SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Former Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa Friday pleaded not guilty to allegedly impersonating a political candidate in an unusual hearing in which the judge said he himself might be a potential witness and have to recuse himself.
Shirakawa, 51, was arraigned in Santa Clara County Superior Court on a charge filed Wednesday that he impersonated San Jose City Council candidate Magdalena Carrasco in 2010 by sending out a fake campaign mailer meant to discredit her.
The district attorney’s office filed the felony false impersonation charge after prosecutors said a test by a state Department of Justice lab on a postage stamp on one of the mailers matched DNA to Shirakawa.
The former Board of Supervisors member also was to face sentencing today from Judge Philip Pennypacker in a separate case involving perjury, misuse of public funds and filing inaccurate campaign and government finance reports between 2008 and 2012.
Shirakawa, who resigned from office March 1, pleaded guilty on March 19 in that case to five felony and seven misdemeanor charges and prosecutors requested that he serve a year in county jail.
But John Williams, Shirakawa’s defense attorney in the earlier case, today asked Pennypacker to delay the sentencing, arguing that the district attorney’s office violated a plea deal absolving Shirakawa of other potential investigations in exchange for a guilty plea.
Since the details of that plea were now in dispute, that would place those involved in negotiating the deal in a position to have to testify about it, Williams said.
“The actions of the district attorney have created a situation in which all persons who negotiated the original plea agreement are now potential witnesses, that includes myself,” Williams said.
Jay Rorty, Shirakawa’s attorney in the alleged fake campaign mailer case, echoed Williams’ claims and asked that the new complaint be dismissed based on Shirakawa’s view “that the prior plea agreement bars new charges.”
Pennypacker agreed, saying that since he had involvement in the plea deal as judge, he could be called as a witness about the details of the pact and therefore may have to leave the case entirely and be replaced by another judge.
After Shirakawa pleaded not guilty today to the false impersonation charge, Pennypacker delayed the sentencing and set a status conference on both cases for July 19.
Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu-Towery said outside of court that she was “surprised” by the judge’s ruling and denied that the district attorney’s office violated the plea agreement.
The false impersonation charge was a separate criminal charge, based on the 2010 campaign mailer “cold case” and Shirakawa’s DNA was allegedly found on the mailer after the plea agreement was made, Sinunu-Towery said.
“There was nothing expressly said about the false impersonation charge” in the plea deal, she said.
(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)