Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer took to the witness stand on Friday during a hearing for Supervisor Leticia Perez, who faces two conflict of interest charges relating to her ties to the marijuana industry.
Zimmer testified regarding her contact with Perez during her campaign for DA, which the supervisor’s defense team claimed influenced the investigation into her alleged misconduct.
During Friday’s hearing, Judge Thomas Clark was meant to decide if the defense could obtain evidence through a court order that might show some members of the DA’s Office pursued charges against Perez out of political retaliation. However, Clark said at the end of the hearing he would need to review the evidence brought forward on Friday over the weekend, and would issue a ruling on Monday.
All parties involved in the trial are subject to a gag order and cannot comment about the investigation.
During the hearing, Perez’s Attorney H.A. Sala argued that Perez had been prosecuted in part because Lisa Green, who was District Attorney during the investigation, had supported Assistant DA Scott Spielman during the election while Perez had allegedly supported Zimmer.
In the defense’s telling, the DA’s Office waited to file charges against Perez until after the election, and did so partly because Spielman lost by a margin small enough to be explained by Perez’s support for Zimmer.
Prosecutors argued that the timing of the charges could be explained by the length at which the investigation took to complete, and Perez’s political leanings did not factor into the decision to pursue charges.
If the judge rules in favor of Perez, her attorneys may seek the testimony of DA employees who could provide evidence that Green was upset about Perez’s support for Zimmer.
The defense could also pursue documents, text messages and emails that may show Green targeted Perez out of a political animosity as well as out of racial discrimination.
But if the judge rules to deny the defense’s request, Perez’s team could lose a key argument.
On Friday, Zimmer said that she never “represented to the public” that Perez supported her, but Perez did attend several events at which the future DA was also present, including the 2018 Women’s March in which the two appeared in a photo together that was posted to Facebook.
Public Defender Pam Singh also testified that she assumed Perez supported Zimmer due to the supervisor's attendance at these events. A private investigator, Dean Tarricone, said he had been told documents existed that could show Green was upset with DA employees who supported Zimmer.
While most of the evidence submitted at the hearing was aimed at convincing the judge there could be yet more evidence to secure, Clark said his tentative decision was “a tossup.”
Prior to closing statements, Clark had said he leaned toward deciding in favor of prosecutors, but something apparently gave him second thoughts during the hearing.
A second pre-trial hearing was set for Friday.
Perez is accused of two conflict of interest misdemeanors. The first alleges she participated in a vote on marijuana despite financial ties to the industry. The second alleges she failed to file a statement disclosing financial holdings in 2016.
She has pleaded not guilty.