Appeal to oust Santa Clara Co. DA from gun-permit corruption trial moves along

SAN JOSE — An appeals court has ordered the local Superior Court and state Attorney General’s Office to prove why Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen’s office should be allowed to prosecute a watershed corruption trial over defense objections that Rosen’s past friendship and fundraising support from a defendant is a disqualifying conflict.

The new order issued Wednesday by the Sixth District Court of Appeal means that trial proceedings remain on hold for four people indicted on corruption and bribery charges on allegations they brokered an exchange of political donations for concealed-gun permits from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office.

In its order, the appellate court set a Dec. 10 deadline for “show cause” arguments from the AG’s office, which argued against the conflict claim on behalf of the Rosen’s office, and the county Superior Court, which sided with the AG’s office in rejecting an initial defense petition to exclude the DA from the case.

Joe Wall, attorney for defendant Christopher Schumb, said the order was a promising sign for the prospects of their petition to get Rosen’s office recused.

“This is extremely positive. It shows the court is taking the issue to heart,” Wall said Wednesday. “The conflict is definitely real and significant, and it’s not going to go away.”

The DA’s office referred inquiries to the state Attorney General’s Office, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wall filed an initial motion in trial court following the defendants’ arraignment in August, asserting that Schumb’s friendship and fundraising support for Rosen, accompanied by a string of collegial and friendly emails, were proof that the district attorney’s office could not conduct a fair prosecution of the case. Rosen filed a response that downplayed his relationship with Schumb and also stated that he returned campaign donations once Schumb became a subject of the corruption probe.

On Sept. 17, Judge Eric Geffon rejected the conflict argument and ordered that the case go forward. All four defendants invoked their speedy trial rights, and Wall re-filed the petition with the appellate court, which on Oct. 30 — three days before trial hearings were set to begin — halted the trial while it evaluates the defense claim.

The original August conspiracy and bribery indictment alleges that sheriff’s Capt. James Jensen, Schumb, attorney Harpaul Nahal and local gunmaker Michael Nichols arranged to get up to a dozen concealed-carry weapons permits to agents with the executive security firm AS Solution, in exchange for $90,000 in donations to groups that supported Sheriff Laurie Smith in a contentious 2018 re-election campaign against a former undersheriff, John Hirokawa.

All four men pleaded not guilty. Co-conspirators and AS Solution managers Martin Nielsen, Jack Stromgren, and former CEO Christian West have all pleaded guilty to misdemeanor conspiracy charges, agreeing to testify for the prosecution for reduced sentences.

Last week, a separate investigation that sprang from the earlier corruption probe resulted in the indictments of Undersheriff Rick Sung, Apple global security chief Thomas Moyer, and local insurance broker Harpreet Chadha. Sung and Moyer are charged with allegedly arranging the donation of 200 iPads worth about $70,000 to the sheriff’s West Valley division — which patrols Apple’s home city of Cupertino — to hasten the processing of CCW permits for four of the tech titan’s executive security agents. Jensen was indicted a second time for his alleged involvement in this deal.

Sung and Chadha were separately indicted on allegations that Sung leveraged a CCW renewal over Chadha to secure his luxury box for a Feb. 14, 2019 San Jose Sharks game that doubled as a small celebration for Smith’s re-election to a sixth term.

Both Moyer’s attorney and Apple itself asserted that Moyer engaged in no wrongdoing, and Chadha’s attorney described his indictment as retaliation for not conforming to prosecutors’ goals to call the luxury-box exchange a quid pro quo for the CCW permit. Smith remains uncharged, though she has weathered years of criticism and scrutiny over her licensing discretion as her agency’s sole signatory for the permits and grand-jury testimony suggesting that she had a strong hand in directing their approval.

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Author: Robert Salonga