Former Santa Clara Co. sheriff found guilty of all counts in corruption, misconduct trial

Friday, November 4, 2022
Ex-Santa Clara Co. sheriff found guilty in corruption trial
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Former Santa Clara Co. Sheriff Laurie Smith has been found guilty on all six corruption and misconduct counts in her civil corruption trial.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Former Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith has been found guilty on all six corruption and misconduct counts in her civil corruption trial.

She resigned as sheriff on Monday, days before the jury's decision on Thursday.

"The actions of a few people are not a reflection of the great work that our deputies do every day," a statement by acting Sheriff Ken Binder read in part. His response came shortly after Smith was convicted.

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"I think this signals that no one is above the law and that serious, troubling wrongdoing - as was uncovered in our investigation - is something our community takes seriously," District Attorney Jeff Rosen told ABC7 News.

Smith was accused of providing concealed carry weapons permits in exchange for political donations or other favors. Accusations were brought by the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury in 2021.

"First of all, these aren't felonies. These are minor indiscretions," Richard Alexander of Alexander Law Group weighed in. "These are not serious crimes by any stretch of the imagination."

Alexander isn't affiliated with the case. He's an attorney who has practiced in the Bay Area for more than 50 years with experience contributing to the county's Criminal Justice Advisory Board. He's also familiar with Smith.

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"Laurie Smith has thrived, and more than survive, she has succeeded in a real boys club," Alexander described. "She did not break through a glass ceiling, she broke through a steel ceiling. And she's done it for a long, long time."

After nearly 50 years with the sheriff's office and more than two decades as sheriff, Smith retired Monday. The guilty verdict came down only days later.

The lawyer for the sheriff had moved to have the case thrown out late Monday afternoon, while the jury was still deliberating. However, the verdict was returned before this could happen.

"I think it's the right thing that that opportunity was not taken away from them," Rosen said about the jury. "Particularly after the enormous effort that our office and then the San Francisco District Attorney's office put into presenting this case to a jury."

Smith's attorney said he would not be commenting in response to the verdict. Smith is now expected to return to court Nov. 16.

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"The judge will determine the appropriate sentence, which under the law, is removal from office," DA Rosen said. "As to what Miss Smith does next, I don't know."

"When you have erroneous rulings on matters of law, those are gonna go straight up to the Court of Appeal," Alexander told ABC7 News.

He said there is more evidence - proof, he suggests, will paint a much different picture.

Additional criminal indictments against former Undersheriff Rick Sung, Captain James Jensen, and several others accused in this bribery, conspiracy scandal around concealed weapons permits remain.

"Those trials will be upcoming in the next several months," Rosen explained. "And those are criminal trials and the penalties for those involve state prison."

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With only days until Election Day, Rosen answered questions about the case and any skepticism from voters and law enforcement.

"I think this is an example of the system working," DA Rosen said. "Which is to say that the jury's determination that the sheriff committed serious and troubling wrongdoing, demonstrates that in our system of justice, everyone is equal under the law."

Smith could face criminal charges involving the same issues.

In acting Sheriff Binder's statement, he said in part, " The men and women of the Sheriff's Office are looking forward to new beginnings, with the Sheriff election coming up next week."

Alexander added, "Laurie Smith is an outstanding woman who has been a wonderful public servant. She has endorsed more women for public office than anyone else over the last 20-plus years. And she is a shining example of a woman who fought her way up to the top in a very, very tough arena. And she will have a clean record once this is all put away. I'm confident of that."

DA Rosen told ABC7 News, "I want to emphasize that the sheriff's office is filled with honest, hardworking and professional men and women who go to work every day with their full hearts to serve our community."

Sheriff's candidate Bob Jonsen shared the following statement in response to Thursday's development:

"That's why we have a justice system in place - to ensure accountability is adhered to at every level. My campaign has focused on expanding the role of OCLEM to ensure greater transparency, accountability, and reform. There are still many issues to address, and I believe voters need to elect a sheriff who is untethered to the Sheriff's Office to get the organization out of this constant cloud of controversy. It's been shrouded in scandals for decades and it's time to start moving forward."

Sheriff's candidate Kevin Jensen shared this statement with ABC7 News:

"I find no pleasure in her pain, but today's verdict provides some semblance of justice to the community who heard and felt the disturbing actions of the Sheriff and to the group of people from our agency who experienced decades of mismanagement and malfeasance but failed to see any consequences for her or those she enabled. I fought from inside and outside the Sheriff's Office for over 12 years to see something like this come to pass, and now feel hopeful that I will get the opportunity to partner with all in our County to bring the excellence in public service and public safety that everyone deserves."

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