A judge ruled Friday that charges against George Shirakawa Jr. for his alleged involvement in a 2010 political mail fraud scandal should not be thrown out as part of a plea deal the disgraced former county supervisor agreed to earlier this year. The ruling was a victory for prosecutors, whose efforts to put Shirakawa behind bars had stalled in recent months.
“We think justice was done,” said prosecutor Karyn Sinunu-Towery. “It was fair.”
Also, in a surprise move before Friday’s hearing, Judge Philip Pennypacker, who presided over Shirakawa’s trial and plea deal related to five felonies and seven misdemeanors for perjury and a misuse of campaign funds, recused himself from further proceedings. Pennypacker complicated Friday’s hearing after he had engaged in ex-parte communications with one of Shirakawa’s attorneys, Jay Rorty.
Shirakawa is due back in court Wednesday, when a new judge will hear both cases. By that time, he may have a new attorney, as defense attorney Jay Rorty may not represent him further on political mail fraud charges.
After hearing from Rorty and prosecutor Kaci Lopez, of the District Attorney’s Office, Superior Court Judge Griffin Bonini ruled that Pennypacker’s testimony on how a plea deal was reached in the earlier case, which the court now calls “Shirakawa 1” to differentiate from the mail fraud case known as “Shirakawa 2,” would not be allowed. Bonini then ruled that a plea deal related to the first case would not protect Shirakawa from new charges.
““I’m going to deny the motion (to throw out the case),” Bonini said. “The entire defense argument is based on an inaccurate factual assumption.”
Rorty argued that the new charges against Shirakawa should be dropped, as he was “clearly a person of interest” to the DA’s office in 2010, when San Jose City Council candidate Magdalena Carrasco was labeled a communist and supporter of North Vietnam in political pieces targeting East San Jose’s Vietnamese community. A similarly false attack ad had been sent out in 2008 against Richard Hobbs, who Shirakawa defeated for the county supervisor seat.
Carrasco’s opponent in the 2010 race, Xavier Campos, was a close friend and political associate of Shirakawa’s who went on to win the primary against Carrasco by just 20 votes. In an interview with a DA investigator, Carrasco said she suspected Campos and Shirakawa were responsible for the mailers.
Rorty argued that the DA’s global plea deal for Shirakawa would have to include this “open case” since Shirakawa was a person of interest. Lopez countered that Shirakawa was not considered a suspect, as the DA never interviewed him and a DNA sample was never requested. It was not until Shirakawa was booked in the county jail this March and a cotton swab was taken inside of his cheek that a DNA match hit with a state cold case database.
In an explanation of his ruling, Bonini noted his opinion that Shirakawa was not the subject of the 2010 investigation and no activity was noted in the case file since that time.
It is still unclear how both cases will be handled going forward.
“We would prefer to have sentencing and then go on with the second case, but it will depend on who is the new judge and how it gets scheduled,” said Sinunu-Towery, who did not speak during Friday’s hearing in the chance she, like Shirakawa’s other attorney, John Williams, might be called to testify on the way the plea deal was reached.