LEGAL: Contra Costa County Supervisor Gayle Bishop

2000-04-04 04:00:00 PDT CONTRA COSTA -- In a surprising reversal, an appellate court agreed yesterday to rehear the case of former Contra Costa County Supervisor Gayle Bishop, who is attempting to overturn 1997 convictions for misuse of public office.
Without explanation, the state Court of Appeal granted a petition filed by Bishop's attorneys asking the court to decide whether Bishop was the victim of a political prosecution.
"We're delighted," said attorney Dennis Riordan. "Rehearing is probably granted in no more than one out of 500 to 1,000 cases. It is extraordinarily rare. It is very gratifying. It means these convictions have not been affirmed."
Last month, a three-judge panel dismissed two of four perjury convictions against Bishop and ordered a new sentencing hearing for the 61-year-old San Ramon Valley woman. And the justices seemed to suggest in their ruling that Bishop does not deserve a three-year prison term ordered by a visiting judge in 1998.
Bishop has long argued that criminal charges -- which included allegations her staff did campaign and legal work for her on county time -- were filed against her at the behest of political opponents who disagreed with her slow-growth development stance. She has also criticized the role the district attorney's office played in prosecuting her, saying it was a conflict of interest because she voted on its budget as a supervisor.

To avoid that conflict, Deputy District Attorney Jim Sepulveda prosecuted Bishop under a temporary assignment to the state attorney general's office. The appellate court called that arrangement a "charade" last month.
In papers filed last week, Bishop's attorneys argued that the lawyers who represented her at trial made a crucial error in not trying to have Sepulveda disqualified as prosecutor.
The appellate court made the same criticism in its ruling last month but noted that Bishop's appellate lawyers had not raised the issue, effectively preventing the justices from ruling on that point of law.
But in the new pleadings, her lawyers are arguing that Bishop had ineffective assistance from her trial counsel, and now the Court of Appeal will rehear her case.
"This means the court views the original opinion as raising new and complicated legal problems that it had not adequately considered before, the issue of the disqualification of the prosecutor," Riordan said.
Informed of the court's decision to re-examine the case, Sepulveda declined to comment. Ray Cardozo, the deputy attorney general handling the case did not return calls to The Chronicle.
Prosecutors have until April 21 to respond and then a new hearing date will be set

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