[Sutter County] Attorney General recommends rejection of petition

Document seeks unpublished Sutter County Grand Jury report

The state Attorney General’s Office is recommending the Third Appellate District Court of Appeal reject a local attorney’s petition seeking the unpublished Sutter County Grand Jury report. 

In the petition, attorney Jesse Santana wrote that he believes the report contains information that would exonerate or provide evidence that would cast doubt on the criminal charges against his client, Danelle Stylos. She is the former Sutter County Development Services director who was arrested in March 2017 on suspicion of perjury, voter fraud, petty theft and filing false information on a concealed carry permit. 

He also alleged the grand jury investigated “willful or corrupt misconduct and other wrongdoing by the Sutter County District Attorney’s Office in the handling and prosecuting of cases, including Stylos’ case or issues that may be related to the investigation and criminal charges that were filed against Stylos.”

The report prepared by the 2017-18 grand jury was withheld from publication, though advanced copies went to some offices. The 17 grand jurors resigned in protest in June, stating they were “prevented from fulfilling our duty as watchdog for Sutter County,” in a letter to Superior Court judges Brian Aronson and Sarah Heckman. 

Earlier this month, Santana filed a petition with the Appellate Court, requesting Judge David Ashby conduct a private review of the report and provide Santana with any “Brady” material – which refers to the 1963 Brady v. Maryland court case which established that prosecutors must turn over to defense teams all evidence that may exonerate the defendant. In August, Ashby had denied Santana’s two motions seeking the unpublished report.

In the Attorney General’s response to the Appellate Court, released Friday, it argues that petitioner Stylos fails to show good cause to believe that the unpublished grand jury report contained exculpatory or impeachment evidence. The Attorney General’s Office makes clear it has neither received nor reviewed the report. 

It argues that there is no dispute that the grand jury performed an investigation in its civil watchdog capacity, but because of grand jury secrecy rules, there is no basis to surmise what particular investigation was performed. 

“Likewise, there is no basis to conclude that the grand jury investigated the Sutter County District Attorney’s Office’s handling and prosecution of specific cases. If anything, although there are examples of grand jury investigations into District Attorney practices, it would be quite remarkable for a civil grand jury to weigh in on pending criminal prosecutions,” the Attorney General’s Office argues. “Taken together, these considerations make it extremely unlikely that the unpublished Grand Jury report contained exculpatory information as to (Stylos)… In the end, (Stylos) furnished no good cause, only speculation, that the Grand Jury had uncovered evidence of an exculpatory nature.”

In the original motion, Santana states that inaccurate statements or errors made by prosecution witnesses involved in the investigation of Stylos’ charged crimes can reflect adversely on the thoroughness or good faith of the investigation and thus, became Brady evidence by that device. 

“First, her suggestion assumes that witnesses with knowledge of her alleged crimes actually testified before the grand jury,” according to the response. “Petitioner has presented no basis at all to believe this to be true. Second, her suggestion further assumes that these same witnesses testified inaccurately or erroneously. But she has presented no basis to believe this either.”

Santana is now preparing a reply brief to the Attorney General’s response. From there, the Appellate Court will make a ruling.

October 29, 2018

Appeal-Democrat

By Rachel Rosenbaum

County: