Bizarre Courtroom Spectacle Plays Out as George Shirakawa Gets 45 Days Community Service

George Shirakawa Jr. stole an election with a fraudulent mailer, and Judge Ron Del Pozzo called his sentence of 45 days community service "a win-win-win-win situation." That was far from the consensus.

In a bizarre three-hour hearing Friday, Del Pozzo went from championing a plea deal to nearly having attorneys for both the defense and prosecution held in contempt.

Shirakawa admitted in a statement to the court that he “failed to serve and protect my community by producing” a fraudulent campaign mailer that depicted Magdalena Carrasco as a communist in her 2010 council race against Xavier Campos. The ex-county supervisor did not say how or why he produced the mailer, which was linked back to him through a DNA match.

Such details seemed inconsequential to Del Pozzo, who again failed to disclose his past political ties to the defendant. Not only was Shirakawa one of the judge's top endorsers during his first run for a seat on the bench, when Shirakawa was still vice mayor of San Jose, but Del Pozzo's wife also gave Shirakawa's 2008 county supervisor campaign a $250 contribution.

During the sentencing hearing, Del Pozzo simultaneously criticized the prosecution’s case as anything but a “slam dunk” while also castigating defense attorney Jay Rorty for “ineffective counsel.” The judge seemed especially discomfited by the fact that Shirakawa’s county-provided attorney did not ask for his client to be remanded after being sentenced to jail in 2013 for campaign fund embezzlement. Del Pozzo said any punishment for mail fraud would then have been lumped into a concurrent sentence if a guilty or no contest plea were entered.

George Shirakawa Jr. topped the list of San Jose city council endorsers in Judge Ron Del Pozzo’s 2002 run.

George Shirakawa Jr. topped the list of San Jose city council endorsers in Judge Ron Del Pozzo’s 2002 run.

In many ways, the judge said, the two cases should have been combined into one trial so the court could get back to focusing on “more serious cases.”

The prosecution argued from the other side of the spectrum, that Shirakawa’s mailer helped “steal an election,” subverting the democratic process by deceiving some Vietnamese voters into thinking Carrasco was a communist. Less than a few weeks after the mailers first appeared, she lost the primary election to Campos by a mere 20 votes. Campos was a close friend and political ally of Shirakawa's, and prosecutors have alleged that Assemblymember Nora Campos, Xavier's sister, paid Shirakawa $5,000 to produce the illegal mailers.

When prosecutor John Chase, a deputy district attorney, attempted to interject a comment during Del Pozzo’s sentencing, the judge became agitated that the prosecution was trying to continue arguing its case. Chase responded that he only wanted to clarify facts and felt the judge had unfairly characterized the work of defense attorney Jay Rorty, which is when Del Pozzo called for a bailiff to place Chase into custody for contempt of court.

A moment later, though, the judge decided instead to stop the hearing and call the office of District Attorney Jeff Rosen on speakerphone. After several painfully awkward minutes, in which his court clerk couldn’t reach Rosen, Del Pozzo spoke with Chief Assistant DA Jay Boyarsky.

Jay Boyarsky and John Chase, left, both voiced displeasure with the way the Judge Ron Del Pozzo conducted Friday's hearing.

Jay Boyarsky and John Chase, left, both voiced displeasure with the way the Judge Ron Del Pozzo conducted Friday's hearing.

"It's unusual to receive a phone call like this and handle it over the telephone," Boyarsky said for the court to hear, agreeing to walk over to the courthouse. But when Boyarsky attempted to address the judge in court, Del Pozzo informed him that he was not asked to appear to clarify Chase’s intent but to “diffuse the situation” by keeping the prosecutor quiet.

There were more unusual circumstances to play out.

Several times Del Pozzo described himself as a victim in the press, saying Chase and others had mischaracterized to reporters how Shirakawa’s no contest plea had been reached in the judge’s chambers. The DA’s office has repeatedly said it felt Shirakawa deserved a year in county jail for the felony count of false personation.

