Traffic reporter in legal jam

Bay Area radio personality Joe McConnell will face a criminal charge for stealing a Burlingame City Council candidate’s campaign sign, San Mateo County District Attorney James Fox confirmed Wednesday.

Fox said prosecutors were in the process of filing a petty theft infraction against

McConnell, who admitted to plucking City Council hopeful Gene Condon’s sign from a front yard

Oct. 8. McConnell’s wife, Geraldine O’Connor, was chairwoman of the Committee to Elect Jerry Deal, one of Condon’s

opponents.

McConnell will not face jail time if found guilty of the infraction, which Fox compared to a traffic ticket. The traffic reporter will instead receive a notice to appear in court in the coming weeks to resolve the matter. McConnell is not entitled to a jury trial but may fight the charges in a hearing before the judge. If he is found guilty, he may pay a fine of up to $250.

Fox called McConnell’s conduct “wrong” and said he must be held accountable.

“The candidates spent their money to have these signs printed; the neighbors who place them on the property are exercising a form of free speech. It’s wrong to interfere,” Fox said.

Condon pressed charges against McConnell after a homeowner claimed to have videotaped the traffic reporter, whose broadcasts for Metro Networks can be heard on Bay Area stations such as KGO-AM and KQED-FM, steal Condon’s signs two nights in a row.

McConnell admitted to taking one sign, but said he only took it because it was blocking a Deal sign and said he later regretted the decision.

On Wednesday, Condon — who lost the previous day’s election — applauded the district attorney for planning to file charges.

“It’s good to know we can still count on the justice system if not the political system,” he said.

Condon added that he thinks McConnell’s charge should carry a stiffer penalty.

“I think it should be more strict so it warns off people from doing this. I think you have to make a statement somewhere in life to stop this from going on in local politics,” he said.

Condon said that he still suspects McConnell in other sign thefts. Condon estimated he lost 100 to 150 signs over the course of his

campaign.

McConnell did not return calls for comment Wednesday. Deal, who has said he did not influence McConnell to take his opponent’s signs, was elected to the City Council on Tuesday.

tbarak@examiner.com

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