Famed San Francisco criminal defense attorney J. Tony Serra may attempt to demonstrate that the arrests and prosecution of Juan Pablo Lopez, a former deputy with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, are retribution by the county for his June 2014 run for election as sheriff against his boss, then-sheriff Greg Munks.
Attorney Maria Belyi, Mr. Serra's assistant, confirmed recently that the high-profile Serra is now defending Mr. Lopez, who faces a series of charges related to his run for the sheriff's post and his duties at the county jail. The case is expected to go to trial later this year.
"Essentially, we view the case against him as a political case ... a sort of retribution, almost, for running for sheriff," Ms. Belyi said. "I don't think that there is going to be any evidence of criminal wrongdoing."
District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said he had no response to Ms. Belyi's comment "other than to say we will let the evidence in court speak for itself."
In the 2014 primary election, Mr. Lopez, 54, was both a candidate for sheriff and a deputy employed by the two-term sheriff whose job he wanted and who was running for a third term.
Circumstances, possibly including his lack of experience running for public office, led him to miss a key filing deadline. He then ran a write-in campaign -- his name was not on the ballot - and Mr. Munks won easily.
By the time the following June rolled around, Mr. Lopez had been arrested twice, each time on a different set of charges, including obstruction of justice, conspiracy, counterfeiting and perjury. His two cases are now into their third year of winding their way through the San Mateo County Superior Court system.
Mr. Lopez was a 26-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office and at the time of his candidacy for sheriff, had the responsibility of transporting prisoners to and from the jail.
About five months after the election, and following an investigation by the Sheriff's Office internal affairs department, Mr. Lopez and two jail corrections officers were arrested on charges related to smuggling.
Prosecutors accused Mr. Lopez and the corrections officers of conspiring with a gang-affiliated jail inmate to provide that inmate with two cellphones and oxycontin over several months, and to allow the inmate to use the phone openly in the jail.
Prosecutors subsequently brought charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and gang involvement against Mr. Lopez. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Those charges have since been modified to two counts of conspiracy, Assistant District Attorney Al Serrato told the Almanac.
Mr. Lopez has not responded to several requests for comment.
In February 2015, while on administrative leave, Mr. Lopez was arrested again, this time in connection with his run for sheriff.
Officers from an Alameda County task force arrived at his house in Newark with sirens wailing and lights flashing, according to one of his former defense attorneys, David Washington. He was ordered to his knees at gunpoint and handcuffed, Mr. Washington said.
Prosecutors accused Mr. Lopez of fraud in trying to secure a real estate loan while claiming he lived in Redwood City when, they said, he actually lived in Newark. That claim of Redwood City residency also figured in allegations that he signed documents, under penalty of perjury, in which he claimed to be a resident of San Mateo County.
He faces seven election-related charges: fraud, conspiracy, perjury by filing a counterfeit document, an election code filing violation, an election code voting violation and two counts of forgery, prosecutors said.
The charge sheet had been longer. San Mateo County Judge Lisa Novak dismissed two charges of conspiracy related to fraud against Mr. Lopez after charges against his alleged co-conspirators were dropped, Mr. Serrato said.
The absence of co-conspirators also led Judge Novak to dismiss a charge of perjury and another of embezzlement, noting that a fine from the Fair Political Practices Commission was an adequate remedy for embezzlement against a political campaign, Mr. Serrato said.
Mr. Lopez has been out of custody on $100,000 bail on the jail-related charges, with preliminary hearings set for July 21 and Aug. 18 and a jury trial set to begin Oct. 30.
He is out on $170,000 bail on the election-related charges, prosecutors said. His pretrial conference on Aug. 18 will also serve to address those charges, including the setting of a date for a jury trial, prosecutors said.
Respect and trust
On his campaign website, Mr. Lopez had written that he would "restore integrity to the leadership of the Office of Sheriff," that Mr. Munks "is not the person to lead the law enforcement program," and that Mr. Lopez will be a leader whom voters can "respect and trust."
About seven years earlier, in April 2007, Las Vegas police had detained and questioned Mr. Munks and Carlos Bolanos -- Mr. Munks' second in command and his eventual successor -- after finding them on the premises of a brothel in an unmarked house in a residential neighborhood. Local police said Mr. Munks explained his presence by saying he'd been looking for a massage parlor and that he believed he'd been going into a legitimate business.
Mr. Lopez, asked during his campaign whether assertions about Mr. Munks' integrity and leadership ability were in reference to the Las Vegas incident, said they were not. "You know, I really can't say anything about that," he said. "I wasn't there and I don't have first-hand knowledge."
Mr. Lopez retired from his law enforcement career in March 2016, Sheriff's Office spokesman Detective Salvador Zuno told the Almanac.
Mr. Munks retired in July 2016. In that same month, by a 3-2 vote, the Board of Supervisors appointed Mr. Bolanos to serve out the remaining two-plus years in Mr. Munks' term.
Tony Serra, in a 2012 Youtube interview, describes himself as someone who supports "the antithesis, whatever opposes, whatever rejects, whatever is against the main theme."
He says that as a young lawyer in the 1960s, he worked "mostly murder and political trials," and that he's defended the Black Panthers and the White Panthers -- an anti-racist, anti-capitalist group.
"Defending society's outcasts" has been his life's work, Mr. Serra's web page at Pier 5 Law Offices says, and continues: "Perceiving himself in the role of a warrior, Mr. Serra has continued to battle for more freedom for more people through law. ... Tony Serra has always known how to express the poetry of the law, while fighting in the ditches and dark alleys of legal practice. He has gained national prominence for his closing argument techniques."