Judge Omits Disclosure of Close Ties to Shirakawa, Campos

If George Shirakawa Jr. receives community service instead of jail time as punishment for his felony mail fraud, he can thank a judge with whom he’s shared a political relationship for more than a decade.

Ron M. Del Pozzo, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge for the last 12 years, surprised the District Attorney's office with a remarkably generous offer to Shirakawa’s attorneys in closed chambers Monday afternoon, just a day into the resumption of a trial that spans back to June 2013. What the judge did not say behind closed doors, or in court at any point in the trial, is that he counted San Jose’s then-vice mayor among his key endorsements in 2002, when he won his first election to the bench. An archive of Del Pozzo’s campaign website listed Shirakawa at the top of the list of city officials supporting his candidacy.

Del Pozzo also did not disclose in court that he received the support of a key witness in the trial, Assemblymember Nora Campos (D-San Jose), who, prosecutors claim, financed Shirakawa’s theft of a council election on her little brother’s behalf. Assemblywoman Campos sent Shirakawa $5,000 as Xavier Campos was locked in a tight San Jose City Council contest against Magdalena Carrasco.

To muddle matters further, Del Pozzo also neglected to disclose that his wife, Corina, who served as his campaign treasurer in three election campaigns, donated $250 to Shirakawa’s 2008 county supervisor campaign. During that campaign, the defendant funnelled $130,000 into a secret slush fund. Shirakawa pleaded guilty to five felonies and seven misdemeanors in 2013 for the misappropriation of funds, which were considered separate from his recent case.

This document shows Judge Del Pozzo's wife contributed money to the 2008 supervisor campaign of George Shirakawa Jr.

This document shows Judge Del Pozzo's wife contributed money to the 2008 supervisor campaign of George Shirakawa Jr.

John Chase, the deputy district attorney who oversaw the prosecution’s case, says he was unaware of Del Pozzo’s familiarity with the defendant and witnesses. “He definitely did not say he had a potential conflict of interest,” Chase confirms.

When Del Pozzo walked into court Monday morning, before the trial was set to begin, he jovially greeted Shirakawa from afar by announcing there was “a celebrity” in the gallery. Moments later, Del Pozzo could be heard sharing pleasantries with Gregory Ward, a former judge who was present as Xavier Campos’ attorney and who hoped to quash the District Attorney’s subpoena to compel Campos to testify. Ward and Del Pozzo shared a few laughs, and the latter mentioned that they should grab lunch in the near future.

Together, the defense and prosecution filed hundreds of pages of briefs and motions Monday morning, suggesting neither had any intention other than proceeding with a trial expected to last several weeks. But when attorneys returned in the afternoon, Del Pozzo offered the defense a deal that would allow Shirakawa to avoid jail time and a guilty plea. There was no such offer being made by prosecutors, says Chase.

The California Code of Judicial Ethics has strict rules on how judges can give and receive campaign contributions, and it appears Del Pozzo did not cross any lines that would disqualify him from hearing the case. (As of press time San Jose Inside could not locate Del Pozzo’s 2002 campaign disclosure forms. The Registrar of Voters destroys such records in print form after seven years.) But disclosing a conflict of interest, real or perceived, is often considered standard practice. As an example, Judge Philip Pennypacker recused himself from both of Shirakawa’s trials in late 2013 after it was learned that he had ex-parte communications with one of the defense’s attorneys.

Victoria Henley, director-chief counsel for the California Commission on Judicial Performance, would not comment on Shirakawa’s trial, but she did talk about the responsibility that lies with all judges. “The disclosure requirement is that you’re supposed to disclose anything that a reasonable person would consider a conflict of interest,” Henley says.

Del Pozzo’s political involvement extends beyond Shirakawa and the Camposes to a broad swath of the South Bay’s progressive/labor wing of the Democratic Party. The judge and his wife, neither of whom returned calls for comment, have contributed money to organizations such as the South Bay Labor Council and Democratic Central Committee, as well as to the campaigns of Cindy Chavez. Before replacing Shirakawa as county supervisor, Chavez attempted to talk District Attorney Jeff Rosen out of prosecuting Shirakawa, a longtime political ally.

This list of elected officials endorsing Ron M. Del Pozzo was found in an archived page of the judge's 2002 campaign website.

This list of elected officials endorsing Ron M. Del Pozzo was found in an archived page of the judge's 2002 campaign website.

