George Shirakawa Jr. can no longer afford his legal bills, according to his top-dollar lawyer. County taxpayers will now start picking up the tab.
In court Wednesday, attorney John Williams told Judge Risë Jones Pichon that the disgraced former county supervisor needs a public defender to represent him on a felony charge of false personation. Last week, Judge Griffin Bonini ruled that the case, which alleges Shirakawa had a role in sending out fraudulent political mailers in the City Council race between Xavier Campos and Magdalena Carrasco, could go forward.
Shirakawa has already pleaded guilty to five felonies and seven misdemeanors for his misuse of campaign funds and perjury. Williams will continue to represent him in that case, and a sentencing hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 2. In addition, the mail fraud case will also be heard that day.
There are four judges in Santa Clara County who handle preliminary examinations, according to the District Attorney’s office, and Judge Pichon is expected to appoint one of three—Judge Philip Pennypacker, who oversaw Shirakawa’s plea deal agreement, recused himself from both cases last week.
A consistent source of speculation since Shirakawa resigned from office in March has been how he pays his legal bills. He filed for bankruptcy in 2011, and he often used campaign and public funds to fuel his lavish lifestyle in addition to feeding a gambling addiction. A company owned by developer John Vidovich gave Shirakawa $10,000, but it is unknown who else has given the former supervisor money to cover living and legal expenses.
By going with a public defender Wednesday, Shirakawa—wearing the same pinstripe suit and collarless white dress shirt he has worn to all previous court appearances—is more or less admitting he has no ability to pay for legal representation.
“It means he’s allegedly indigent,” prosecutor Karyn Sinunu-Towery said. “We’ll see at the end if the court will make that determination and decide if he pays part or any of those attorney fees.”
An interesting side note to all of this is Shirakawa voted to appoint Molly O’Neal to the post of acting public defender last year.
In arguments Wednesday, Williams asked the judge to delay sentencing. “I think we should wait for Mr. Shirakawa to get competent counsel in the other matter,” he said.
Prosecutor John Chase, who is working with Sinunu-Towery on both cases, countered, “I don’t think that constitutes good cause.” He added that sentencing is six months overdue, as a plea deal was struck the same day Shirakawa resigned.
Pichon sided with Williams and slated both cases for the same date next week. According to the DA’s office, Shirakawa will be in court at least three more times before he is sentenced in the first case.
But the chances that Shirakawa actually serves jail time for his crimes, those admitted and alleged, appear to have increased. Judge Pennypacker has a reputation for being a light sentencer. His recusal, along with the new case, could pave the way for a new judge to grant the one year behind bars prosecutors have requested, if not longer.