Convictions in Santa Clara Co. Sheriff’s Corruption Trial

Convictions in Santa Clara Co. Sheriff’s Corruption Trial

SAN JOSE — A jury has returned guilty verdicts on all counts in the civil corruption trial of now-former Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, ending a months-long trial that Smith sought to end with her sudden resignation from officealthough in the end the judge ordered the case to continue.

The six guilty verdicts were handed down Thursday afternoon and at the end of the jury trial discussions that began on October 28.

Smith, who was originally elected in 1998, was tried on charges of corruption and intentional misconduct filed last year by a county civil jury. The grand jury alleged that she illegally administered concealed carry permits to donors and supporters, undermined state gift reporting lawsand suffocated a civilian auditor’s investigation into a high-profile prison injury case.

It was a dramatic outing for the state’s first female sheriff, who was once considered one of the county’s most popular politicians but has recently been a magnet for allegations of corruption and mismanagement. Smith was seen wiping away tears after the verdict was read, and at one point a man working with her defense team grabbed tissues to give her. She left the courtroom wearing a face mask and sunglasses.

Neither Smith nor her attorney, Allen Ruby, made any comment outside the courtroom at the Old Courthouse in downtown San Jose after the verdict. San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Gabriel Markoff, who handled the case because the district declared a conflict, also declined to comment.

It remains unclear what legal effect, if any, the conviction might have on Smith since she has already resigned. Undersheriff Ken Binder was named interim sheriff following Smith’s sudden retirement this week, and the permanent successor will be chosen by voters on Tuesday in the race between retired Sheriff’s Capt. Kevin Jensen and retired Palo Alto Police Chief and former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Capt. Robert “Bob” Jonsen.

Binder said in a statement Thursday that his office respects the jury’s decision and that “the actions of a few people are not a reflection of the great work that our lawmakers do every day. The men and women of the Sheriff’s Office are looking forward to new beginnings with the sheriff’s election coming up next week.”

Smith is due back in court on Nov. 16 when San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Nancy Fineman — who is presiding over the trial because the local justice recused herself — is likely to issue a formal order for Smith’s removal.

The only other case in which a Santa Clara County public official was brought to trial on civil corruption charges occurred in 2002, when then-Mountain View Councilman Mario Ambra was removed after a jury found him guilty of one count of misconduct, on the basis of the accusation that he ordered city officials to do him favors in violation of the city charter.

The jury, an ethnically diverse assembly of six men and six women, was impaneled in late September and more than 40 witnesses were heard during the month of October.

Much of the trial went back to the core separate criminal indictments for accepting bribes against two of her trusted advisors, former Undersheriff Rick Sung and Capt. James Jensen, regarding the Sheriff’s Office’s CCW issuance practices. Sung quietly retired last month. Smith has avoided prosecution to date, after she invoked her Fifth Amendment rights in refusing to testify before a criminal grand jury.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen praised Thursday’s verdict and thanked Markoff for his work on the trial, which relied heavily on criminal investigations by Rosen’s office.

“We are pleased that the jury considered the evidence from our extensive and detailed investigation and found all allegations against the sheriff to be true,” he said. “I want to stress that this is a very sad day when a police chief has been found to have committed a terrible offence.”

Rosen said it was still possible that Smith could face criminal charges, but insisted that decision would not be affected by the outcome of the civil trial.

The criminal trials “will come up in the next few months,” Rosen said. “There may be evidence that comes to light from those trials that lead to further charges against others, including the sheriff. … We will see. The investigation is ongoing.”

The two counts of civil corruption accused Smith and her office of prioritizing high-profile figures and political supporters by fast-tracking their applications for concealed-weapons permits, ignoring ordinary residents and violating legal deadlines to respond. Three counts of the indictment alleged that Smith unlawfully accepted the use San Jose Sharks luxury suite from donor and gun licensee, then he covered it up by buying cheaper tickets for the same game.

The last count, alleging willful misconduct, accused Smith of withholding information from a investigation by the county superintendent of law enforcement in the case of ex-prisoner Andrew Hogan, who was seriously injured in a prison van during a psychiatric emergency in 2018 and whose family later received $10 million county settlement.

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