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SAN JOSE — John Fioretta and Kenneth Rosenblatt don’t look anything like what people normally expect of environmentalists. There are no Birkenstocks, no ponytails and no liberal slogans on their T-shirts. There are no T-shirts at all — it’s Oxfords and ties for these deputy district attorneys. But Fioretta and Rosenblatt are as fixated on what happens to Santa Clara County’s land and water as any dogged Sierra Club member. Fioretta and Rosenblatt are the key attorneys in Santa Clara’s environmental crimes unit. Along with longtime inspector Wayne Yip, the lawyers are dedicated to tracking down and prosecuting a broad mix of environmental crimes: leaky underground gas tanks, chemical spills in county waterways and land use violations. The environmental prosecuting job is considered among the toughest in the DA’s office because it requires the ability to translate complex science to jurors who may not have studied biology and chemistry since high school. “This is a chance to work for the public good, so a lot of lawyers would like to do what we do,” Rosenblatt said. “But it requires a great deal of patience for complexity and ambiguity.” The attorneys have to explain fields like hydrology and guide jurors through the often dense testimony of chemists, geologists and engineers. The prosecutors might have to, for example, explain just how much copper or dioxin makes water hazardous to drink. That painstaking attention to detail often produces results in the courtroom against pricey law firms and deep-pocketed corporations. The pair recently secured a commitment from Jiffy Lube to train its county employees in proper oil disposal and storage, Rosenblatt said. They obtained a $105,000 settlement earlier this month against Gilroy-area retailer Casa de Fruta over problems at its gas station. The environmental unit also spent almost a decade litigating against Eric Diesel, who paved and graded a small stretch of road in the Santa Cruz mountains, damaging downstream property. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Stafford recently ordered Diesel to pay about $370,000 for the unwanted contracting in September. “Great facts can overcome great lawyers,” said Rosenblatt, 47, a Stanford Law School graduate, adding that the team is accustomed to bringing cases against defendants who are reluctant to make big payments, especially over small spilling violations. Fioretta and Rosenblatt have also been successful in low-profile cases that are nonetheless critical for communities that must cope with pollution. In 2002, the team shut down a metal fabrication shop in south Santa Clara that opened illegally and was producing steel railings. “We rarely put companies out of business. We’d rather have them comply,” Fioretta said. “But we’ll do whatever it takes.” SCIENCE 101 The environmental crimes unit, which formed in 1984, has quietly gone about its work for 20 years. Fioretta prosecuted violent crimes before joining the team. “Most of my career was spent with blood and guts,” he jokes. Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu said Fioretta and Rosenblatt need to be science teachers to persuade juries. “The man on the street doesn’t understand [why it's bad] to put automobile oil in the trash can,” Sinunu said, adding that “every single environmental case has a ramification for the county.” Fioretta is known as the resident “green” in the DA’s office. The trim lawyer prefers to walk to work and rarely drives his car, attorneys say. Sinunu said Fioretta even set up a recycling system for fellow DAs to dispose of cans and bottles. On a recent December day, he sported a tie decorated with lions. Rosenblatt, a veteran prosecutor of white-collar crimes and major fraud, has been with the unit a little more than a year. Sinunu describes Rosenblatt as “a sensible, no-frills kind of guy.” Sinunu said the pair make an ideal team. Almost all prosecutors have to translate some science for jurors — for example, explaining DNA testing on blood samples from a crime scene. But attorneys say much of the need for simplified science in violent crime prosecutions has been mitigated by popular TV shows like “CSI” that detail crime scene investigations and prosecutions. Jurors in many cases come with built-in knowledge about DNA and other evidence from watching these shows. Not so for environmental law. There’s no gripping TV show based on a trial where a prosecutor must detail the breakdown of a noxious chemical compound in water. The attorneys are undeterred by the challenge. “We always try to put ourselves into the mind of a juror,” Fioretta, 48, said. “We ask how to simplify to the maximum extent possible.” AGGRESSIVE BUT FAIR Defense attorneys say they are struck by how well both prosecutors know science and their passion for the environment, although many local lawyers have only litigated against Fioretta, as Rosenblatt is relatively new to the team. Fioretta “takes his job very seriously and extracts higher fines than most other counties for environment and pollution problems,” defense attorney Kenneth Robinson said. But Robinson said Fioretta’s passion for the environment does not lead to overzealous or wrongful prosecutions. Robinson once defended a Sunnyvale business owner accused of polluting the water system — Fioretta was the prosecutor. The preliminary hearing lasted a week. The case was scheduled to go to trial on a Monday and could have lasted four to five weeks. But when Fioretta learned he didn’t have a strong case, he called Robinson, sparing the defense lawyer from needlessly preparing all weekend. “He’s one of the most honest, ethical prosecutors I’ve dealt with,” Robinson said. A common complaint among defense lawyers is that environmental prosecutors will try to collect fines from defendants even if they have a weak case. But San Jose solo Stephanie Rickard said Fioretta never crosses that line. “John is a very thorough, able and aggressive prosecutor. But he’s also fair and knows when things need to be resolved,” said Rickard, who faced Fioretta in a case in which her client was accused of discharging heavy metals into a waterway. “Some [environmental prosecutors] just want to generate fines, but Fioretta is always reasonable,” she said. Fioretta, for one, says small rewards are the best part of the job. Recently, he took a daytime walk by the Guadalupe River in San Jose. The river has been plagued by pollution and dumping — but Fioretta spotted a steelhead trout making its way through the water. “It was very surprising,” he said. “I’d like to think our work has something to do with it.”

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