STOCKTON – Could the testimony of a grand juror be what embattled Manteca Unified trustee and Stockton politician Sam Fant needs to get a fair trial?
His attorney, Yolonda Huang, wants to find out.
On Monday morning Fant appeared in San Joaquin Superior Court alongside his Oakland-based defense attorney to lobby Judge George J. Abdullah Jr. to allow her to interview a former member of the San Joaquin Civil Grand Jury who is currently legally barred from discussing the cases that she investigated.
Fant is facing two counts of election fraud for allegedly conspiring to get Ashley Drain and Alexander Bronson elected to the Manteca Unified School District Board for area seats where they did not legally reside as required by law. Both were charged with election fraud and have since resigned from the board.
The juror, Roslyn Watkins – who has been out of the state – allegedly contacted Fant’s attorney and said that she had information that she would like to provide on his behalf regarding the process involved in the researching and writing the report that painted the current Manteca Unified Trustee and Stockton City Council hopeful in a completely negative light.
At least two leaders of Stockton’s black community are stepping up and alleging that the entire grand jury report itself was tainted with racism.
A sworn statement that was provided to Abdullah, the President of the Stockton chapter of the NAACP, Bobby Bivens, and Ralph White, the head of the Stockton Black Leadership Council, attempted to add credence to Fant’s allegation that he’s being politically prosecuted. They allege that the San Joaquin District Attorney’s office, which is an advisor to the grand jury, is tainted by the “obvious bias and racism” that was included throughout the finished report. That report ultimately criticized Fant’s actions in contacting the media to lambaste an employee for having what he considered racially insensitive photos on her Facebook page rather than going through the proper channels. One of those photos was a picture taken of a fly that had landed on President Obama’s forehead while he was delivering a speech that some thought was a bullet hole.
Drain’s style likened
to Donald Trump’s
It also had harsh words for former Trustee Drain – who resigned after being charged with election fraud and welfare fraud. The election fraud charges were filed stemming from her use of what is believed to be a false address to qualify as a Manteca Unified board candidate.
Drain was mentioned by Bivens and White in their court filing to substantiate the claim of racism – comparing her style and approach to the position to that of Donald Trump to show the disparity that she receives when compared to a white male.
“We find the description of trustee Drane (sic) and Fant’s conduct to be biased, uneven and lacking in objectivity,” the statement reads. “Trustee Drane (sic) is criticized for her behavior with ‘frequent outspoken posts on social media’ that the report deems ‘unseemly for an elected official.’ Now we have a Republican Presidential candidate given to the same conduct, but back then Trustee Drane’s (sic) outspoken manner and failure to adopt a low-key style subjected her to criticism.
“This is the stereotype of the black woman, and of black people, loud and lacking in refinement.”
Drain and Bronson, both of whom were elected to the board in 2014, were charged with various offenses related to election fraud for allegedly using addresses with Manteca Unified’s boundaries where they didn’t reside to qualify for the ballot in November. Bronson accepted a plea deal and will be sentenced in October while Drain is expecting to see her case go to trial in October.
It was during their legal proceedings, according to the San Joaquin District Attorney’s office, that information came to light that implicated Fant in what amounted to a conspiracy amongst the three to get them elected. He has since been charged with two counts of election fraud and two counts of conspiracy for his involvement, but alleges that the District Attorney’s office is using its position to try and keep him from running for the Stockton City Council.
Fant is one of two people that voters will decide on in November to represent South Stockton on that city’s council. . If he’s elected he’ll be the second representative from Weston Ranch who cut their teeth on the Manteca Unified School Board before making the jump into Stockton politics.
Fant’s attorney wants
San Joaquin County
DA removed from case
According to Huang, she has no idea what information the grand juror has and won’t know until she actually gets a statement from her. The matter will be back before Abdullah for a decision on Sept. 19 at 1:30 p.m. in Department 31.
Last week Huang filed a motion for recusal to try and remove the San Joaquin District Attorney’s office from the case citing a conflict of interest – and now, systemic racism – as reasons that the case should be turned over to the California Attorney General for review and if appropriate, prosecution.
And the argument that Deputy District Attorney Scott Fichtner advised the grand jury as a representative of that particular office isn’t the first time that Fichtner’s path has crossed with Fant’s. According to the recusal motion filed, Fant was set to testify in a case against Stockton activist Ramiro Reyes who was charged with attempting to extort political favors from the then-Stockton Planning Commissioner. When Fant was going over his testimony with Fichtner, according to the motion, and he refused to testify falsely on two points, the prosecutor became angry and said, “You’re going to get in trouble for not going through with this.”
Fant’s hearing to determine whether the recusal motion will be granted will be decided by Superior Court Judge Brett Morgan on Sept. 29 at 8:30 a.m. in Department 26.
“I think that justice would be better served allowing the attorney general’s office to step in and handle the prosecution,” Fant said. “I think that my life is on the line in a sense as it deals with this case, and I hope that in the interest of justice and transparency the court would grant the recusal. I can say that I appreciate having to go through this experience of navigating our judicial system firsthand because I never knew – it allowed me to see how the balance scales tip in the favor of the prosecution. If you don’t have the financial resources to defend yourself you end up either in jail or end up with a record, even if you’re innocent.
“I’ve discovered the persecution truly is worse than slaughter.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.