Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith announced Monday she would retire, as a jury deliberates a verdict in a civil corruption trial involving jail mismanagement and a “pay-to-play” scheme involving gun permits issued by her office.
Undersheriff Ken Binder will take over as acting sheriff, Smith office said in a brief release.
Palo Alto Police Chief Robert Jonsen and retired Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Capt. Kevin Jensen are facing each other in the Nov. 8 election for the right to succeed Smith.
Misconduct allegations against Smith by a Santa Clara County civil grand jury include doling out concealed carry licenses to campaign donors, and of accepting San Jose Sharks tickets and not reporting them as gifts.
Smith, whose civil trial began in September, has denied the claims. A guilty verdict on any of the charges results in removal from office and a ban on running for public office.
Smith started with the sheriff’s office in 1973 and has been sheriff for the last 24 years.
Earlier this year, Smith announced she wouldn’t run for reelection and would retire at the end of her term in January.
In a letter to the community in March, she called criticism of her tenure as “specious attempts by unsavory political opponents in retribution for serving the public with honor.”
Santa Clara County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association President Ryan Elder said in a statement that the organization supported Smith’s decision and looked forward to “turning the page and moving our department forward.”
“We acknowledge her decades of service, and we certainly hope new leadership will restore some of the confidence in our department that has been tarnished throughout this sordid episode.”
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo also looked to the department’s future in a statement on Smith’s retirement and noted that he initially called for her resignation in August 2021 due to reports of jail mismanagement and alleged civil rights violations.
Liccardo is termed out as mayor and voters will choose his successor during the Nov. 8 election.
“It remains for the county to rebuild a troubled department and to better address many long-neglected issues, particularly regarding jail oversight,” he said. “The city of San Jose stands ready to help.”