Facing corruption probes and a potential trial that could expel her from office, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said Thursday she will not run for reelection and will retire when her sixth term ends in January.
Smith, who was the first woman to be elected sheriff in California, made the announcement just days before a March 16 county re-election filing deadline for incumbents. The decision was expected within her office, and records with the California Secretary of State showed that she never formed a campaign committee for the 2022 sheriff’s race.
Smith made the announcement March 10 in a statement released to local news media.
Smith, who started with the Sheriff’s Office in 1973 and has been sheriff for the last 24 years, wrote a letter “to the county’s residents” announcing her retirement and calling attacks against her tenure as “specious attempts by unsavory political opponents in retribution for serving the public with honor.”
State Attorney General Rob Bonta earlier this year announced he was opening the civil rights investigation into the Sheriff’s Office over allegations that included misconduct in county jails and resistance to oversight.
Last August, the county Board of Supervisors gave Smith a unanimous vote of no confidence, citing alleged jail mismanagement, a “pay-to-play” scheme involving gun permits issued by her office, and the death or serious injury of inmates.
Smith, in her March 10 letter, wrote, “The truth and evidence is absolutely clear. I have always served the people of Santa Clara County and have never engaged in any behavior that would warrant the media animus, false legal narrative, or political attacks currently in the public domain.”
She added, “My plight is no different and I am confident history will show the first elected woman Sheriff to serve in California was not only honorable — but her accomplishments will speak far louder and be remembered longer than the false stories that will be repudiated by truth. I believe in truth.”
Text of Smith’s announcement
This is the statement released by Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith on why she decided not to seek re-election to the job:
“I want to thank the residents of Santa Clara County for allowing me to serve as your Sheriff for the last 24 years and in the Sheriff’s Office for the last 49. We have accomplished much since I was first sworn as a Deputy Sheriff’s Matron in 1973.
“I am especially proud that we have made significant progress and are now considered a premier law enforcement agency throughout the state. I thank the women and men of the Sheriff’s Office for their dedication and service. We truly have the finest staff that serve with honesty and integrity.
“This job will never be finished and it is with some regret that I announce my retirement from service at the end of my term in January of 2023. My decision not to run for reelection was very difficult. There is much still to do, but the interests of the people of our County must continue to be our first priority.
“As a public official, sometimes you make powerful enemies. Decisions to stand up for a victim of a gang rape, oppose a Judge who leniently dealt with a sexual offender because of his privileged status or taking on other elected officials to protect the public and a former reputable newspaper because it was the right thing to do makes you a target. I accept that fact.
“The truth and evidence is absolutely clear. I have always served the people of Santa Clara County and have never engaged in any behavior that would warrant the media animus, false legal narrative, or political attacks currently in the public domain. I have always dismissed these attacks for what they are – specious attempts by unsavory political opponents in retribution for serving the public with honor.
“I am reminded of former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales, whose reputation as a leader is finally being vindicated by history, even as he was viciously attacked and falsely charged while he served in office.
“My plight is no different and I am confident history will show the first elected woman Sheriff to serve in California was not only honorable—but her accomplishments will speak far louder and be remembered longer than the false stories that will be repudiated by truth. I believe in truth.
“Yet, in the final analysis it would be unfair to the voters of Santa Clara County to force them to make a decision in the middle of a drama not of their making. Let the facts come out, let history record the result and let us continue to focus on providing the highest level of public safety service.
“Thank you again for the opportunity to serve.”
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