Since the now infamous grand jury report, “Unsportsmanlike Conduct on the Santa Clara City Council,” was leaked to the press last week, some are saying that members of the grand jury have political and business connections to Lisa Gillmor, and thus a conflict of interest in participating in a grand jury report that could benefit Gillmor’s campaign and those of her political allies.
The final version of the report notes that two grand jury members recused themselves, but doesn’t say who they were, why or when they recused themselves.
“It’s unclear if any member of the grand jury has any financial connections to Mayor Gillmor,” District Attorney’s Office Communications Director Sean Webby told The Weekly in an email.
“That allegation has been raised by the 49ers without any details,” Webby said in the email. “Grand jurors are required to recuse themselves from any investigation if they have a conflict of interest, and as the public report states, two of the jurors did recuse themselves. The presiding judge and attorney from County Counsel work closely with grand jurors to make sure those with a conflict of interest recuse themselves from an investigation.”
Given the controversy stirred up by the grand jury’s report, it’s fair to wonder what jurors were asked about their knowledge of the targets of the investigation, the witnesses that were called, or those who stand to benefit from this report. At this point, no one is saying.
This isn’t the first Santa Clara County grand jury that has been questioned about bias and conflicts of interest.
For example, during the 2016 Santa Clara election there was a similar “October surprise” grand jury report alleging the City was not being properly reimbursed for Levi’s Stadium public safety expenses. The foreman of that grand jury supplied campaign services to City Council candidate Tino Silva. Silva was also a Parks and Recreation Commissioner and Director of the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League where Gillmor’s husband is a coach and director.
Gillmor herself came under fire in 1991 as a member of a grand jury that published a highly critical assessment of the County Department of Corrections’ management of the jails; described by its critics as “thin and poorly substantiated.” One of the reasons for the criticism was that Gillmor donated $1,000 to a failed attempt to prevent creating the County Department of Corrections. (Mercury News, June 26, 1991 – JAIL_BOSS_ATTACKS_REPORT_HALL_ASKS_AUDIT_OF__Mercury_News_The_San_Jose_CA___June_26_1991__p1B)
Webby also said that the timing of the report’s release was solely determined by the grand jury, as were the witnesses called to testify. However, both San José Spotlight and San José Inside have reported that the conduct of this grand jury was anomalous, both with respect to the very few witnesses called — typically grand juries call tens of witnesses, not just 10 — and the release of the report so early in the grand jury’s calendar — typically, reports are released in a group in the last two months of the grand jury’s term.
Four Grand Jury Members Raise Questions Yet Only Two Recusals
The Weekly has found a notable web of interconnections among four grand jury members who seem to have some connection with Santa Clara politics, Lisa Gillmor, her allies, her real estate company or past litigation with the City and the 49ers. While none of these connections alone demonstrate bias, legal experts say that these people wouldn’t be chosen for the jury in a trial about the report’s allegations.
Grand juror Shirley Modric lives across the street from former Council Member Teresa O’Neill, a reliable Gillmor ally and part of Santa Clara’s old guard. O’Neill’s father and Gillmor’s father (former mayor Gary Gillmor) were close friends. In 2020, O’Neill lost her bid for a third term to Council Member Kevin Park. Modrić’s husband was employed at Avago at the same time as Raj Chahal’s opponent in the District 2 election, Larry McColloch, though it is unclear if the two knew one another.
Modric has also been active in Saint Justin’s Church and school, where O’Neill and former City Attorney Brian Doyle are members and very active. O’Neill and Doyle are close friends and had often discussed City business, as she told the Mercury News in 2017 (INTERNAL_AFFAIRS__Mercury_News_The_San_Jose_CA___January_15_2017__p1B) when Doyle was appointed city attorney in Santa Clara, at her recommendation.
The grand jury report is very laudatory of Doyle, who has threatened to sue Santa Clara for wrongful termination and has filed an FPPC complaint against Council Member Park. Doyle was fired after evidence came to light that he concealed a settlement offer that would have saved Santa Clara millions of dollars following the City’s loss in the voting rights lawsuit that he encouraged the City to litigate and appeal.
Grand juror Barbara Specter, a former Los Gatos Vice mayor, was an attorney with Hoge Fenton in 2009 and 2010 when the law firm represented Cedar Fair to the Santa Clara City Council in a lawsuit against the City and the 49ers over the land that Levi’s Stadium was built on — a Great America overflow parking lot. Cedar Fair lost the suit.
Grand juror Karyn Sinunu-Towery is a former Santa Clara county prosecutor who unsuccessfully ran for district attorney in 2006. She is married to Judge James Towery, who also was employed by Hoge Fenton in 2010 during the Cedar Fair litigation and was also a shareholder in the law firm. Sinunu-Towery worked with DA Jeff Rosen and endorsed his campaigns for election and re-election. Judge Towery was also DA Jeff Rosen’s attorney in a 2010 action about Rosen’s campaign statement. (2010-1-CV-166708).
Finally, grand juror Paul Raineri’s close relative, Lori Raineri, is the president of Government Financial Strategies, Santa Clara Unified School District’s longtime consultant on bond issues and debt financing. O’Neill served two terms on the Santa Clara Unified School District board of trustees (1998-2006) She was on the school board when the district created the Santa Clara Teacher Housing Foundation, which since its inception, has hired Gillmor’s real estate subsidiary Public Property Advisors (PPA) to manage its teacher housing development Casa del Maestro.
Lori Raineri gives regular presentations to the SCUSD board on Casa del Maestro teacher housing development debt refinancing and restructuring results, with information “provided by the property manager” — i.e., Gillmor’s company. Both companies work with many school districts and likely have regular contacts. Raineri’s father, Philip Raineri, was on the Santa Clara planning commission (1983-1994) at the same time Gillmor was on the parks commission. (1982-1992).
Longtime Gillmor cheerleader James Rowen — he went to high school with her and, by his own account, speaks with her frequently — claims credit for interesting the grand jury in this investigation.
Empty bragging or not, it’s clear that Gillmor knew a lot about this investigation because she in recent months suggested that there should be grand jury investigations of her Santa Clara City Council colleagues and the city attorney. This follows the same playbook as the 2016 grand jury report attacking her political opponents.