A SAN MATEO County judge has refused to seal a portion of civil grand jury testimony in a public corruption case against Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith.
Judge Nancy Fineman denied a motion on Tuesday to seal testimony given by insurance broker Harpreet Chadha to a civil grand jury. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office argued that some of Chadha’s statements should remain sealed because they could otherwise be used against him in a pending criminal bribery case.
Fineman noted the only possible exception to complete disclosure of the testimony is if there’s a reasonable likelihood it may prejudice a defendant’s right to a fair and impartial trial.
“Sheriff Smith, in this case, has not objected to the release, and wants it released,” Fineman said. “Both of the third-party defendants, undersheriff Rick Sung and Mr. Chadha, want it released, and realize the implication that it has.”
Chadha is facing an indictment from 2020 for allegedly bribing Sung for a concealed carry license.
Chadha was one of dozens of individuals who gave testimony to a civil grand jury in Santa Clara County. The grand jury issued an accusation against Smith last December that alleged she violated the law by granting concealed carry firearm licenses to people on the basis of whether they donated to her political campaign, were members of the nonprofit Sheriff’s Advisory Board, or had some other personal connection to her.
The accusation also claims she accepted an unlawful gift from Chadha in 2019 in the form of food, drinks and tickets to a San Jose Sharks hockey game, which she failed to disclose.
Chadha’s attorney, John Hemann, argued in a court filing that the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s motion to keep the information sealed has increased misleading pretrial publicity about his client. He also claimed in court papers that Chadha’s testimony to the civil grand jury could potentially help clear him in his criminal case.
“The short answer is that the law requires that they be unsealed,” said Hemann.
John Chase, deputy district attorney for Santa Clara County, argued that sealing Chadha’s testimony is necessary to protect his constitutional rights as a criminal defendant. Santa Clara County is prosecuting Chadha’s case, while San Francisco County’s District Attorney is representing the people in the accusation against Smith.
Smith appeared at Tuesday’s hearing, but did not speak. She has not entered a plea to the civil grand jury accusation. Her attorney, Allen Ruby, previously said he needed more time to review the 30 volumes of grand jury transcripts to determine all of their objections.
The California attorney general recently announced an investigation into possible civil rights violations committed by the Sheriff’s Office, following months of scrutiny by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors into Smith’s leadership over the jail. Smith faces several challengers in the 2022 election for her seat and has not announced whether she intends to run for reelection.
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