Chase, who did not take issue with the ruling, says he was unaware of any connection between Judge Del Pozzo, Shirakawa and the defendant’s circle of friends. “If I were the judge, maybe I would say something about it,” he says.

The evidence presented against Shirakawa mounted after motions and briefs were filed Monday. A letter the defendant sent from jail last year to Linda Delgado, a longtime girlfriend who also worked as Xavier Campos’ 2010 campaign treasurer, suggested that Shirakawa was still attempting to pull strings from behind bars.

Shirakawa asked Delgado to contact the Camposes, as well as Neil Struthers, Nora’s husband and a former construction and trades council boss. Shirakawa wanted them to help Maya Esparza, his cousin, in her San Jose council race.

“I need you to do a favor for me, I don’t want to talk on the phone,” Shirakawa wrote. “Can you please call Neil (phone number redacted) & Xavier and tell them I need them and Nora to help Maya. I’m really pissed! Tell them I don’t care about politics or if they don’t like her. I’m personally asking … OK … Do it as soon as you get this OK please.”

He added as a postscript, “Tell Xavier I’m really upset!!!”

George Shirakawa Jr. didn't let jail stop him from asking for political favors. (File photo)

George Shirakawa Jr. didn't let jail stop him from asking for political favors. (File photo)

In a trial brief, Chase suggested that Shirakawa didn’t want to talk by phone “likely because every jail telephone call begins with a warning that calls are subject to monitoring and recording.” He added that a $5,000 check Nora Campos wrote to Shirakawa in 2010, just weeks after the fraudulent mailer was sent, could be seen as a payoff.

“The fact that the defendant believed he could demand help from these three individuals shows how close he was to them and further reinforces that he had a motive to commit this crime to help Xavier Campos finish first in the primary,” Chase wrote.

Documents filed Monday revealed details even more disturbing than Shirakawa allegedly producing a fraudulent mailer.

During a search of Shirakawa’s home on the eve of Thanksgiving 2013, investigators found in his bedroom “printed maps to Magdalena Carrasco’s home and to the home of her parents, as well as Google Street View photographs of those homes.”

Additionally, Chase said, investigators found “a political postcard featuring images of the same flag of communist Vietnam” that appeared in the political mailers.

Del Pozzo’s decision to end the trial by allowing a no contest plea could prevent more information about who was involved from coming to light. This also does not address the exorbitant cost to taxpayers in prosecuting and representing Shirakawa.

According to the Indigent Defense Counsel Office, which pays legal bills for those who cannot afford representation, Shirakawa’s attorney fees at last count totaled $98,392. That figure will likely go to six digits once final billing is tabulated.

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to josh@metronews.com or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

47 Comments

  1. This sounds familiar. Retired Judge John Flaherty, who ruled against the SJPOA, was reported to have a similar conflict of interest. I think it happens more then we care to admit. Perhaps this judge should have removed himself. Having said that, I think you should look at Judge Del Pozzo’s track record. I think you’ll find he treated Shirakawa no different then any other defendant.

    The sign of the times.

    http://www.thedailyfetch.com/tag/john-flaherty/

    • . Totally wrong on Judge Flaherty. If there was a conflict or potential conflict having tried cases and argued numerous motions in front of Judge Flaherty.
      Once again San Jose Insider gets a story and then by inference, innuendo, and sheer publication, honorable, honest people with integrity get slammed. LIke Judge Flaherty, Jeff Rosen, the Santa Clara County Superior Court adn the California Commission on Judicial Performance,
      Shirakawa accused of felonies and by “tags” this forum is digital Mccarthyism. See ABOVE
      Why?
      More money for publisher.
      This is yellow journalism at best
      Lies at worst.

    • Judge Flaherty would have disqualified himself if there was an actual or potential conflict.
      Judge Flaherty is a retired Superior Court Judge who is now at Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Service in San Jose.
      JAMS is the leading and award winning group of mediators in the US
      He was neutral on the SJPOA matter and would not have touched it if there was an actual or potential conflict.
      Why did SJPOA not disqualify Judge Flaherty?
      Because there was no actual or potential conflict,
      SJPOA has great lawyers, officers, and members.
      You are anonymous.
      Where is your proof?

      • >The jury is still out.

        Seriously? There’s a group of people silently judging me from afar?

        “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” – Winston Churchill

        • Guilty as convicted, he should serve more county time. What ever happened to higher standards for a public officer. As also too many back door hand shakes. Community service is a joke, he sits on his fat ass while those convicted and can only get a public defender are picking up taste on the weekends. How about he pay a nice big fine as well!

