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Longtime Santa Clara County sheriff steps down amid corruption trial

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Embattled Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith abruptly stepped down Monday, before a jury reached a verdict in the civil corruption trial that could have led to her removal from office.

The longtime San Jose-area sheriff has struggled to recover from multiple scandals, including allegations of corruption and bribery among her command staff and abuse in the county jails — leading to a vote of no confidence from the county’s Board of Supervisors last year.

Smith, who in 1998 became the first woman to be elected a county sheriff in California, has spent the last few weeks fighting a corruption case in civil court, in which prosecutors have outlined a bribery scheme that allegedly traded concealed-carry permits for political donations.

The unusual trial is a civil proceeding that only seeks to remove Smith from her position. She has not been directly linked in the criminal cases that have ensnared her former undersheriff and others.

The jury in the corruption trial began deliberating Friday, according to the Mercury News, and if Smith had been found guilty, she would have been immediately ousted from her position as sheriff. However, as of Monday, it wasn’t clear when a verdict would be reached or how Smith’s decision to step down early would affect the case.

Smith had previously announced plans to retire at the end of her term in January, choosing to not seek reelection, according to the Mercury News. Santa Clara County voters will choose a new sheriff in next week’s election.

Smith announced her retirement effective Monday, according to a statement from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. Undersheriff Ken Binder will step into the role of acting sheriff “until a new top cop is elected or appointed by the Board of Supervisors,” the statement said.

“The Sheriff’s Office remains committed to our mission to provide the highest level of public safety and service to our community during this transition,” the statement said.

Smith’s attorney, Allen Ruby, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The California attorney general’s office this year announced a civil rights investigation into the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, which a spokesperson confirmed Monday is ongoing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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