An appellate court has blocked the Nov. 2 trial of four people accused of conspiring to exchange bribes for concealed gun permits from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office.
The stay issued this morning by California’s 6th District Court of Appeal demands more information about District Attorney Jeff Rosen’s ties to one of the defendants—attorney Christopher Schumb—and whether that presents a conflict of interest.
Rosen and other parties to the case have until Nov. 6 to submit arguments about whether Rosen should recuse himself from prosecuting Schumb and co-defendants, including sheriff’s Capt. James Jensen, lawyer Harpaul Nahal and gun maker Mike Nichols.
Schumb’s attorney, Joe Wall, argued for the DA’s recusal a couple months ago, saying Rosen’s political and personal ties to his client undermined the prospect of a fair trial. But Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Eric Geffon rejected the argument.
On Oct. 17, Wall implored the appeals court to intervene.
The stay asks parties to the case to address the following questions.
- Where the elect district attorney, determined by the trial court to be a friend of the defendant, is personally involved in the prosecution of the defendant and others for crimes related to alleged public corruption involving another elected official of the same county, is it reasonably possible that the District Attorney’s Office may not exercise its discretionary function in an evenhanded manner, which conflict likely affects the fairness of the prosecution?
- What is the relevance, if any, to the analysis under Penal Code Section 1424 of the elected district attorney being called as a percipient witness at trial in this matter? Does the analysis change if the district attorney is called only as a character witness?
- Does the District Attorney’s Office have a formal recusal policy? What is the relevance, if any, to the analysis under Penal Code Section 1424 of the existence of and adherence to such a policy?
- Should the trial court have conducted an evidentiary hearing on the extent of the personal involvement of the elected district attorney in the investigation or prosecution of this matter?
Legal experts who spoke to San Jose Inside today said such stays are rare.
“This is not a motion that I brought lightly,” Wall said in a brief phone call today. “It was something that I thought was warranted.”
Wall said he was “disappointed” when Judge Geffon rejected his motion for recusal.
“Bottom line is I believe in this motion,” Wall told San Jose Inside. “From the outset, we have believed that the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office has a significant, inescapable conflict in prosecuting this case and we are pleased that the 6th District is reviewing this very important issue.”
A spokesman for the DA referred questions about the stay to the California Attorney General’s Office, which sent representatives to court last month to affirm Rosen’s decision to handle the case. AG officials said they generally refrain from commenting on criminal cases pending in the courts of appeal.
But they emailed a copy of the response the AG filed last month in response to Wall’s initial petition for recusal. The motion argues that Wall failed to identify an actual conflict that would undermine the integrity of the trial.
In concluding the 17-page response filed Sept. 10, Becerra wrote that Schumb’s counsel failed “to satisfy his burden of presenting admissible evidence of any conflict, let alone a conflict so grave as to render it unlikely he will not receive fair treatment during all portions of the criminal proceedings.”