        • Hmm, would you consider yourself an enemy of the “Campos Clan?” If so, I guess they have stood up for something. Sorry, I am breaking the rules here. I know we should be commenting about the story, but it seems there is always some commentary from a source that ties in Nora and the Syrians, with fundraising being done for someone in Indonesia connected to Labor. How about we just talk about this, George Shirakawa was wrong and committed a multitude of crimes and should be justly punished. Can we focus on making the city better, possibly by making campaigns publicly financed. Wow, a point on good disclosure and reform. Nothing focusing on the bad, and the ugly, and the horrible state of our justice system. Just clean up fundraising.

          • How about we just talk about this, George Shirakawa was wrong and committed a multitude of crimes and should be justly punished.

            No.. If there is some degree of involvement from them, it has to be ousted. Your last paragraph says;

            Can we focus on making the city better, possibly by making campaigns publicly financed.

            This is a part of that process. Also, why put me in your gun sights? I didn’t write the article, I just shared my opinion of it.

  2. I suspect that this stuff goes on all time, and so long as the people being screwed are Republicans or the public, these stories never see the light of day.

    But when one Democrat faction does dirt to another Democrat faction, the malefactors must be exposed and dealt with.

    One party government.

  3. I am not clear–did Judge Del Pozzo make this offer out of the blue, or was it suggested by Shirakawa’s attorney? If the judge did this on his own, it raises a serious ethical issue.
    I cannot recall if the D.A. sought a change of venue; but I am confidant that he should have. Failure to make such a motion is itself suspect. Having the case tried by the Attorney General would not be a good idea–their trial lawyers have a weak conviction record in cases they take over from counties due to potential conflicts of interest.
    The D.A. already let the defense attorneys continue Shirakawa’s case to beyond the expiration of the statute of limitations on Xavier Campos, so Baby X will never be prosecuted for his role in the Carrasco matter. The plus side of that decision is that now Baby X can be subpoenaed and compelled to testify because he can no longer take the Fifth. Is Baby X stupid enough to perjure himself? Stay tuned…

  4. Gish it is not right to comment twice. But I think a reply button allows replies so I did.

    Hmm, I think SJI has been outing the story. Enough as I really don’t want to do the wrong thing by making myself the unofficial quacker of every piece.

  5. Funny because there has been 3 users with the same writing style as you saying the same thing. Look, none of your damn business if I want to respond. You can go into your profile settings and block me, and like magic! You don’t have to see my posts.

    Mounting an astroturfing campaign under multiple users won’t get me to shut up.

  6. A. Someone seems awfully touchy

    B. it seems everyone being analyzed is agreeing with someone, and not mentioning names

    C. Being in agreement is some form of attack.

    D. Maybe George DNA can be found on the postings.

    E. Again the overall point is George must be punished severely and kept out of politics. As should Campos. Can we discuss this, or someone being touchy.

    D. Isn’t that the story? I get it he is astroturfing himself

  7. An example from Santa Cruz County is in a citizens’ lawsuit regarding arguments in the voter’s pamphlet for Capitola Measure M last September, Judge Rebecca Connolly did disclose on the record that Capitola Councilmember Michael Termini, a real party in interest, gave her an endorsement in her 2010 election campaign. She didn’t recuse herself, and as far as I know, Termini didn’t make a monetary contribution, but at least the plaintiffs were on notice. The judge dismissed the lawsuit, but those citizens prevailed at the ballot box.

    • The SJMN Internal Affairs column this morning says, “Del Pozzo did not indicate those ties on the record, though to be fair more than a decade has passed and neither the defense or prosecution objected to his hearing the matter. In a brief phone interview Wednesday, the judge said … he offered at sidebar to put the distant connection on the record, but prosecutor John Chase said there was no need.”

      Judge Del Pozzo’s statement about John Chase directly contradicts the story SJI story above. For the SJMN to say “to be fair … neither the defense or prosecution objected” depends on a “fact” that John Chase knew at sidebar and agreed that it didn’t need to be put on the record. Your story claims: “He definitely did not say he had a potential conflict of interest,” Chase confirms.

      What did John Chase know and when did he know it?

  8. I think the judge should be taken off the case. I have seen instances where politicians can be banned from seeking office or prevented from being lobbyists. Plea agreement. This other discussion going seems to be irrelevant. But there is a solution. Larry the Lobster. If you want to see six posts a day from Mr. Too Much Time on His Hands, call 1 800 976 4523. If you want to ban Shirakawa call 1800 976 7890.

