Corruption Trial Against Embattled Santa Clara County Sheriff to Begin With Jury Selection

The corruption trial against Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith was set to begin with jury selection Wednesday. 

Smith is fighting a number of corruption accusations from a civil grand jury, meaning the trial is neither civil nor criminal. The accusations include claims Smith issued concealed gun permits in exchange for political donations.

“It’s going to be a bloodbath of a trial,” said criminal defense attorney Paula Canny.

Canny added that she hasn’t seen anything like this in her 40-plus years of practicing law and believes it’s mostly political.

“She can’t be put in jail, they can’t do anything to her other than remove her from office, and it would bar her from holding future office. But Laurie is over 70 years old and didn’t seek re-election; her term as serving sheriff will be over in a few months,” Canny said.

Because this type of trial is so rare, Canny said there are a lot of uncertainties about how it’ll play out, starting with jury selection.

“It’s not like you can go to the civil procedure and figure out which rules apply because its a hybrid, it’s not a criminal case and it’s not quite a civil case, even though it’s being prosecuted by a district attorney,” Canny said.

Also unusual are the conflicts of interest. The prosecutor is from San Francisco, and the judge is from San Mateo County. But, they will remain in San Jose.

It’s unclear whether or not Smith will take the stand and whether or not the outcome of the trial could bring a criminal prosecution.

“They’ve tried for probably two years and they have not been able to do it,” Canny said. “This is the best they can muster against her. It could change if Sheriff Smith testifies.”

In a last attempt to dismiss some of the accusations, Smith’s attorney tried invoking a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on concealed gun permits. But according to the Mercury News, a judge rejected gutting the case, though the judge did dismiss at least one of the accusations.

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