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The decision by Santa Clara prosecutors to convene a grand jury investigation into the conduct of a sitting judge isn’t sitting well with some defense lawyers. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge William Danser, already under investigation by the Commission on Judicial Performance, is now the apparent target of a criminal grand jury convened last week by District Attorney George Kennedy. Court employees, a sitting judge, police and former traffic court defendants — including local professional athletes — streamed in and out of secret grand jury proceedings all last week. Kennedy’s office refused to comment, but lawyers representing some of the subpoenaed witnessed acknowledged that Danser appears to be the grand jury’s target. Kenneth Robinson, a San Jose defense lawyer, confirmed Friday that he is representing the judge in the proceedings, but had no further comment. But other defense lawyers are questioning Kennedy’s decision to proceed with a grand jury investigation rather than refer the matter to the state attorney general’s office. These lawyers anticipate Danser would immediately move to recuse Kennedy’s office should an indictment be handed down. Lawyers in Kennedy’s office had complained bitterly about Danser’s decision to transfer a DUI case to his courtroom last year and then hand down a relatively light sentence. The CJP has been investigating that incident for several months, along with a complaint that Danser, a former deputy DA, tried to dismiss a pair of parking tickets issued on his own car. “I don’t think the DA has any business investigating Judge Danser. Judge Danser was a member of that office,” said James McManis, with San Jose’s McManis Faulkner & Morgan. “If anyone ought to be investigating Judge Danser, it ought to be the attorney general.” McManis, who represented Danser in a business dispute years ago, said Kennedy’s “attitude in general is that any judge who doesn’t rubberstamp the prosecution is a problem. Judge Danser is independent-minded.” “It’s no secret Judge Danser and the DA’s office don’t have a meeting of the minds on all issues,” agreed San Jose defense attorney Sam Polverino, who is representing a subpoenaed witness. “Any investigation by a grand jury is going to tarnish the reputation of a sitting judge.” “It’s really unseemly. And I don’t think it’s the defense bar. The judges are looking at this as well. This doesn’t have to do with the merits. It’s the process,” said Michael Armstrong, an attorney with Palo Alto’s Nolan, Armstrong & Barton. “When you are calling other judges as witnesses and courtclerks, it’s unseemly for the DA in that county to be doing it.” Kennedy said in February that his office investigated the DUI case and determined the sentence wasn’t improper. Danser admitted that he transferred the Los Altos drunken-driving case to his San Jose courtroom at the request of a friend, Los Gatos police officer Randy Bishop, and gave the two-time offender a sentence with no jail time. The incident came to light after it was reported that Danser had admitted writing a letter to Los Gatos police ordering the department to dismiss two parking tickets issued on one of Danser’s cars. Danser said the parking tickets were given to his son despite a proper parking permit. Los Gatos Police Chief Scott Seaman refused to dismiss the tickets and contacted Kennedy’s office. Assistant DA Karyn Sinunu would not discuss grand jury proceedings, but said generally that all cases are examined for potential conflicts before being initiated. Sinunu noted that the DA’s office has handled the prosecution of other local officials in the past. “We have a duty to avoid conflict. We evaluate the case. Can we carry out our duties? Can we do it in a fair and impartial way?” Sinunu said. “The fact that we know someone isn’t enough [to create a conflict]. This is shown by the number of cops we’ve prosecuted.” Sinunu said the office also considers political relationships. “If the defendant is a political enemy of the prosecution, there would be an appearance of unfairness,” Sinunu said. Danser’s courtroom was dark all week, and he hasn’t returned phone calls. Presiding Judge Thomas Hansen said Danser wasn’t handling cases. As many as 30 witnesses have gone before the grand jury since it convened Tuesday, including individuals involved in the DUI case and the dispute over Danser’s parking tickets. Seaman and three other Los Gatos police staff members appeared before the grand jury Thursday. Seaman refused to discuss his grand jury testimony or his office’s investigation into Bishop, who has since left the force. Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Douglas Southard, who had originally presided over the DUI case, and court clerk Elisa Randolph also appeared before the grand jury Thursday. The San Jose Mercury News has reported that several San Jose Sharks executives and players, including CEO Greg Jamison, testified. Player Dwayne DeRosario and head trainer Bruce Morgan, with the Earthquakes professional soccer franchise, also testified, according to Mercury News reports. Since the controversy began in February, fellow judges have expressed fear that the cloud of suspicion over Danser will tarnish the entire bench. “It does reflect badly on the judiciary as a whole,” said one Santa Clara judge. “But there are a lot of hardworking judges who do things by the book.” The judge said many on the bench were surprised by the publicity surrounding the secret grand jury proceedings. “There are all these allegations, but even he is entitled to due process,” the judge said.

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