    If you want one post a day rule and elect Larry the Lobster to County Supervisor 1800 976 2389

    Ps Crooked George got his phone impounded. Actually I think he is emailing someone to keep posting since the posts written create support for him

  9. The number one thing dominating East San Jose politics for years has been warring factions. I get that and it must stop. I am demanding people give Magdelena Carrasco a chance. She is a good person. Shirakawa=opportunist to the point of corruption pure and simple, and the judge fell into the trap.

    But Carrasco has not answered the question, why did a group of Indian Tribes come together and fund a campaign for her. Magdelena, I will intend meeting speaking out for you, and write letters of support. But you must do the right thing, answer the question, why did your ex-husband with your ex consultant, and a group of tribes, spend thousands on your behalf, why? You want a chance; give us a chance, make a statement because you benefitted from the corruption of your ex-husband, Kevin deLeon who is part of an FBI investigation, where is the ethics of that?

    Why did an effort headed up by company in Nevada that employs a state senator (state senators in California do not work for lobbyists, but in Nevada, Ruben Kihuen, a friend of your ex, does), give you, Magdelena, thousands of dollars? Sure, Shirakawa did wrong, tremendous wrong, and I said you deserved to be elect based on that wrong, but Magdelena, you collected over the years thousands of dollars from a group who created a phony campaign against Carlos Slim, funded by your ex-husband, and how does that benefit East Side San Jose? How? I am convinced that until you answer why you got money from groups tied to Fabian Nunez and Kevin deLeon as the beneficiary of their corruption associated with attacking Slim and the Clean Energy industry, you will be known as Lady Magdelena of the Independent Shakedown. You claim bad attacks from “unions and special interests” You are right, but you are wrong when you take checks from a lobbying group in Nevada who set up a phony committee to shakedown a billionaire and money from Indian Gaming.

    • But Carrasco has not answered the question, why did a group of Indian Tribes come together and fund a campaign for her. Magdelena

      Maybe they like her? PS PC term is “Native American”

      • Huh?

        We think it is cool that Native American gaming interests like a council member enough to fund a committee outside of our city to spend 100,000?

        What happens if animal fat rendering plants and payday loan people just think she is adorable?

        Wow, I am sure glad they proved Carrasco got slimed by a slimeball ex supervisor, but the other point of others sure make me wonder if they are walking past pot clubs and inhaling the gases.

        • Go look at the 460’s for all the council. A large majority of them have received money from Casinos, even George.

          What happens if animal fat rendering plant

          What do you have against glue factories? I have no knowledge of the evil they wrath upon this country, can you elaborate more?

      • So carrasco would vote no on local expansion of Bay 101. The tribes own her husband who is speaker of the state senate.

  10. Bottom line, the judge should have recused himself. Let’s get that straight and delve into that issue…Smells afoul to me. Hold your nose San Jose.

    • Well, the judge did not recuse himself. So, now that this information has been made public, we’ll have to wait to see if the D.A. makes a motion to remove Judge Del Pozzo for cause, which he will probably deny since the campaign contribution was made over a decade ago. So, are there more recent contributions/contacts between Judge Del Pozzo and the Shirakawa/Campos group? Dig, dig, dig, Josh. Heaven knows the Murky News won’t pick up a shovel. “When Del Pozzo walked into court Monday morning, before the trial was set to begin, he jovially greeted Shirakawa from afar by announcing there was “a celebrity” in the gallery.” Judge Del Pozzo has always been a groupie. “But when attorneys returned in the afternoon, Del Pozzo offered the defense a deal that would allow Shirakawa to avoid jail time and a guilty plea. There was no such offer being made by prosecutors, says Chase.” If the judge offered a deal on his own motion during trial that would take effect if the defense accepted it, the matter should be referred to the Commission On Judicial Performance for a full investigation and report. If the judge merely suggested that as a possible result, one has to wonder why. The Shirakawa/Campos cabal stinks more than the Newby Island landfill and the SJ sewage treatment plant combined. If, as suggested by Josh, a judge is now involved in giving a big break to Big George, then we have a big problem in Santa Clara County.

