The conduct of former District Attorney Lisa Green will be put under the spotlight in the conflict-of-interest case against Supervisor Leticia Perez after a judge’s ruling on Monday.
Judge Thomas Clark ordered that the Kern County District Attorney’s Office must produce documents that could show Green or her colleagues improperly discriminated against Perez when they charged her with two misdemeanors related to her ties to the marijuana industry in July of last year.
Perez’s attorney, H.A. Sala, has argued that the DA’s Office pursued charges against the supervisor as an act of political retaliation and racial discrimination.
During a hearing on Friday, Sala said that Perez’s support of Cynthia Zimmer, who was a candidate for DA at the time, conflicted with Green’s support of Scott Spielman, then an assistant district attorney running against Zimmer.
It was only after Spielman lost the election that charges were filed against Perez, Sala said on Friday, potentially indicating an ulterior motive for the charges.
Sala has also argued that the DA’s office did not bring criminal charges against politicians of different races than Perez who faced similar accusations of political misconduct.
In 2016, the Fair Political Practice Commission fined Bakersfield City Councilmember Bob Smith $3,000 after he addressed the city’s Planning Commission on behalf of an engineering firm he leads.
Sala cited the case as an example of the alleged racial discrimination. Smith, who is white, was not criminally charged by the DA, while Perez, who is Latina, does face charges.
Most of the parties involved in the Perez case are subject to a gag order and cannot comment on court proceedings.
Prosecutors have argued that the evidence against Perez was so great they could not fail to bring charges against the supervisor after their investigation.
Two marijuana investors have told the DA’s Office in sworn statements they paid Perez’s husband, Fernando Jara, $25,000 to act as a consultant in Kern County.
The investors said in the statements Jara arranged a meeting with Perez in her office as well as a meeting with Planning and Natural Resources Director Lorelei Oviatt.
In a motion to oppose the defense’s strategy, Deputy District Attorney Chris Dominguez called the allegation of racial discrimination and political retaliation a “Hail-Mary play.”
Dominguez said in the motion that the DA’s Office has nothing to hide, and a search for evidence of discrimination will not turn up results.
The judge ruled that the defense produced enough evidence of potential discrimination to warrant further investigation.
“The Court wishes to make it abundantly clear that whether the prosecuting authorities did, in fact, engage in selective activities is not to be decided by the Court at this stage of the proceedings,” Clark wrote in his ruling.
That will be decided at a later date, with a higher burden of proof, according to the ruling.
The materials must be provided to the court by Aug. 16 for the judge to review. Any materials will only be made available to the defense after a hearing in which both parties will be able to argue in favor or against the judge's tentative decision.
The first of Perez’s charges accuses the supervisor of participating in a vote on marijuana despite financial ties to the industry.
The second charge alleges she failed to file a statement disclosing financial holdings in 2016.
Perez has pleaded not guilty.