“I understand what’s going on here today,” Del Pozzo said in court, “but clearly I’m not going to be thrown under the bus by the DA or anyone else.”

He added that the prosecutor should “get real” and accept the fact that “this is a win-win-win-win situation, and Mr. Chase knew when he made that deal that day.”

Del Pozzo also admitted that he tried to persuade the Mercury News editorial board out of writing an opinion piece on the trial.

“One person in the media wanted to do an editorial on this case, and I talked to them,” Del Pozzo said. “All I did was ask the person to keep an open mind and ask them if they would just perhaps defer on writing their article until they heard on what happens at sentencing, what the allocution is, what the arguments of the parties, witnesses they put on, any sentencing.

“I even offered the person writing the editorial a copy that I would give them, of some of the reasons for the indicated sentence, which I mentioned at the time of the plea.”

Following the hearing, Boyarsky told a group of reporters outside of the courthouse that the DA’s office intended to submit a written statement detailing its misgivings on the judge’s handling of the case.

“We don’t accept some of the assertions that the judge stated on the record, and strangely neither attorney was afforded the opportunity to even make a record about what those statements were from the judge,” Boyarsky said. “Nonetheless, we respect the process, however strange or unusual the process can become.

He also said he felt every judge should take caution on disclosing potential conflicts of interest.

“There were things done in this case that caused people to question the appearance of how this case was handled,” Boyarsky said. “And whether or not there was an actual conflict, in the legal system, even the appearance of any impropriety is important.”

Rorty and Shirakawa met briefly with reporters outside of court and said they were pleased with the ruling. But even the defense took issue with Del Pozzo's refusal to allow comment following the sentencing. When the judge asked Rorty if he had anything to add to his description of events in the case, he answered: "The court has mischaracterized the record.”

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

36 Comments

  1. Good reporting JK and Metro for the entire mess George Shirakawa Jr. has hoisted upon himself and the public to date.

    45 days of “Community service” is an obscene miscarriage of justice-I don’t believe Mr. Shirakawa is capable of sincere and genuine “Community service.”

    David S. Wall

    • Excatly right, Mr. Wall. Community service of 45 days is obscene. I would also be willing to bet that Shirikawa doesn’t really do much ‘Community Sevice’, either. San Jose Inside should follow that aspect of this travesty of justice.

      As a union President I used to sign off Community Service forms for our union members who were found guilty of misdemeanors like DUI infractions. The fewest number of hours for a drunk driving conviction was 200 hours of community service, doing jobs like cleaning up membership files, etc.

      This is a miscarriage of justice. Shirikawa comitted felonies! Ask yourself: what if you were found guilty of multiple felonies, and you also had a past record of shady dealings, like Shirikawa’s election shenanigans? Would you be given only 45 hours of Community Service? Or would you do hard jail time, with a minimum of 500 hours of Community Service upon release — in addition to a hefty fine in the tens of $thousands? Since you are not Shirikawa, with a pal hearing your case, they would throw the book at you. And me.

      Folks need to remember this flagrant cronyism when Del Pozzo comes up for re-election. We citizens do not deserve his ilk. He needs to be booted out.

      • Yeah, 45 hours of community service at the Pink Poodle is more like it..

    • David, depends on the service. I know a few acres north of Los Esteros road that are begging for trash pick up. Fit him out with hip deep waders and flotation gear and a few canvas bags. I know personally from my two or so years of doing water level readings for the recreated wetlands.

  2. This should be grounds for dismissal for Del Pozzo. He should be absolutely shamed for soiling our justice system. I have always been a believer in America’s courts, but I will never view the justice system with serious legitimacy if a case this high-profile can be so blatantly miscarried.

