By Robert J Hansen / Newsbreak Sacramento
(Sacramento, Calif.) A group of crime victims and advocates filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) alleging Santa Clara County Judges, District Attorney Jeff Rosen, Supervisors and Sheriff Candidates violated election laws in connection with a court-sponsored Bench-Bar-Media-Police Committee (BBMP) earlier this month.
The Silicon Valley-based California Crime Victims and Advocates Committee filed the complaint alleging that Judge James Towery, Judge Carol Overton, Judge Erica Yew, DA Rosen, Santa Clara Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, as well as Sheriff Deputy John Hirokawa violated election law by holding non-public, invitation only meetings where they discussed their political campaigns, current events, and other issues.
The complaint alleges that public funds were improperly used to pay for the clandestine meetings.
Records obtained under California public records law indicate that the BBMP committee was first formed around 1988 as a court authorized “standing committee,” with about five meetings per year.
BBMP membership is by invitation of a court judge. Members include judges, government attorneys, elected officials, reporters, private lawyers and police officers.
According to acquired public records, BBMP meetings from 2014 to 2018 would have an attendance ranging anywhere from 25 to 50 people.
BBMP dinner meetings are held five times a year and are 3 hours long and include a social hour, dinner and a formal presentation.
None of these BBMP meetings were made open to the public nor was a record of the meetings kept available afterward for the public to see.
Berkeley law professor and retired federal judge Jeremy Fogel attended meetings of the BBMP Committee mainly during the 1980s.
“I saw nothing at that time that was problematic,” Fogel said via email. “It’s possible that things changed after I left the Superior Court to become a federal judge in 1998, but prior to that, at least in my experience, the Committee never discussed individual cases, parties or attorneys.”
Fogel said the BBMP committee had an explicit and strictly enforced rule against discussing individual cases, parties or attorneys.
“The reason for the committee’s existence was to give each of the four groups an opportunity to understand each other’s professional perspective. If that somehow changed after 1998, I have no personal knowledge to …,” Fogel said.
Public records were used to bring the complaint which alleges members of the BBMP and their guests used public funds from the court's jury and grand jury budget but did not invite the public as the political candidates which included DA Rosen and judges who discussed their views "off record" with reporters from the San Jose Mercury and NBC Bay Area.
Knowledge of the BBMP was only discovered during a 2022 civil harassment case the San Jose Mercury brought on behalf of editor Bert Robinson and reporter Robert Salonga against former Mercury reporter Paul Gackle when Judge Carol Overton disclosed she had sat on the BBMP committee with Robinson.
The Mercury sought a restraining order against Gackle who was accused of calling reporter Robert Salong a "shi**y” journalist during a 2021 political rally.
According to both parties, after a public defender intervened, Gackle said, “but I haven’t even punched him yet.”
The Mercury argued in its brief that a continued restraining order is necessary because it claims Gackle harbors “deep ill will” for the paper and its employees and has threatened violence.
Gackle approached Salonga at the event and criticized his reporting on an assault that happened to Gackle in 2017.
On July 21, 2017, Gackle was stabbed 14 times by a woman named Sydney Whalen who then robbed his apartment.
Whalen was later convicted of killing a man in Hayward following her assault on Gackle.
Gackle said the attack left him with post-traumatic stress disorder that made doing his job as a sports reporter at the Mercury News difficult.
The Mercury fired Gackle in 2019, which led to the animosity between the two and led to the restraining order.
Shortly after the Mercury prevailed in restraining Gackle from appearing at Rosen’s political events where Mercury reporters were present, the Mercury endorsed Mr. Rosen’s 2022 campaign as it had done since 2010.
The FPPC responded to the complaint and concluded that it will require additional time beyond the initial 14-day period to await the response of those named and evaluate this matter to determine whether additional investigation is appropriate.
“Please be advised that, at this time, we have not made any determination about the validity of the allegations made or about the culpability, if any, of the people identified in your complaint,” the FPPC.
This is a rolling investigation into the BBMP Committee and its members.
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