Santa Clara County’s civil grand jury failed to interview the majority of Santa Clara councilmembers it condemned for alleged misconduct in a controversial new report.
Three of the five councilmembers admonished in the report — Kevin Park, Raj Chahal and Anthony Becker — told San José Spotlight they were never contacted by the jurors. They are accused of having unethical ties to the San Francisco 49ers and putting the team’s interests above the city.
“It’s surprising considering I’m one of the people who’s had accusations against me,” Park said. “To not even talk to me when you’re making such specific accusations seems irresponsible. There is no way people can consider this an unbiased report if they didn’t even talk to one of the sides.”
The others named in the report are Councilmembers Karen Hardy and Suds Jain, both of whom were interviewed. Both told San José Spotlight the questions were adversarial and accusatory.
“It seems like all the documents they saw were biased,” Jain said.
The final report, released late Monday, revealed that two jurors recused themselves for conflicts of interest. It did not disclose which jurors, or why they could not participate in the investigation. Last week 49ers officials raised concerns about several jurors having close business and personal ties to Mayor Lisa Gillmor, a staunch opponent of the team.
Officials at the Santa Clara County Superior Court and county counsel’s office — which serves as the attorney for the grand jury — declined to respond to the allegations. They confirmed the recused jurors did not participate in the investigation.
Timing raises eyebrows
The report’s release on Monday, less than a month before Election Day, has also raised eyebrows. Sources who spoke to San José Spotlight anonymously said the goal of the jury is to influence change, and that could be why it was released before an election. Becker is challenging Gillmor for mayor and Hardy and Chahal are facing reelection.
The jury began the Santa Clara investigation in June and only interviewed 10 people before completing its report, despite starting its term in January. A report from last year about the county’s technology services, for comparison, had 45 interviews. A report on conservatorships the year before contained 29 interviews.
A former juror, who asked for anonymity due to privacy concerns, said not talking to three of the accused councilmembers is a legitimate reason to be suspicious.
“I think we have a reason to suspect it could be biased,” the juror said. “(Based on) the limited number of interviews. The failure of interviewing people who were mentioned.”
Chahal said he’s shocked to see the county’s judicial system, an institution meant to provide fairness, manipulated to “spread falsehoods with political motives.”
“Assumptions, lies, and misrepresentations are the hallmarks of the (civil grand jury) report,” he said. “Any investigation which is focused on bringing forward fair and truthful findings would seek to listen and hear perspectives from all sides and stakeholders – however, the (civil grand jury) did not once reach out to me to bring my perspectives forward in its report.”
Becker said the report raises questions about how much contact Gillmor had with jurors prior to its release.
“In this nation you are innocent until proven guilty, but their verdict is guilty without even an actual investigation,” Becker said. “It is even more troubling that there are lawyers on that grand jury, and I am sure they would never go to court with the case they presented here.”
Gillmor did not respond to a request for comment.
Among other findings, the report said the five councilmembers meet often with 49ers lobbyists — possibly violating the Brown Act — ahead of council meetings, caved to influence from the team, failed to hold team executives accountable for missing financial reports and accused Hardy and Chahal of potentially violating the the city’s gift policy.
Santa Clara Police Chief Pat Nikolai, a supporter of Gillmor, called on the district attorney Monday to investigate the claims.
The 49ers, who were not interviewed by jurors either, have spent millions to defeat Gillmor and reelect the councilmembers named in the report. As of Sept. 1, the team spent at least $1.5 million supporting Becker, Hardy and Chahal, with roughly $704,500 going to Becker. The team put at least $1.9 million into PACs to back the three councilmembers.
Peter Hurtan, a former juror and president of California Grand Jury Association, said he has faith in the grand jury’s role as an impartial public watchdog — despite any missteps.
“I can’t speak for the grand jury and why they make decisions for who they interview,” Hurtan told San José Spotlight. “But you’d hope that as much info is collected as possible to be as informed as possible.”
49ers officials, however, called the jury a “kangaroo court.” They said the jury refused to correct errors in the report even after being presented with evidence.
“This is a political stunt with no legal or factual merit,” team spokesman Rahul Chandhok told San José Spotlight. “At least two members of the ‘jury’ have already been removed due to conflicts of interest. When presented with hundreds of pages of evidence correcting their report, they said they have no responsibility to review any information contradicting their biases. This corruption of the justice system is outrageous.”
Jain said he’s made a request to bring the report to the Santa Clara City Council for a public discussion. The city has 90 days to issue a response.
Contact Ramona Giwargis at [email protected] or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.