By Linh Nguyen
SANTA CLARA – Two weeks after defendant Christopher Schumb filed a motion to disqualify the entire Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting his case, the judge rejected the motion Thursday.
Schumb argued his friendship with Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen and the power struggle between the county’s District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office would infringe on his right to a fair trial.
Schumb, a local attorney, is facing felony charges for his involvement in illegally issuing concealed weapons permits. These charges include bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery. If convicted, Schumb faces up to four years in prison.
Despite the contention of a conflict of interest, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Eric Geffon denied the motion to disqualify the district attorney from the case.
“I don’t believe the evidence before the court supports a finding of a conflict of interest,” Geffon said.
The defense presented hundreds of emails since 2010 that displayed Rosen and Schumb’s friendship.
Rosen has maintained that the Attorney General’s Office deemed there is no conflict of interest.
Deputy Attorney General Sharon Loughner found that emails displaying the friendship between Rosen and Schumb were not sufficient grounds to disqualify Rosen’s office and that a friendship between the two did not meet the standard for a conflict to disqualify from a case.
“We’re still waiting to hear what the conflict is in this case,” Loughner said in court. “There has to be an actual likelihood of unfair treatment. All we’re hearing is there’s a conflict because there’s a conflict. They simply say they have a relationship.”
District Attorney Rosen and his Chief Assistant Jay Boyarsky will be witnesses at Schumb’s trial, which would complicate his right to a fair trial, Schumb, close friends with both Rosen and Boyarsky, claims.
As the motion to disqualify the DA’s office reads, Schumb “served Rosen as a confidante, lawyer, counselor, fundraiser and friend.” Their display of friendship is also observed in the hundreds of emails the defense provided to the court as evidence to disqualify.
The relationship dates back to 2010. Since then, Schumb has provided Rosen with many favors, including hosting fundraising events that raised thousands of dollars and expanding Rosen’s professional network.
Schumb is also close friends with Rosen’s Chief Assistant Boyarsky and Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith. The motion states that the “favors and graciousness” Schumb provided to Rosen are “substantially similar” to those provided to Smith.
In 2019, Boyarsky contacted Schumb to resolve an issue between Smith and Rosen after a dispute arose between the Sheriff’s Office and DA’s Office over Rosen’s desire to have unrestricted access to jail calls made by inmates.
Unable to resolve the issue, Schumb was conflicted by his loyalties to both parties. Because of this disagreement, Boyarsky said that Rosen is considering endorsing Smith’s challenger, John Hirokawa. This caused lasting tension between the offices.
This is the “well-documented power struggle” that is cited in the motion as another reason to disqualify Rosen’s office from prosecuting Schumb. The defense states that this would “preclude the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting this action in an objective and evenhanded manner as required by the law.”
California Penal Code section 1424 has a two-part test governing motions to disqualify or recuse the district attorney from a case: 1) The evidence must show that a conflict of interest exists; and 2) the conflict renders it unlikely that the defendant will receive a fair trial.
Rosen and Boyarsky are expected to be called by the defense as witnesses attesting to Schumb’s good character to establish Schumb’s innocence of the alleged crimes.
However, given their friendship and all Schumb has provided for Rosen, Rosen’s prosecution of Schumb might violate his own office’s ethical policies in the Santa Clara County District Attorney Police and Procedures Manual. It precludes a district attorney from prosecuting an action against a personal friend.
Because Rosen and Boyarsky are also witnesses for the defense, they are also subject to cross-examination by a deputy district attorney.
In a statement, the District Attorney’s Office said, “The Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office will continue to fairly and fully prosecute this case.”
Schumb and the three other defendants in the case are scheduled to return to court next week to resume their arraignment.
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