A bitter divorce and a bad experience in the family courts drove 55-year-old Susan Bassi to become an indepedent investigative reporter. She has a YouTube channel with over 13 thousand subscribers and one of her videos, one of an excessive force complaint against the Santa Clara and Alameda sheriffs, has over 70,000 views.
“Generally, she’s a pain in a lot of their butts,” Attorney Leah Gillis described in a recent interview with the Vanguard.
In the motion she argues that “the totality of evidence described herein demonstrates ‘a reasonable possibility that the DA’s office may not exercise its discretionary function in an evenhanded manner.'”
For a misdemeanor case, there is a complex web of factors here that complicates this case beyond the surface charges.
The proximate incident is that during the course of investigating some of the cases, Bassi in the courthouse sees six officers surround a man who had been taking photos of case files against local courthouse regulations.
She begins videoing the incident as the man is on his phone attempting to delete the photographs.
“She won’t put her phone down,” Gillis explained. “She’s saying, ‘I’m a journalist.’”
At this point they grab the phone out of her hand, in the process breaking her finger. She went and filed a complaint but the DA’s office charged her with a misdemeanor violation of taking photos inside the courthouse.
The purpose of that is to prevent children and victims being photographed in the courthouse without a media order.
“But it’s widely broken,” as Gillis shows in her motion. But here she is charged with three counts of taking photographs in the courthouse in violation of a local order and one count of resisting arrest.
Some of Susan Bassi’s work related to investigating the role of Jeff Rosen’s office in the recall of Judge Persky—who was removed from office in June 2018 by Santa Clara County voters after the judge notoriously gave Brock Turner a six-month sentence in a case of rape.
Rosen has publicly denied any connection to the recall effort, but Bassi was able to uncover volumes of communication between high ranking officials in Rosen’s office and Michelle Dauber.
Michelle Dauber, a Stanford Law Professor, spearheaded the recall campaign against Judge Persky. Public Records requests show long and detailed conversations between Dauber and the DA’s office, and, most notably, she actually sent them photos and screen shots of case files without triggering any sort of prosecution by DA Rosen’s office.
In this part of the case, Gillis writes that “defendant has produced actual, not just theoretical, evidence that as least five Assistant and/or Deputy District Attorneys participated in and were willing to ignore violations of the same local misdemeanor rule of court charged against Ms. Bassi when their political goals coincided with the lawbreaker’s goals.”
Her the evidence shows, that Michele Dauber despite emailing five Deputy DAs in the Santa Clara DA’s office, was “never warned by law enforcement that photographing court files was unlawful,” nor was she told to stop, nor was “she prosecuted for taking photographs in the court house.
“Although she committed the same offense pending against Ms. Bassi, and committed it more frequently than Ms. Bassi, she was treated with something approaching deference since she was pursing a widely-publicized, political goal with which the District Attorney’s Office agreed and which they actively sought to advance through their participation with Ms. Dauber behind the scenes,” Gillis argues in her motion.
In addition to criminal charges that Bassi illegally took photos in the courthouse, she also is being charged for technical violations of a restraining order issued when she “purportedly sent three non-threatening, work-related emails” to the director of District Attorney Victim Services..
During the course of some of her advocacy, two of the women who work in the victim services unit, which in Santa Clara County is attached to the DA’s office, “apparently became intimidated by her.” As a result they filed civil restraining orders against her.
When they filed those restraining orders there were declarations from the two women, but also from DA Jeff Rosen and Jeffery Nichols, an Investigator in the Bureau of Investigation for the Santa Clara County DA’s Office who is a security threat officer.
The actual charges are technical violations of the temporary restraining order. There is some question as to whether Bassi was prevented from communicating with the Director of the Victim Council in her professional capacity.
There were also two emails, “one was a blind cc, and I think it was probably inadvertent,” Gillis explained. The other was a direct email requesting services for a victim.
“Neither were threatening, neither were anything but professional,” Gillis said. “But even if she was restricted they would have just been technical violations of the temporary restraining order.”
