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Longtime Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith abruptly resigns as corruption trial continues

Longtime Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith abruptly resigns as corruption trial continues
Photo by Philip Pacheco/Getty Images
By Jay Barmann - Published on October 31, 2022.

Sheriff Laurie Smith has left the building at the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, having suddenly submitted her resignation Monday effective immediately. Smith remains on trial over corruption charges relating to concealed-carry gun permits that she reportedly issued in exchange for campaign donations, as well as other charges.

As Bay Area News Group reports, Smith submitted a one-sentence resignation letter Monday morning, and has made no public comments. Jurors in the corruption case are continuing to deliberate. Undersheriff Ken Binder will be stepping in as interim sheriff.

Smith, who has worked for the department for 50 years and served as sheriff for 24, in March announced her intention to retire at the end of this year, and not seek reelection. But multiple observers have suggested she might not make it to the end of the year, particularly if she is convicted on the corruption charges before her retirement date comes.

Ryan Elder, president of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, issued a public statement supporting Smith's decision and saying that members of the deputies' union "look forward to turning the page and moving our department forward." Elder added, "We acknowledge her decades of service, and we certainly hope new leadership will restore some of the confidence in our department that has been tarnished throughout this sordid episode."

Two men with very similar last names — retired sheriff’s captain Kevin Jensen and retired Palo Alto police chief and former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s captain Robert “Bob” Jonsen — are running to replace Smith, and voters will choose between them next week.

Closing arguments in the month-long trial concluded on Thursday, and jurors began their deliberations Friday. As Bay Area News Group notes, a guilty verdict on even one count would have meant Smith's immediate expulsion from the department, so she is just getting ahead of that.

Per the news group, three of the charges against Smith of which she seems likeliest to be convicted relate to her accepting and then trying to conceal the gift of a luxury suite at a San Jose Sharks hockey game in Feb. 2019.

In addition to the gun-permit accusations, Smith was accused of favoritism in the department, of evading gift-reporting laws and accepting inappropriate gifts from donors, as well as mismanagement of the county jails and trying to evade an audit into one particular case of inmate injury while in county custody. As Hoodline reported at the time, the county board of supervisors took a vote of no confidence in Smith back in August 2021, and the civil corruption charges officially came down last December.

Bay Area News Group further reported that Rick Sung, the former undersheriff who allegedly brokered the deal in which the luxury suite was taken in exchange for a concealed-carry gun permit, "quietly retired" on October 20. 

Smith will now retire with her pension intact — which she would have done even if convicted, since this is a civil and not a criminal trial. Smith reportedly cleared a half-million dollars in salary and benefits last year.