    • Sorry, but this kind of thing goes on all the time. It is only because this is a somewhat “high profile” case that you are even aware of it. The reality is that 99% of what happens in American courts occurs under the public’s “radar.” The American judiciary is just as badly broken as the representative branches of the American government. Del Pozzo is what passes for the judiciary today. Far too many of them are stupid, highly ideologically biased, biased for other reasons, including financial conflict, and in some cases, even outright corrupt. No matter how much the law and facts support your case, you can spend both years and horrible sums of money to litigate, and yet come away with nothing. Going to court nowadays is far too often a sick joke. The US should do like some other countries and have separate legal educational tracks for advocates and adjudicators. That will provide a somewhat objective filter to assure that people who have the proper intellectual and emotional disposition to be judges are the persons who are elevated to such important positions.

      • How in the hell would you know what goes on in the judicial system on a daily basis? Are you an officer of the court? You so-called true progressives like to spout stats in percentages, but you provide no reference to your comments or opinions and that equates to anything but an expert my friend.

    • Should be, but will never happen. Del Pozzo a judge or another name for a glorified attorney, is bought and paid for by someone out there. It’s all a matter of who owes who and as long as you are a member of that machine, you are, as I said before: “bought and paid for.” I hope Del Pozzo reads these blogs.

  3. Ron the Bozo obviously not operating with the appropriate level of fear for the local electorate. Time for a wake up call at the voting booth.

  4. This second Shirakawa case has been drawn out and delayed for far too long, with the acquiescence, or perhaps the complicity, of the D.A.’s office. Judge Del Pozzo ran unopposed for re-election in 2014. Now we’re stuck with him until 2021. I cannot help but wonder whether there would have been one or more opponents to Judge Del Pozzo’s re-election had this miscarriage of justice been known in 2014; in other words, if Mr. Shirakawa had received this slap on the wrist sentence before the deadline to file to run against Judge Del Pozzo, I believe he would have had opposition. Mr. Shirakawa subverted the election process and thereby did a grave disservice to all the people he swore to represent faithfully. He had a prior conviction for stealing a considerable sum of money to feed his gambling habit, which the judge apparently failed to consider in sentencing for this crime. Shirakawa’s 45 days of community service will never balance out his years of disservice to the people he was supposed to represent. Judge Del Pozzo’s egomaniacal heavy-handedness with both counsel at the sentencing hearing, and his continued failure to disclose his ties to Shirakawa and the Camposes, surely make him unfit to remain on the bench. Only the Commission on Judicial Performance can do anything about it now. I doubt it will, probably justifying its failure to at the very least publicly reprove Judge Del Pozzo on the “wide discretion” vested in judges regarding sentencing.

    • The judge can always be assigned out where he can’t do as much damage – Siberia, as we used to call it when I worked at the D.A.’s office… there is always an assignment that can have little impact – SO happy to not be living in San Jose anymore

  5. “George Shirakawa Jr. topped the list of San Jose city council endorsers in Judge Ron Del Pozzo’s 2002 run.” Am I mistaken to think that a Judge should have recused himself?

  6. Why is a judge interacting with the MERC’s editorial board? And, “justice’ was not served here, as we still don’t know who was involved with the smear campaign.

  7. No, Brian, you got it right. Unfortunately Judge Del Pozzo did not. Belief in the objectivity of judges is crucial to the operation of our court system. That’s why the standard judges are measured by is not merely an actual conflict of interest, but the mere appearance of a conflict of interest. Judge Del Pozzo’s and his wife’s contributions to Mr. Shirakawa’s campaigns presents such an appearance. Additionally, for a judge to threaten a lawyer with contempt of court charges because the lawyer desired to make a statement on the record, as has been reported by various news media, is unprecedented in my experience. A judge need not agree with such a comment, and can make rebuttal statements on the record, but to refuse to allow the lawyer to make a record seems like judicial misconduct to me. If this apparent overreaching by Judge Del Pozzo is allowed to stand without investigation by the Commission On Judicial Performance, the public’s confidence in the judicial system will be seriously eroded. I temper my statement with the words “apparent overreaching” because the non-legal press often reports legal issues incorrectly, due to its lack of knowledge of how the legal system actually works (ignorance, not stupidity). However, if the public press got it right, someone who was there should file a complaint with the Commission On Judicial Performance. Mr. Chase, Mr. Boyarsky, Mr. Rorty, will one of you, or better yet all of you, please step up?

