Crime Victims File Complaint against Judges and DA For Having Secret Meetings

From left: Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Erica Yew, Santa Clara DA Jeff Rosen, and Judge James Towery all are members of the BBMP committee. (Image by Robert J Hansen)

By Robert J Hansen

San Jose, CA – 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 FPPC is the agency that watches the state’s elections and political campaigns.

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, and 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.

According to public records, the BBMP committee was first formed around 1988 as a court authorized “standing committee,” with about five meetings per year. Membership to BBMP dinners were by invitation of a court judge.

BBMP members include judges, government attorneys, elected officials, reporters, private lawyers and police officers.

From 2014 to 2018, BBMP records show 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 that at the time he was involved, BBMP had an explicit and strictly enforced rule against discussing individual cases, parties or attorneys. No records were produced from the court to show the existence of any such rule of policy.

“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 prohibited the public from attending by failing to notice the meetings to the general public and opposing candidates.

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 Salonga 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.

According to San Jose Police reports, Gackle was stabbed 14 times by a woman named Sydney Whalen who then robbed his apartment. After her attack on Geckle, Whalen allegedly hit a man in the head with a hammer in Santa Cruz County and killed a man in Hayward. The case was eventually moved out of Santa Clara and was prosecuted in Alameda County.

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. That stress intensified when the Mercury refused to report on how DA Rosen’s office was treating crime victims.

In 2019 the Mercury fired Gackle. The totality of the events led to the animosity between Mercury reporters and Gackle which was the basis of the restraining order request by the Mercury.

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, the state organization that oversees  elections and political campaigns, 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,” said the FPPC.

This is a rolling investigation into the BBMP Committee and its members.

About The Author

Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Robert is covering the Yolo County DA's race for the Vanguard.

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1 Comment

  1. Margaret Petros

    The manner in which this BBMP committee existed is unlawful. No government body can hold private/by invitation only meetings. Government work paid by public funds is the business of the public. Agendas of these meetings should’ve been publicly noticed for at least 72 hours prior to each meeting, be open to the public and conducted under the Brown Act. If public funds were used, it should have been appropriately budgeted for and passed a public hearing ahead of time.

    In general, there is a serious public corruption problem in Santa Clara County (SCC) Government that has gone unchecked for over a decade and getting worse everyday. It seems like the same names/groups keep coming up and when you zero in, the DA Jeff Rosen’s hand seems to be in it every single time. Someone needs to investigate some serious corruptions going on in SCC. Innocent people’s lives are at stake. This article mentions Paul Gackle. He’s one of the innocent victims that the CA AG or the Feds must investigate his case. I’m Paul’s Victim Advocate. I signed a declaration under penalty of perjury showing the court that Mercury News falsified employment verification to obstruct justice due to Paul, yet Judge Overton was silent on it. Overton was also silent when she heard testimony that the DA counseled Mercury News to file the TRO against Paul. It’s illegal for the DA to give legal advice to a private business, not to mention advice to harm a crime victim that the DA’s Office is officially designated by the State/Federal and the County and mandated to assist this and all Crime Victims. Wrong all over…..very wrong!

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