The next stage of Councilman Tad Honeycutt's legal battle had all the elements of ritual.


Deputy District Attorney Michael Fermin, with a borrowed knife, slit open the tape that sealed four Staples copy paper boxes shut. Counting to himself, he handed out three sets of 16 printouts, each bound in black plastic, the transcripts of August's special grand jury testimony relating to the California Charter Academy.


Honeycutt and co-defendant C. Steven Cox were in Victorville Superior Court Friday morning to officially name their attorneys. The pair faces 117 felony charges between them, including misappropriation of public funds, grand theft, failure to file a state tax return and filing a false tax return. Honeycutt faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Cox faces up to 64.


The charges filed against Cox and Honeycutt on September 4 specifically address 37 transactions in which a total of $5.5 million was transferred from the non-profit CCA to its for-profit subsidiaries. The funds were allegedly transferred without the legally required oversight from the governing board.


Once the largest chain of charter schools in the state, with 60 campuses serving 4,500 students, the academy closed its doors in August 2004, after running out of operating funds, leaving thousands of students without a classroom on the eve of the 2004-2005 school year. In an audit report commissioned by the California Department of Education and released in April 2005, CCA officials, and officials in spin-off operations, like the for-profit subsidiary Everything For Schools, headed up by Honeycutt, were accused of misusing $23 million in taxpayer funds.


At Friday's court appearance, Honeycutt officially retained San Bernardino attorney Grover Leon Porter and Riverside attorney Steven Harmon as his defense attorneys. Deputy Public Defender Mark Shoup will represent Cox. Both defendants' financial assets were frozen in September under the state's aggravated white-collar crime enhancement, which prevents suspects from spending the assets of an alleged crime. The provision allows the court to release funds for living and legal expenses, if requested.


Both legal teams will now dig into the testimony of 54 grand jury witnesses from August's special grand jury session.


Honeycutt left court beside Porter, carrying his Staples box full of transcripts with him.


He and Cox are next due to appear in court on March 14.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.