Santa Clara County sheriff responds to corruption accusation
Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith speaks to media outside the county administrative building in San Jose on May 26, 2021. File photo.

Months after being accused of corrupt misconduct by a civil grand jury, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith has finally issued a defiant response.

According to court papers filed on Tuesday, Smith argues four of the seven counts in the accusation against her are legally insufficient and should be dismissed.

“I am gratified that the civil grand jury dismissed the most serious allegations,” Smith told San José Spotlight. “For the counts remaining, they are specious at best.”

Last December, a civil grand jury formally accused Smith of granting concealed weapon licenses to donors and political supporters and lying about accepting gifts. The accusation followed months of probes into Smith’s management of the county jail system by the Board of Supervisors, which voted no confidence in her leadership. Smith is also a likely target of the California attorney general, which is investigating possible civil rights violations committed by her office.

The grand jury appears to have considered but not pursued several other counts, including an allegation that Smith received a bribe from someone applying for a concealed carry license. These counts were crossed out in the accusation.

Smith initially did not enter a plea, and her attorney Allen Ruby unsuccessfully asked the court for more time to review the 30 volumes of grand jury transcripts to address insufficiencies in the accusation.

Ruby declined comment.

In her response, Smith argues the accusation does not allege she issued a concealed carry weapon license to any unqualified people, or that she denied a license to any qualified applicants. She also claims the count is insufficient because it uses ambiguous terms like “prominent” and “VIP” to describe the alleged recipients of licenses.

“Who exactly is a ‘prominent individual’ in the community? An elementary school principal? What about the assistant principal?” the court record reads.

The second and third counts accuse Smith of failing to investigate applications for concealed carry weapon licenses. Smith argued the burden is not on the sheriff to investigate where applicants have good cause to receive licenses. According to Smith, the accusation doesn’t allege any specific incidents where she failed to investigate licenses, beyond vague references to “VIPs.”

Smith is also challenging a claim that she failed to cooperate with the county’s request for records of an internal affairs investigation.

Smith’s objections do not mention three other counts that accuse her of accepting an unlawful gift in early 2019 in the form of tickets, food and drink at a San Jose Sharks hockey game. The accusation also claims Smith allegedly failed to disclose this gift and committed perjury by omitting it.

As a high-level public official, Smith’s case involves a tangle of jurisdictions. The case is being heard in San Mateo County, and the San Francisco County District Attorney’s Office is representing the people against Smith. Last month, the court refused a request by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office to seal a portion of the grand jury testimony from insurance broker Harpreet Chadha.

Chadha is facing criminal charges for allegedly bribing undersheriff Rick Sung for a concealed carry license. Santa Clara County said unsealing Chadha’s testimony could violate his constitutional rights as a criminal defendant. The court decided to unseal the testimony, noting Chadha and Sung have both requested it be made public.

A spokesperson for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office told San José Spotlight the office can’t comment on the case.

As Smith fights this corruption probe, she has given no indication whether she intends to run for reelection, and the filing deadline is March 11. The June primary is just three months away and Smith faces a crowded field of eager opponents.

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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