Sheriff’s concealed weapons flap heats up DA’s race

Anne Marie Schubert before she was sworn in as the new District Attorney at the Board of Supervisors chambers, on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015 in Sacramento.
Anne Marie Schubert before she was sworn in as the new District Attorney at the Board of Supervisors chambers, on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015 in Sacramento. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones’ controversial release of information from an unpublished state audit about how the county issues concealed weapon permits has become a campaign issue in the nascent race for district attorney.

The campaign rival vying for Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s job accused the county’s top prosecutor of cronyism, calling her refusal to hand the state Attorney General’s Office a case involving Jones, a Schubert friend and political ally, “disturbing.”

“It’s disturbing to see a public official like Ms. Schubert fail to take the simple steps needed to avoid the appearance of doing political favors for a large contributor. Better late than never, she should do the right thing and step aside from the investigation today,” District Attorney candidate and deputy county prosecutor Noah Phillips said in a statement from his campaign Thursday.

That drew fire Friday from Schubert’s chief deputy Steve Grippi, who, in a statement, dismissed Phillips’ comments as a product of the “political aspirations of a disgruntled employee.”

The District Attorney’s Office for weeks had reviewed whether it would file criminal misdemeanor charges against Sheriff Jones after Jones shared the unreleased information in December before detailing Tuesday in a three-page opinion why it will not seek charges against Jones in the case.

In the letter, DA’s officials said Jones did not release the entire 54-page audit, only his four-page response and scant information from the report; the law barring the release of information does not apply to Jones as the subject of the audit; and, lastly, that prosecutors would be unlikely to convince a jury to convict on the charges.

Jones, a Republican, had suggested that the state report was politically motivated.

“This office has no interest in publicly addressing questions regarding a personal or political dispute between the sheriff, the Legislature, and/or the state auditor. We take no side in the matter from that perspective,” Grippi said Friday. “With little knowledge of the facts and apparently no knowledge of the law, Mr. Phillips has concurrently stated he would prosecute the case and recuse himself from the case if he were the district attorney. Any first year prosecutor knows you cannot do both.”

California State Auditor Elaine Howle in a December letter to Jones said the sheriff violated state law by posting a response to the audit’s findings ahead of its release and attaching a copy to the audit. Howle said her office repeatedly warned that releasing the information before the report’s release was against the law and that the sheriff’s staff was asked not to discuss the audit with others.

In a Dec. 19 letter to Schubert obtained by The Bee, Howle said Jones relied on his own legal credentials to say bans on releasing information did not apply to him.

On Monday, state auditor’s spokeswoman Margarita Fernandez was circumspect, saying “the matter really is in the hands of the DA.”

Grippi, in his statement, said the State Auditor’s Office asked the DA to review the case for possible charges and said county prosecutors drafted a legal opinion on the issue that is now on the auditor’s desk, telling Howle to seek out the AG if she disagreed with the DA’s conclusions.

Phillips, a supervising deputy district attorney in Schubert’s office, expanded on his call in a telephone interview Friday during a break in a weeks-long homicide trial in Sacramento Superior Court, criticizing what he called a “familiar pattern” of preferential treatment of those in power by the county’s top prosecutor.

“There is no reasonable way that it would be appropriate for the DA to decide whether to file criminal charges” in the Jones case, Phillips said. “The conflict that she has in Jones’ case is obvious and the public sees it. There’s not an explanation for why she would do it.”   

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

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