Judge Griffin Bonini denied a motion by George Shirakawa Jr.‘s defense attorney Monday to reseal grand jury transcripts pertaining to the incarcerated former county supervisor’s alleged role in a political mail fraud scandal.
Jay Rorty argued that the release of the documents, governed by California penal code 938.1, were not properly released to the defense and “may prejudice a defendant’s right to a fair and impartial trial.” He added that his client, Shirakawa, faces a “double burden” in his new trial, having been a public figure as well as the victim of “negative” media coverage during his sentencing hearing earlier this month.
Shirakawa is currently in Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail on a one-year jail sentence for funneling $130,000 in campaign contributions into a secret bank account and then lying about it under oath.
Both sides criticized the timing of when the Oct. 23 grand jury transcripts should have been provided to counsel, yet for different reasons. Rorty received the transcripts via email from the District Attorney’s office on Nov. 4, but he argued that the clock to make the transcripts public shouldn’t have started until 10 days after Nov. 22, the day he retrieved the documents from the clerk’s office inside the Hall of Justice. DA prosecutor John Chase argued that his office should have received the documents on Oct. 31, when the clerk first received them. Chase then argued that Rorty acted “willfully blind” by not picking up a copy from the clerk’s office on Nov. 8, when the two men discussed the transcripts’ availability.
“It’s very hard for me to listen to Mr. Rorty make arguments that are ridiculous,” Chase told the judge.
Bonini said that the timing of the documents’ release was “not technically complied with,” but there was nothing “particularly prejudicial” in the transcripts to require their removal from the public record.
In the grand jury transcripts, multiple lab technicians say that Shirakawa’s DNA matches evidence found on mailer that portrayed Magdalena Carrasco as a communist during her 2010 City Council race against Xavier Campos, a friend and political ally of Shirakawa’s. Campos went on to win the primary and runoff elections by slim margins.
Also of note, the grand jury transcripts suggest that Shirakawa and State Assemblywoman Nora Campos may have tried to intimidate political opponents of the latter’s brother, Councilman Campos, who invoked the fifth Amendment during his grand jury testimony. Rorty argued that the transcripts infer guilt on Shirakawa and Councilman Campos, although prosecutors told jurors not to draw conclusions.
Arguments made Monday focused almost as much on media coverage of Shirakawa as the law on releasing grand jury transcripts.
Rorty noted the “demeaning depictions and tone” in news articles discussing Shirakawa’s illegal actions. In particular, he cited a Mercury News column that called Shirakawa a “toxic Superfund” and a Metro cover story illustration that featured the former supervisor drawn in a “king or ruler’s outfit sitting on a throne.” The drawing also featured shadowy figures taking and receiving money with Shirakawa, whose seat was resting upon stacks of cash. In March, Shirakawa pleaded guilty to five felonies and seven misdemeanors, following another Metro cover story that exposed his misuse of a county charge card.
Bonini said in his ruling that he agreed there has been “extensive negative coverage” of Shirakawa’s actions while in office. Future motions questioning the appropriateness of venue could be considered, he added. The next court date for Shirakawa, who now faces one count of false personation, is scheduled for Dec. 4.