Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat

A former Columbia Fire Protection District chief pleaded guilty in Tuolumne County Superior Court on Monday to misappropriation of public funds.

Randall Allan Nickley was scheduled to stand trial on March 13 but instead entered an open plea at his trial readiness conference.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of four years of incarceration, but Judge Eric DuTemple indicated to attorneys that Nickley will not likely serve prison time, District Attorney Mike Knowles said.

There could be a restitution hearing, but the fire agency's poor record-keeping complicates the issue, Knowles said.

Nickley has also shown the court that he has "significant health problems," Knowles said.

Nickley, hired as fire chief in December 2002, was charged with one felony count each of misappropriation and embezzlement of public funds.

The charges included alleged purchases, checks, misallocations, false claims and unusual loans exceeding $5,000 between January 2007 and June 2011.

According to court documents, Nickley deposited a check for $27,616.62, donated by the Lyle R. Scott Revocable Trust, into an unreported account in October 2007 and began writing personal checks.

The district's Board of Directors conducted an internal investigation of Nickley after receiving complaints that he responded to a call-for-service with alcohol on his breath, board President Stan Steiner said. The board placed him on administrative leave in June 2011.

Nickley was arrested on Aug. 23 on a felony warrant at his home on the 11300 block of McKellar Drive. He was released from Tuolumne County Jail on $20,000 bail.

Nickley will be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. March 25 in Department 4.