Suspended state Sen. Leland Yee is due back in court Friday, along with most of the other 28 co-defendants who have been caught up in the sprawling political corruption case that includes charges of gun trafficking, murder for hire, corruption and fraud.
The complicated, multi-part indictment is still a long way from trial. But that hasn’t stopped the speculation about possible defenses for the three lead defendants— Yee, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow and Keith Jackson — all expected back in court Friday.
James Brosnahan, who is representing political consultant Keith Jackson, implied that a lack of physical evidence will be part of his defense against gun-trafficking charges. “The guns that are referred to, from the Philippines, do not exist. They are nowhere to be found,” Brosnahan said.
Rory Little, professor of law at UC Hastings, cautions against this defense. “We have in our society made the decision to have crimes, like conspiracy, like fraud, like bribery, that do not require any physical evidence,” Little said. “You don’t need guns to prove a conspiracy to import guns.”
In terms of political corruption charges facing Yee, arguing that the legal definition of bribery has not been met could make a stronger case, Little said. “This was not a specific quid pro quo for an official act by a senator,” he said.
Another attractive defense is entrapment — arguing that the FBI overreached by concocting elaborate schemes to lure the defendants into committing crimes. Lawyers must convince a jury that “any law-abiding person would have acted in the same way,” a fact that Little said “is very hard to prove.”
While the FBI investigation, laid out in a 120-page criminal complaint, took years to complete, attorneys have only had a few weeks to craft their cases. Regardless of the specific defenses they settle on, Little said a major part of any defense attorney’s job will be to “counteract the wave of publicity” triggered by the Hollywood-like aspects of the case.
Attorney Tony Serra, who is representing Raymond Chow, recently said his client “has helped the poor (and made) sacrifices,” claims meant to bolster Chow’s character.
At Friday’s status hearing, Yee and the other co-defendants will be appearing in front of U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer for the first time. Randomly selected to hear the case, Breyer is the brother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. “He is one of the most experienced judges in the district,” with many highly publicized cases under his belt, Little said.
Still, it is much too early to predict anything about this case, other than packed courtrooms and a lot of media attention. According to Little, “It’s going to be a free-for-all.”