Reputed gang figure Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow's lawyers are fighting for the right to reveal the federal government's evidence in its criminal case against him, state Sen. Leland Yee and dozens of others -- calling federal prosecutors' hefty criminal complaint a "press release" that deserves a response.
Chow's legal team, led by flamboyant San Francisco lawyer J. Tony Serra, blasted away Wednesday at the U.S. attorney's demand to keep its evidence so secret that revealing it could draw severe court penalties.
Chow faces conspiracy and money laundering charges in a sweeping case that includes political corruption charges against Yee, the now-suspended Democratic state legislator. Serra argues in court papers that he should not be handcuffed from revealing evidence mounted during the FBI's four-year probe.
"There is no time in a person's life when the First Amendment is more critical than when facing criminal accusations," Serra wrote. "This is especially true in the case of Mr. Chow, who has been victimized and targeted by the federal government with unbridled enthusiasm."
Federal prosecutors last week urged U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer to order Chow's lawyers to comply with a so-called protective order, which would prevent anyone in the case from publicly releasing evidence, notably years of undercover wiretapped conversations that allegedly include Yee offering his political clout in exchange for campaign contributions.
The U.S. attorney's office, also in court papers, told the judge that Serra is the only one of more than two dozen defense lawyers refusing to take part in such a joint agreement while the case proceeds. Among other points, federal prosecutors say the order is needed to keep secret the identities of figures caught on the FBI wiretaps or mentioned but not charged with any crimes.
"Such materials, if improperly disclosed, could be used to besmirch these otherwise innocent individuals," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney William Frentzen.
Breyer, who asked for Serra's response, is now expected to rule on the issue.
In the meantime, federal prosecutors are proceeding with an ongoing grand jury investigation in the case that is expected to produce a revised indictment in July. Frentzen has already disclosed that racketeering charges will be added against some of the defendants in the case.
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz.