SAN JOSE — A jury has returned guilty verdicts on all counts in the civil bribery trial of former Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, ending a month-long trial Smith has sought to upset with her abrupt resignation from the postthough a judge in the end ordered the case to continue.
The six guilty verdicts were handed down on Thursday afternoon and came at the end of the juror’s deliberations which began on October 28.
Smith, originally elected in 1998, was on trial on charges of corruption and willful misconduct filed by the county’s civil grand jury last year. The grand jury alleged that she concealed carry permits illicitly directed at donors and supporters, undermined state gift reporting lawsand muffled civilian auditor’s investigation of a high-profile prison injury case.
It was a dramatic outcome for the state’s first female sheriff, once considered one of the county’s most popular politicians but more recently a magnet for accusations of corruption and mismanagement. Smith could be seen wiping away tears after the verdict was read, and at one point a man working with his defense team grabbed some tissues to give him. She left the courtroom wearing a face mask and sunglasses.
Neither Smith nor his attorney Allen Ruby commented outside the courtroom at the Old Courthouse in downtown San Jose following the verdict. San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Gabriel Markoff, who pursued the case because the county declared a dispute, also declined to comment.
It remains unclear what legal effect, if any, a guilty verdict might have on Smith because she has already quit. Deputy Sheriff Ken Binder was named acting sheriff following Smith’s abrupt retirement this week, and a permanent successor will be selected by voters on Tuesday in a race between retired Sheriff’s Captain Kevin Jensen and retired former Palo Alto Police Chief and former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Captain 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 no reflection of the great work our MPs do every day.” The men and women of the Sheriff’s Office are eagerly awaiting new beginnings, with the Sheriff’s Election next week.
Smith will return to court on Nov. 16 when San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Nancy Fineman — who is presiding over the trial because local justice recused herself — is likely to issue Smith’s formal dismissal order. .
The only other case in which a Santa Clara County official was taken to court on a civil bribery charge came in 2002 when Mountain View councilman Mario Ambra was ousted after a jury found him guilty of one count of misconduct, based on charges he ordered city employees to do him a favor in violation of the city charter.
The trial jury, an ethnically diverse assembly of six men and six women, was assembled in late September and heard from more than 40 witnesses throughout October.
Much of the trial traced the essence of separate indictments for criminal bribery against two of his trusted advisers, former Deputy Rick Sung and Capt. James Jensen, regarding the Sheriff’s Office CCW broadcast practices. Sung quietly retired last month. To date, Smith has avoided criminal prosecution, having invoked his Fifth Amendment rights by refusing to testify before a criminal grand jury.
District Attorney Jeff Rosen welcomed Thursday’s verdict and thanked Markoff for his work on the trial, which relied heavily on criminal investigations from Rosen’s office.
“We are pleased that the jury has reviewed the evidence of our full and detailed investigation and has concluded that all of the allegations against the sheriff are true,” he said. “I want to stress that it is a very sad day when a chief law enforcement officer has been found guilty of terrible misconduct.”
Rosen said it was still possible Smith could face criminal charges, but insisted the decision would not be influenced by the outcome of the civil trial.
The criminal trials “will take place in the coming months,” Rosen said.
“There may be evidence that comes out of these trials that leads to new charges against others, including the sheriff. … We will see. The investigation is continuing. »
Two of the civil bribery counts accused Smith and his office of prioritizing high profile figures and political supporters by rushing their applications for concealed weapons permits while ignoring ordinary residents and flouting the legal response times. Three counts alleged that Smith unlawfully accepted the use of a San Jose Sharks luxury suite from a donor and firearms license recipient, then disguised it by buying cheaper tickets for the same game.
The final count, which alleged willful misconduct, accused Smith of withholding information from a county law enforcement comptroller’s investigation in the case of former inmate Andrew Hogan, who was seriously injured in 2018 in a prison transport van during a psychiatric emergency and whose family later received a $10 million county settlement.
On Monday, the second day of jury deliberations, Smith resigned via a one-sentence letter sent to the Supervisory Board Clerk, which laid the groundwork for the ongoing trial with a literal program of criticism and calls for outside investigations into Smith’s management. and the operation of county jails. This examination included a vote of no confidence and leads to a promised investigation by the State Attorney General and the now fateful investigation by county civil grand jury.
Hours after her resignation, Ruby asked Fineman to dismiss the case, given that the only penalty for a guilty verdict, impeachment, was now irrelevant. Fineman ultimately denied Ruby’s motion for removal, stating that a resignation is not the equivalent of an impeachment through the judicial process.
“Eventually the system worked,” county supervisor Joe Simitian, one of Smith’s top critics, said Thursday.
Still, Smith was not without his defenders on Thursday. Richard Alexander, a lawyer who practiced in the Bay Area for several decades, says the jury would have decided differently if he had viewed emails between Smith and county attorneys which he says would have been exculpatory but were excluded from the trial because they were considered privileged correspondence.
“The verdict would have been different. And these are not crimes. These are minor transgressions that no one should pursue,” Alexander said. “This woman has had a brilliant career. … It is not finished. This will be reconsidered on appeal and it will be justified.