Two updates to Supervisor Leticia Perez’s conflict of interest case were heard in Kern County Superior Court Friday.
A judge ruled that a local businessman is not bound by a gag order that has been issued to those involved in the case, and the court moved one step closer to potentially forcing former District Attorney Lisa Green to take the witness stand on charges of racial bias in the case.
Up first, Judge Thomas Clark formerly ruled that TJ Esposito was free to speak about Perez’s case because the District Attorney’s Office had not retained him as a witness.
Esposito said he received two letters from the DA’s office, and one of the letters falsely claimed he had been interviewed by law enforcement officers, an incident he said never happened.
A protective order prevents people connected to the case from speaking about it.
Esposito said that the DA purposefully said he had been gagged to prevent him from publishing critical coverage of the DA’s office on his independent news website, Valley Voice.
But the judge gave Esposito the go-ahead to publish anything on the case.
“Hopefully moving forward (the DA’s office) won’t be able to get away with this reckless behavior,” Esposito said, referring to what he believes is spurious action by the DA to silence him. “Today is a big day for journalists and the first amendment.”
Esposito was represented pro bono by the University of California, Irvine Law Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic, a part of the university’s law school designed to give students real-world experience.
“It is a big win for us as a clinic and in representing the client,” said law student Cassie Doutt. “It vindicates (Esposito’s) first amendment rights.”
In the second action of the day, the DA’s office put on hold a motion to quash a subpoena of former DA Lisa Green that could lead to dismissal of the case until it can respond to a motion filed by Perez's attorney Thursday.
Perez’s attorney, H.A. Sala filed a motion of discovery on Thursday, attempting to obtain information that Green’s motivation for filing charges against Perez was racially motivated.
Sala has claimed from the start that the case was tinged with racial incentives on the part of Green’s office.
He has said that Perez would not have been charged if she were a Caucasian.
The DA’s office will file a response to Sala’s motion next Friday, said Deputy District Attorney Chris Dominguez.
The parties will meet in court Feb. 22 for a hearing to decide if Green will need to testify.
Perez is charged with two misdemeanors relating to a her alleged connections to the cannabis industry.
The DA’s office charged her for participating in a vote on October of 2017 in which the supervisors ultimately voted to ban marijuana dispensaries in Kern County. Perez voted against the ban, and the DA’s office said she had a financial interest in the vote.
The second charge stems from Perez allegedly failing to disclose investments, income in real property and income during 2016.
A jury trial is scheduled for March 25.