualify Hayashi from serving in the Legislature.
Political repercussions could hurt her political career, however, even if she is not forced from office, political analyst Bob Stern said.
"For most public officials, the publicity is far worse than the penalty," Stern said.
Spokesman John Vigna released a written statement that said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez will await findings of the criminal justice system.
"The Speaker believes that Ms. Hayashi has the same right to due process as every person in California," Vigna said. "This is a serious matter and must be resolved through the appropriate setting of the courts."
Hayashi represents an Alameda County Assembly district that includes all or parts of Castro Valley, Hayward, Oakland, Pleasanton, San Leandro and San Lorenzo.
The lawmaker is married to Alameda Superior Court Judge Dennis Hayashi, a former public-interest attorney, her Assembly website said.
Hayashi, who lived in Korea as a child, has documented her experiences as an immigrant in a book "Far From Home: Shattering the Myth of the Model Minority."