A U.S. judge in San Francisco ruled Monday that a protective order guarding evidence in a federal corruption case does not apply to a related state corruption case concerning three former city officials.
A spokesman for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said that in the wake of that ruling, city prosecutors will now ask a Superior Court judge to issue a new protective order barring public disclosure of evidence in the state case.
Spokesman Max Szabo said prosecutors expect to file their motion with San Francisco Superior Court Judge Edward Torpoco by the end of this week.
Tamara Aparton, a spokeswoman for Public Defender Jeff Adachi, said lawyers from Adachi’s office “would certainly oppose” the granting of an order keeping the evidence confidential.
The public defenders represent Keith Jackson, a former city school board president who later became a political consultant and one of the three ex-officials accused of bribery.
“We think a trial about public corruption should be public. We think it should be as transparent as possible,” Aparton said.
It was not known when Torpoco will consider the expected request for an order. The next hearing now scheduled in the case is an April 6 delayed arraignment of Jackson, former Human Rights Commissioner Nazly Mohajer and former commission staff member Zula Jones.
The three defendants are accused of soliciting and accepting $20,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent in exchange for preferential treatment on city contracts.
They are each charged with four felony counts of bribery and one count of money laundering. Jackson also faces one count of grand theft of public money and six misdemeanor counts of campaign finance fraud.
Gascon, who filed the charges in Superior Court in January, has thus far disclosed few other details of the circumstances of the allegations while awaiting the outcome of his protective order request. The arraignment of the trio has been stalled because of the dispute.
The state case stemmed from a five-year federal investigation by undercover FBI agents that resulted in a wide-ranging U.S. grand jury indictment against 29 people in 2014.
Jackson and former state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, were charged in the federal case with political corruption, and other defendants, including Chinatown tong leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, were accused of organized-crime activities.
Yee and Jackson pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer last year to one count of participating in a racketeering conspiracy to accept campaign contributions for Yee in exchange for political favors. In February, Breyer sentenced Yee to five years in prison and Jackson to nine years.
Chow was convicted in Breyer’s court in January of 162 counts, including the murder of a rival, and is awaiting sentencing. At least 10 associates of Chow’s have pleaded guilty to various counts.
Mohajer and Jones were not charged in the federal case, but their names surfaced in excerpts of FBI wiretap applications cited in a filing by Chow’s attorneys last year.
Breyer issued the original protective order, barring prosecution and defense from disclosing evidence outside of a trial, in 2014. The judge wrote that his reasons were a need to protect the identities of the undercover FBI agents and a risk of harming the reputations of unidentified public officials whose names appeared in wiretaps and recordings but who were not suspected of any crimes, according to Breyer.
At a Feb. 29 hearing in the state case, Torpoco temporarily denied Gascon’s request for a protective order, but allowed the evidence to remain under seal for the time being and said he needed clarification on whether Breyer authorized the release of the federal investigation materials and on whether a continued order was needed.
Breyer provided clarification on the first question Monday and cleared the way to the state case to move forward by issuing a one-sentence ruling.
It said, “The state court is not bound by the protective order in this case and may enter any order pertaining to the affected materials that it considers appropriate.”
Defense attorneys said on Feb. 29 that their clients couldn’t enter a plea because prosecutors had not yet given them any evidence, including an affidavit filed with Gascon’s criminal complaint, as a result of the protective order dispute.CrimeKeith JacksonLeland YeeNazly MohajerZula Jones