Trial of corruption case against Santa Clara County sheriff to begin
SAN JOSE, Calif. - A longtime San Francisco Bay Area sheriff heads to trial on public corruption allegations involving her office’s granting of concealed-carry weapons permits and costly jail mismanagement.
The unusual case against Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith is a civil process to seek removal of an elected official but is similar to a criminal case, with prosecutors from a different jurisdiction to avoid conflicts of interest. Jury selection begins Wednesday.
The trial follows an investigation into allegations that Smith’s office traded concealed weapons permits for donations to her reelection campaign and mismanaged the jails, where mentally ill inmates died or were injured. Smith is also accused of withholding documents concerning an internal affairs jail investigation and lying on campaign finance forms.
She has denied the allegations. Her attorney, Allen Ruby, declined to comment.
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Smith announced in March she wasn’t running for reelection. Her term ends in January but if the jury finds just one count to be true, she would be removed from office early.
She is also under investigation by state Attorney General Rob Bonta, who is trying to determine whether her office "engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct" that could merit corrective action.
Smith has been sheriff of Santa Clara County, home to Silicon Valley, since 1998.
Last year, the county Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a vote of no-confidence in Smith, and requested outside investigations by the attorney general as well as the county civil grand jury.
In December, the civil grand jury filed a Superior Court complaint that accused Smith of six counts of "willful and corrupt misconduct."
MORE: Santa Clara County sheriff accused of corrupt misconduct by civil grand jury
The first count accused her of "implementing policy or practice" of granting licenses to carry concealed firearms on the basis of whether an applicant was campaign donor, a member of a sheriff’s advisory board nonprofit organization, a prominent individual in the community or was associated with prominent individuals, corporations or "otherwise had personal connection" to the sheriff.
The grand jury alleged that Smith failed to make individual good-cause determinations of the basis for concealed-carry permit applications by people who were not VIPs, keeping them pending indefinitely.
Smith also allegedly accepted an unlawful gift of tickets to a corporate suite for a San Jose Sharks hockey game along with food and beverages, collectively worth more than a limit of $500 from a single source.
Smith then allegedly failed to report the gift on an annual statement of economic interests, and committed perjury by certifying the statement, the grand jury alleged.
In another count, the grand jury alleged Smith committed "willful misconduct" by failing to provide information to the county Office of Correction and Law Enforcement.
That office was seeking information involving an internal affairs probe of a 2018 incident in which a mentally ill man inflicted serious injuries on himself while inside a jail transport van, leading to a $10 million settlement with his family.
At the time of the Board of Supervisors’ no-confidence vote, they expressed concern about a pattern of conduct in the jails.
In 2015, a county inmate was beaten to death by three jail guards, and another inmate died after guards shot him with a riot gun at close range. Both inmates had a mental illness.