Photo by Charles Russo
By Steven T. Jones
Why can’t all of Ed Jew’s persecutors just get along? And who is going to finally force the hopelessly tarnished supervisor from office: City Attorney Dennis Herrera, District Attorney Kamala Harris, Attorney General Jerry Brown, the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office, Mayor Gavin Newsom, the Ethics Commission, or the Board of Supervisors? Those are just a couple of the many questions that I’ve been seeking answers to over the last few days as I interviewed people close to the case and read the relevant documents, including the voluminous criminal complaint.
What I’ve discovered is that while Harris may have leapfrogged past Herrera (whose deadline for Jew to comply with his requests for information and an interview is tomorrow) and the feds into the lead role, it’s an open question whether her criminal case will convince a jury to convict on most counts, and if there is a conviction, whether Jew will still be a sitting supervisor by then.
Harris and Herrera had been running concurrent and largely cooperative investigations of Jew since just after the FBI raided his homes and offices in connection with an investigation into whether Jew asked for a $40,000 cash bribe to help a constituent business with regulatory issues.
San Francisco Chronicle reporters working on getting reactions to the raids from Jew’s neighbors discovered that he didn’t actually live at 2450 28th Avenue, as he claimed, which they reported in the next day’s paper. They and other reporters (including the Guardian’s Sarah Phelan) then helped further the story by finding new sources and water and other records indicating that Jew didn’t live at the address, but with his family in Burlingame.
Investigators for Harris and Herrera trod much of the same ground as the reporters, talking to neighbors and culling documents, while also spelling out legal definitions of “domicile” that seem to indicate that Jew will have a hard time showing apply to his connection to 28th Street. Sometimes, as the complaint indicates, the investigators for the two offices even worked together to interview people. That’s why the City Attorney’s Office was caught off guard by Harris’ decision to file nine felony charges on Tuesday.
The complaint doesn’t really contain much new information or smoking guns. Instead, it makes a similar case that the media has laid out, relying on interviews with witnesses and public records to show that Jew didn’t live where he claimed. In fact, Jew’s father (who owns the house) was actually renting to a group of young people when Jew was signing documents under penalty of perjury claiming he lived there. But even that doesn’t seem to be a real smoking gun, such as a homeowner’s exemption for Burlingame on Jew’s taxes, in which it would have been clear that he was either lying on his taxes or in the many documents he filled out claiming 28th Avenue as his home. But officials in the DA’s office say they are confident in their case.
Some sources have speculated that Harris – who faces reelection in November -- was in a rush to take the lead on this case after failing to win a conviction in the only other public corruption case she brought, that of Department of Building official Augustine Fallay. There’s also a potential conflict of interest in the case considering Harris past association with campaign attorney Jim Sutton, who is also working on the Jew legal team.
I asked Harris spokesperson Debbie Mesloh about Sutton as the indictment was being handed down and she said that attorney Bill Fazio was actually defending the voter fraud case, working with attorney Steven Gruel (who Jew brought in to defend against the FBI), and Sutton wasn’t involved. But the next day, Herrera’s office put out its latest letter exchange of letters with Jew’s attorneys – as it had been doing all along, to the annoyance of Gruel and some in Harris’ office – and there was Sutton along with the other two. I’m still waiting for Mesloh to get back to me on the Sutton conflict issue.
Jew’s strange and ironic decision to turn himself in to Burlingame authorities after the warrant for his arrest was issued will delay his criminal case. Arraignment is now set for July 16, a delay caused by his immediately posting bail and the necessity of transferring over courts from another county.
In the meantime, Herrera will likely make his recommendations for removing Jew after 5 p.m. tomorrow, which he can either do through a quo warranto civil lawsuit that must be approved the Attorney General’s Office (BTW, such a suit can also be brought by any D4 residents), or by asking the mayor (who the City Charter names as the de facto appointing body for elected officials) to request the Ethics Commission bring official misconduct charges against him, after which the matter will be heard by the Board of Supervisors, where eight votes are required to removed Jew. Given the public statements of Jew’s colleagues, there is likely to be enough support for removing him.
Sources say that it could be difficult to bring the official misconduct charges on the residency and voter fraud issues because most of what's in the complaint occurred before Jew took office, and would therefore not be considered official misconduct. But the quo warranto suit would go directly to the question of his eligibility for office and would remove him from office, albeit possibly months into the future, particularly if a judge allows him to remain in office pending his appeal. But the official misconduct case might be an easy one to make once the FBI makes public information from its raid, which it hasn't done yet.
FBI agents are currently conferring with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and they could bring an indictment down on Jew at any time (particularly if its accurate what Jew told the Examiner on the day he was raided, that he asked for and accepted cash from Quickly stores – or from the FBI on their behalf – and that the FBI recovered the cash from his office safe). In that case, the local prosecution and city administrative actions might be placed on hold if Jew is in federal custody.
If Newsom continues to dither on the Jew question (which he just might do for another couple weeks considering that if he waits until July 10 to name a replacement, then that person doesn’t have to stand for election this November) or if city officials are unable to remove Jew through quo warranto or official misconduct, then we’ll see if Harris can convict. If so, such a moral turpitude conviction would automatically trigger a hearing by the Ethics Commission, which can remove him directly at that point.
Or, Jew could just do the honorable and smart thing: resign and focus on trying to stay out of prison.