  11. Along with whether it was inappropriate for the judge to offer a plea deal to Mr. Shirakawa, it was equally important that this judge (and all others in the State) comply with the California Code of Judicial Ethics. Looking at language from another case that ended up in front of the Commission on Judicial Performance, “Canon 3E(2)(a) of the California Code of Judicial Ethics requires judges in all trial court proceedings to disclose “on the record” any information that is reasonably relevant to the question of disqualification under Code of Civil Procedure section 170.1, even if the judge believes there is no actual basis for disqualification.” I am not sure I have enough information to reach that conclusion. At the same time, we know that it is critical for elected officials, judges and other appointed state officers to avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance of the potential for conflicts of interest. Judge Del Pozzo sure looks to have missed the boat on that here. A complaint to the Commission on Judicial Performance, who take care of discipline for state judges, may be appropriate.

  12. Native American Casinos from around the state?

    In the 460s?

    A good challenge, though some of the self assurance of a pelican.

    One that sings off key

  13. Wow, considering JMO had every thing to say in one good paragraph, I can see the point. Of course, aside from discussung Shirakawa, we have been subjecting to the Please Notice Me, Dave Never Did

  14. Wow, some guy is getting paranoid. It seems about five people had real legitimate things to say about this rotten business with the Judge. They seem to make sense. But some guy with political attention deficit syndrome, or political blogging twitches just wants to be the audience and main commentator. John Michael and SJ Outside the Bubble, can we count on you to provide the good analysis, we seem to get a lot of coloring book logic from the other guy.

    • The more you push me, the harder I will stand my ground. At this point I’m immovable. Your best strategy would be to knock it off. Derollo, George, saggy, Campos, shirakawa or whoever you are.

      • De Rollo works for the Mission City Community Fund. Why would George knock himself? What ground? The right to feel offended about running off at the mouth on every issue with no real agenda except boredom. Time Shirakawa go into the pay day loan business and time for Clarence to help Chumley on Pawn Stars. I bet they would pay good money for big county fridge or chopsticks PJ Changs bought with county money or the songbook of Clarence, or his iPad which has SJI bookmarked. Reminds me of a parrot. George reminds me of a silly donkey and this guy reminds me of a parrot, or the SJI Aflack Duck. Every post out comes the Corty Aflack quack.

  15. Chase quoted here saying he was unaware of Del Pozzo’s conflict of interest. Del Pozzo quoted in the Merc saying he informed Chase of the conflict. Huh?

  16. Wonder whether the defense attorney remembers Judge Del Pozzo mentioning the conflict of interest to Chase. Surely the judge did not say anything to Chase outside the defense attorney’s presence, since that would be ex parte.

    • A bit naive, VOR. I gotta believe that the decision to let Big George off so easy had to come from Rosen himself. Chase agreed to become the DDA to roll over…in return for what, I have to ask? This whole sordid tale stinks so much they must be smelling it in the Int’l Space Station 260 miles up as it passes over Santa Clara County. The D.A. took the biggest dive since Clay/Liston II.

  17. Let’s stipulate that John Chase = James Rosen. Of course a deputy does what the boss wants, or at least agrees to. If I recall correctly, John Chase is the one who put George Shirakawa in jail, more than two years ago. So this latest is not a case where he was just inserted to take a dive.

    But Houston, we have a problem. A judge was quoted in the paper saying he revealed something at sidebar, though not on the record, while a prosecutor is quoted in a different paper saying definitely not. Either one of the papers is all wet or else either the judge or the prosecutor is lying.

    And VOR astutely observed that there’s still a living witness to the sidebar. I’ll bet Chase and SJI are telling the truth.

    • Agreed VV. There’s something fishy here. Lies from public officials are a big deal. And I am surprised noone is asking the defense attorney for his recollection. It almost seems like noone cares.

    • Wasn’t the case originally handled by Karen Sinunu-Towery, who had a consistent reputation for toughness? She retired. ??

  18. Here’s a thought for judge delBozo to consider when sentencing Big Geo – the consequences to Geo’s behavior cost the residents of Santa Clara County $2 million for (2) special elections. The first investigation cost the public $500,000. Geo’s first jail stay cost the public over $50,000. (6 months at the Fairmont Hotel would have been only $25,000) This case has cost residents $100,000 to prosecute, and probably another $100,000 for Geo’s public defender. BTW, Big Geo won $500,000 in a casino, gave his sister a fine wedding, but needs the public to pay for his attorney?

    Your “honor”, at the proposed $19 per hour living wage in Santa Clara County, you need to sentence Big Geo to at least 144,000 hours of community service in order for the Big Guy to pay the residents of Santa Clara County back for all he’s cost them. He should pick up trash 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the rest of his miserable life.