It’s been a few months since the corruption scandal in the Santa Clara County, California Sheriff’s Department has seen any new developments, but there’s been a flurry of activity this week in the Bay area, as several individuals charged with bribing sheriff’s officials with cash and goods in exchange for rarely-issued concealed carry permits are trying to get those charges dropped.
One of those defendants is an Apple executive accused of paying off the sheriff’s department with hundreds of iPads in order to obtain carry permits for members of the company’s security team.
The dismissal motion hearing before Superior Court Judge Eric Geffon, involving defendant Thomas Moyer, was the week’s second notable legal challenge by defense attorneys against a string of watershed corruption indictments alleging two of Sheriff Laurie Smith’s top commanders conspired with others to broker pay-to-play deals trading the coveted gun permits for political donations and favors.
On Monday, regarding a related but separate indictment, the Sixth District Court of Appeal heard oral arguments over whether District Attorney Jeff Rosen and his office had a disqualifying conflict of interest in the prosecution of South Bay attorney Christopher Schumb based on a past friendship and Schumb’s prior fundraising for Rosen. Schumb is one of four defendants charged by a grand jury with scheming to extract a $45,000 donation supporting Smith’s 2018 re-election from an executive security firm in exchange for the same type of gun permits.
In Geffon’s court Tuesday, defense attorney Ed Swanson laid out his central argument that Moyer’s proposed donation of 200 iPads to the sheriff’s office did not constitute a bribe. Prosecutors allege that Moyer promised the iPad donation to get already-approved concealed-carry weapons permits issued by the sheriff’s office distributed to a group of Apple security employees.
Moyer’s attorney had a novel argument for the judge; it wasn’t really a bribe because the sheriff’s department employees didn’t directly benefit from the iPads. Instead, Swanson claims that the iPads were simply a charitable donation on the part of Apple, which was just trying to do something nice for their local sheriff’s department.
Deputy District Attorney John Chase, who headed the prosecution in both indictments, pushed back and argued that the defense argument defies a basic concept of bribery, saying “the word given in common English is not so narrowly understood as the defense suggests.”
“If someone requests something, and there is an abundance of circumstantial evidence that Sung requested something from Moyer,” Chase said, “regardless of who gets it, we say in English, we have given the person something they requested.”
Meanwhile, as the San Jose Mercury News notes, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith has still not been charged in the scandal, though she was the one who ultimately signed off on all of the permits in question and several defendants have acknowledged donating thousands of dollars to a supposedly independent campaign supporting the sheriff’s re-election in exchange for receiving carry permits.
This kind of corruption is fostered by the discretionary “may-issue” laws in California, which give county sheriffs broad leeway to decide who’s special enough to receive permission to carry a firearm in self-defense. It’s the same type of policy that the Supreme Court will weigh in on later this year in a case dealing with New York’s “may issue” licensing laws, and while it won’t be the main thrust of the plaintiff’s arguments, I hope that attorney Paul Clement at least references the fact that the current system creates an atmosphere where corruption and bribery can take place. The NYPD Licensing Bureau had its own bribery scandal just a couple of years ago, and its clear that when law enforcement has such broad discretion to decide who gets to exercise a constitutionally-protected right, there will be abuse of that system.
“Shall issue” systems, on the other hand, remove the potential for graft and corruption. If you undergo the required training and pass a background check, you get your license to carry. While I personally don’t believe that a license to carry should be necessary in the first place, if states are going to mandate them then they should be available to every citizen who meets the requirements instead of allowing authorities to pick and choose who’s privileged enough to receive a permit.