The case of “The People of California v Laurie Smith” is headed to trial.
No date has been set, but the Santa Clara County sheriff, who said in March she won’t seek re-election to a seventh term, will stand trial this year on misconduct charges.
A conviction on the civil grand jury complaints won’t land Smith in her own jail, but could result in her early departure from office.
The corruption trial is not a criminal case, but follows a similar structure as a criminal proceeding.
The case against the sheriff will proceed because San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Nancy Fineman, in a ruling filed Thursday, rejected Smith’s requests that misconduct charges be dismissed.
At a Tuesday arraignment via Zoom, Los Gatos attorney Allen Ruby made an unsuccessful case for dismissal, and the sheriff, in a brief statement, denied all charges against her.
Because of potential conflicts, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, represented by Brian Bringardner and Gabriel Markoff, is handling the case, which also is the reason it will be tried in San Mateo County.
In overruling Smith’s objections, Fineman affirmed that an accusation for “willful or corrupt misconduct in office” can be issued.
Citing previous California court cases, Fineman wrote, “Misconduct in office is broad enough to include any malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance in office. “It is not necessary that the misconduct be a crime in order for the misconduct to be the basis of an accusation.”
She also rejected Smith’s claim that the accusation that the sheriff handed out permits to carry weapons only to VIPs was “ambiguous. “The accusation alleges that the defendant had a policy of only providing certain categories of people with a permit,” Fineman wrote, saying this is sufficient to make the allegation of Smith’s “abuse of discretion.”
Smith’s lawyer also argued that Smith is accountable for abuses in the system of gun permits. Fineman said this argument ignores a 1976 case Court of Appeals ruling that stated “It is the duty of the sheriff to make such an investigation and determination, on an individual basis, on every application [for a permit].”
In Thursday’s ruling, Fineman also rejected Smith’s claim that her due process rights had been violated, and stated that she had a duty to cooperate with investigations of her office.