In the declaration filed by the County Counsel’s office, it charges, “For over a year, Respondent Susan Hazlett Bassi has engaged in a deliberate, escalating campaign to intimidate and harass two members of the Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Council…”
It goes on to charge, “Respondent’s knowing and willful course of conduct, which includes numerous incidents of private, targeted harassment and public hostility and intimidation directed at Petitioners, would not only cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, but in fact has seriously alarmed and annoyed Petitioners and caused them substantial emotional distress.”
In the declaration from one of the alleged victims, she writes, “”Over the years, I have observed that Ms. Bassi is openly hostile and aggressive towards the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, and the Victim Services Unit in Particular.”
She adds, “My impression is that Ms. Bassi’s anger towards the Victim Services Unit stems from her misunderstanding of the role of the District Attorney’s Office,” and she adds that Bassi “does not seem to understand the fundamental fact” that the DA’s office and Victim Services Unit “operate within the criminal justice system, not the family courts.”
Later she charged, “Ms. Bassi was camped out in the lobby of the Victim Services Unit.” She notes, “As her animosity toward the Unit has grown, her behavior has escalated as well.”
That is language used by Jeff Rosen himself, who wrote in his declaration, “In the last few months, Ms. Bassi has escalated her level of hostility towards me.”
He said, “As a result of this escalation of behavior on her part, I have begun having a security detail consisting of two District Attorney Investigators accompany me to public meetings at the Board Chambers to make sure that I am protected.”
He writes of the 55-year-old diminutive woman, “I am concerned that she will continue her escalation to a physical confrontation with me, and I am concerned that others with her may be encouraged by her behavior to have a physical confrontation with me.”
Meanwhile, Jeffery Nichols, Security Threat Officer, added, “The only instance in which I have initiated Threat and Security Assessments on my own involved a threat posed by a woman named Susan Bassi.
“Since March (2019), Ms. Bassi’s conduct has escalated in various ways. Ms. Bassi has adopted a much more aggressive tone, in both rhetoric and volume, when interacting with District Attorney’ s Office employees and other County employees.”
He continued, “I have also observed Ms. Bassi getting within closer proximity of our employees when she approaches them in public, and her statements to these employees have become increasingly menacing. Ms. Bassi has also expanded the scope of her activities outside the County Government Center, including by following District Attorney Jeffrey Rosen to his car in the parking lot after waiting for him at the Office’s elevators.
“Taking all these developments into account, I ultimately concluded that Ms. Bassi poses a threat to several employees of the District Attorney’s Office, in addition to a member of the County’s Domestic Violence Council,” he concludes.
Leah Gillis believes all of this to be well overblown.
“She’s never accosted him (Rosen) anywhere other than government buildings during business hours,” she said. She is simply asking him questions about his conduct in Santa Clara County. “She never walks to his car. She never follows him or chases him outside of the building.”
In short, Gillis argues, she is not crossing the bounds of pursuing Rosen or other employees in any facet outside of their professional life.
“It made me fearful for Susan to hear her described in such an irrational hysterical manner,” she told the Vanguard. “When I read the declaration it actually scared me because I saw verbiage that felt like it was going to explain future violent toward her.”
Gillis said she believes, “He’s targeting her for political reasons because she’s a diffident to his opinions.”
Moreover, she argues that “hysteria has taken over the office and they can no longer be objective about her and therefore they should be recused.”
In her motion for recusal, she notes that with the DA employee having civil litigation that has been incorporated into the criminal case through Counts 5, 6, and 7, “the elected District Attorney’s choice to involve himself in that litigation has ripened into a conflict of interest for his Office to continue as the governmental agency pursuing a criminal conviction against Ms. Bassi.”
Moreover, she points out that Rosen has “already gone on the record in a sworn declaration expressing his negative opinion, fears and worries about the defendant.” Argues Gillis, “Such a declaration by the head of the office is an expression of a ‘partisan interest in the outcome of the case’ and shows a lack of the necessary ‘objectivity’ about this defendant.”
– David Greenwald reporting