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Judge denies attempt to stop sheriff corruption case

A judge Tuesday dismissed Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith’s belated attempt to quash her corruption trial — invoking a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the issuance of concealed weapons licenses — paving the way for the trial to start.

SAN JOSE, CA - AUGUST 17: Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith speaks during a press conference at the Sheriff's Office in San Jose, California, on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
SAN JOSE, CA – AUGUST 17: Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith speaks during a press conference at the Sheriff’s Office in San Jose, California, on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

On the eve of Smith’s civil trial — which begins Wednesday with jury selection — San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Nancy Fineman rejected a request by Smith’s attorney to dismiss six of the seven charges brought by a civil grand jury last December. Santa Clara County jury were submitted.

Allen Ruby, Smith’s attorney, had argued in files and in court on Tuesday that the landmark June Supreme Court Bruen decision, which overturned New York’s requirement that concealed weapons license applicants have “good reason” why they should be licensed was scrapped, overturning similar rules in California.

It was an ambitious legal move — and an untried one, given the recent Supreme Court ruling. Fineman also acknowledged that, saying she had been tasked with “making that initial analysis of how Bruen applies” at the court level.

Ruby argued that the Supreme Court ruling invalidates all of California’s CCW requirements, nullifying three corruption counts, alleging that Smith favored donors and political supporters in selecting who received gun licenses, the statements of other applicants not investigated and the mandatory response times for permits applications were ignored.

Essentially, Ruby argued, the process would enforce a now unconstitutional law.

“The courts cannot enforce[a law]especially after it has been determined that a law is unconstitutional in whole or in part,” Ruby said Tuesday. “The court has no jurisdiction.”

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San Francisco Deputy District Attorney Gabriel Markoff, who is prosecuting Smith, said the abuse of discretion alleged against her was illegal before and after Bruen’s ruling. He argued that the Supreme Court decision did not provide a “constitutional shield” for alleged wrongdoing like Smith’s, but instead denounced it.

“It would use a Supreme Court case expressly condemning the arbitrary behavior of which the sheriff is accused, and use it as her defense,” Markoff said of Ruby’s Bruen argument.

Fineman largely sided with Markoff, though she rejected one corruption count in part because it referred specifically to the “good cause” portion of California’s CCW statute, which Bruen overturned. That Earl had accused Smith of “failing to investigate and establish a good case” of CCW applicants from whom she was not trying to gain favor.

“It’s a very interesting issue,” Fineman said after announcing her decision. “It raises a number of problems. I will not be the last word.”

Smith now faces five charges of “willful and corrupt” misconduct in the way she and her office issued concealed weapons licenses. A county civil grand jury accused her of being strong advocates of campaign donors, supporters and high profile people, while ignoring permit applications from ordinary residents. Three of those charges are based on jury findings that Smith illegally accepted the use of a San Jose Sharks luxury suite from a donor and gun license recipient, and that she masked her use of the suite to enforce gift reporting laws. to bypass.

Fineman Tuesday dismissed Ruby’s arguments that the numbers of luxury suites have been affected by the Bruen ruling, because they are based on the assumption that the suite was donated to facilitate the renewal of the donor’s CCW license.

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Smith is also charged with a sixth count of willful misconduct for allegedly withholding information from the county law enforcement monitor investigation into the case of former prison inmate Andrew Hogan, who in 2018 seriously injured himself in a prison van during a psychiatric emergency and whose family later received a $10 million settlement. That count was not disputed at Tuesday’s hearing.

The upcoming trial will be the first public testimony given regarding CCW’s allegations, which are the subject of two criminal charges in which Smith’s deputy sheriff and a captain who was a close adviser, as well as several supporters, were ambushed. Grand jury testimonies of criminals in 2020 were kept secret by law — though transcripts were released later — as were parallel testimony involving several of the same witnesses before the civil grand jury last year.

Among those expected to testify include Christian West and Martin Nielsen, the former owner and a manager of AS Solution, an executive security firm that pleaded guilty to bribery charges after collaborating with investigators from the prosecutor’s office. justice. They have admitted to paying $45,000 — with the intent of paying $45,000 more — to an independent spending committee supporting Smith’s 2018 re-election to obtain CCW permits for their security officers.

If Smith, who was elected California’s first female sheriff in 1998, were found guilty of any of the remaining charges of corruption, she would be removed from office. Since she is not running for a seventh term, an eviction would equate to her leaving a few weeks before her term expires in January, although she would also be permanently barred from holding public office.

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