Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith made her first court appearance Friday to respond to corruption charges leveled against her by a civil grand jury that, if confirmed at trial, would expel her from office. .
Smith did not file a plea and San Mateo County Judge Nancy Fineman gave her attorneys and prosecutors until at least April, through a legal briefing, to debate the adequacy of the charges brought by the civil grand jury.
In December, the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury filed official charges against Smith, accusing him of seven acts of corruption. Six include ongoing criminal indictments, accusing Smith of engaging in political partisanship by issuing concealed-carry weapons permits and taking advantage of his control to evade gift-reporting laws. The seventh accused him of resisting an auditor’s investigation into allegations of negligence stemming from a 2018 prison inmate injury that led to a $10 million county settlement.
If a trial goes ahead, a rare hybrid civil-criminal trial will follow. Like a criminal trial, the process will involve a jury, which will hear witness testimony and evaluate the evidence. In lieu of sentencing, however, a unanimous guilty verdict on any of the seven counts against Smith would lead to his forcibly removed from office by the court.
The new timeline set up on Friday means any trial will take place just before – or even during – June’s primary election, which presents the prospect of being removed from office long after re-election.
Amid heavy scrutiny—including Smith’s vote of no confidence by the County Board of Supervisors—Smith has not announced his intention to run for a seventh term, nor has he filed the necessary paperwork with the county and state, Which has a mid-March deadline. This week, with the entry of a retired San Jose police assistant chief and the current Palo Alto police chief, his place on the official candidates list doubled to four.
The case timeline set Friday was largely driven by the fact that Smith’s defense attorneys — Alan Ruby and his co-counsel Jim McMannis — did not thoroughly examine the 30-volume transcript of civil grand jury proceedings. Is.
“Until we’ve had the opportunity to read the transcript, we may not know what all of our objections are, and more,” Ruby said Friday.
Smith waived the right to an expedited trial to allow that test—though in one of many instances of uncertainty about the rare civil-criminal case, the judge was not immediately certain that the right applied.
The case was being heard in San Mateo County after the Santa Clara County Superior Court isolated itself as Smith’s duties are integrated into everyday court life, with in-house court security as well as the courtroom. Also served as bailiff. Friday’s edict was conducted over a remote videoconference as San Mateo County has temporarily halted in-person civil court proceedings due to the widespread spread of the Omicron version of COVID-19.
San Francisco prosecutors are trying the case, as they did during an earlier civil grand jury hearing, because both the Santa Clara County Council’s office and the district attorney’s office also cited conflicts.
The county attorney serves as counsel for both the sheriff’s office and the board of supervisors, which forced a civil grand jury investigation that led to Smith’s formal corruption charges. The District Attorney’s office has partly distanced itself as it is currently prosecuting two of Smith’s commanders on charges related to issuing hidden weapons permits.
Three of Smith’s faces include an alleged dealings with sheriff donor and concealed-gun permit recipient Harpreet Chadha, who is alleged to have assaulted one of Smith’s commanders on February 14, 2019, with the use of a San Jose Sharks luxury suit. was bribed. Expedite the issuance of your gun permit. That’s the game where Smith is accused in criminal grand jury testimony and by a civil grand jury of ordering one of his employees to buy cheap tickets to the game to hide the use of Chadha’s suit.
Chadha was one of more than 60 people called to testify before a civil grand jury, and court filings indicate that he was waived for his testimony in light of his ongoing criminal prosecution. That unusual circumstance prompted the district attorney’s office to ask Fineman to seal Chadha’s portion of the civil grand jury transcript, which is being opposed by Chadha’s attorney.
In a court filing, John Heyman called the district attorney’s motion an attempt to falsely suppress a public record that could have acquitted his client Chadha, as the civil grand jury dismissed charges that Chadha committed bribery. for which he was criminally convicted. Heyman questioned why the district attorney’s office would allow Chadha to be granted immunity in the first place if prosecutors thought — as they make clear in their ceiling motion — that Chadha violated his Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination. and that the public release of his testimony could taint a potential jury pool.
“If they were really concerned about the issue, they would have raised it before forcing Mr Chadha to testify, not after,” Heyman wrote in a filing on January 12. “Sealing the transcripts would deprive Mr Chadha of the information he is entitled to.”
Ruby joined Heyman’s objection to the sealing of the transcript of Chaddha’s testimony, and Fineman ordered that the case be heard in its entirety on February 22. She otherwise ordered that the non-competitive portions of the transcript be released, which could be as early as next week.
The next hearing on the civil grand jury’s charges is scheduled for March 15.