  8. Just disgusting. Thing is I know his allies are circling their wagons so to speak. A lot of them are mad that I’m posting here. Too bad, I’m not going to stop dropping my opinions here because you guys want to save face. Admit your mistakes, we all make them, and quit being so scummy.

    Josh I hope you can get justice dished out against the others involved in this. Good job on breaking the story.

  9. At issue earlier was whether the defense attorney would back up the judge’s statement that he informed Chase of the conflict of interest at sidebar (presumably with the defense present to avoid an ex parte communication). This was important because the judge’s statement contradicted Chase’s indication that he was unaware of the conflict. At this point, it does not sound like the defense would confirm the judge’s version. Does that mean this judge lied to the media?!!!!!

    • BOHICA: Yeah, he still looks as fat as ever. Guess he hasn’t missed a meal, even though he claims to be broke enough that the court appointed a private lawyer for him at taxpayer expense, and a judge who let him off with less than a slap on the wrist. He also has four kids that he didn’t support properly.

    • VBS asks: “Who let him into the hen house anyway?” Hispanic voters, Gil.

  10. > A moment later, though, the judge decided instead to stop the hearing and call the office of District Attorney Jeff Rosen on speakerphone.

    I’m no loy-yah, and most of what I know about courts and judges I learned from watching Perry Mason and Judge Judy on TV.

    I don’t believe I have ever heard of a judge interrupting a legal proceeding to make a “lifeline” phone call.

    Seems weird to me.

    What next? Judges going through their Rolodexes to solicit opinions on what ruling to make?

  11. Perhaps his courtroom should be branded, del pozzo nero (the cesspool).

  12. The DA’s office needs to start papering Del Pozzo. This is an action to disqualify a judge from hearing criminal cases brought forth by the DA’s office. Perhaps the Presiding Judge should take Del Pozzo to the woodshed and then reassign him to the Civil Court.

  13. Any judge receiving or contributing to a candidate should ne subject to recusal.

    By the way, should Magdelena Carrasco, who has an elected official in September of this year, violated state gift laws by accepting 2400 dollars from the Chamber of Commerce as a gift, be asked to abstain on chamber matters, and also on votes about local health care as she now makes six figures as a consultant to a health care corporation in Los Angeles with ties to former husband, present sugar daddy, deLeon?

  14. JMO. GEORGIE WAS NEEDED, TO CARRY ON FOR THE WACKOS IN CONTROL DO YOUR RESEARCH AND GIVE US 5 PARAGRAPHS ON THAT SENERIO. GEORGIE WAS A ZERO, WHEN HE WAS TAPPED AS THE NEXT COMMING OF SHIRIKAWA SR. LET HE WHO IS WITH OUT SIN CAST THE FIRST STONE.

  15. Perhaps we should do a DNA test on every one down town, It might make clear a lot of the relationships in our local
    government!

  16. Kangaroo Court, clown judge!

    And notice the Sheriff’s vehicle watching Shiraikawa from a distance, in the photo.

    What a circus.

  17. Win, win, win for who? Certainly not the community or morality or ethics. Wonderful message sent; I guess we have the best justice money can buy.

  18. It appears that Shirakawa got off too easy but if the deputy DA believed the judge was biased, he should have attempted to disqualify him for cause long before the sentencing hearing – not just try to mouth off in court after submission of the matter and when the judge has decided on the sentence.

  19. You have the ability to recall these people and replace them but that may take a little more effort than walking your dog or watching a rerun of whatever your favorite television show is/was. If you are upset with this circumstance, fix it. All the tools are in place.