Fresno attorney Anthony “Tony” Capozzi plans to file a defamation lawsuit against the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office for issuing a news release that said he was under investigation, but never explained why he was in trouble.
Fresno attorney Kevin Little, who represents Capozzi, contends the Oct. 12 news release damaged Capozzi’s reputation as a criminal defense lawyer and prominent figure in California’s legal community. The news release, Little said, also caused emotional distress for Capozzi and his wife, Paula, and caused Capozzi to lose clients and other economic opportunities.
In February, four months after the news release was made public, the Sheriff’s Office revealed for the first time that Capozzi was under investigation for allegedly taking contraband to a client in the Fresno County Jail. But the Sheriff’s Office also said it would not recommend the filing of smuggling charges against Capozzi.
Some people shied away from me. I lost some friendships, too.
Fresno attorney Anthony “Tony” Capozzi of what happened after allegations were leveled against him in October
On Oct. 12, the Sheriff’s Office news release said in response to multiple media inquiries it could confirm that “our office initiated a criminal investigation” involving Capozzi. “No details of the allegations are available at this time,” the release said.
In a claim for damages, Little contends the Sheriff’s Office was negligent because the news release was “unfounded and premature.” Because the news release lacked facts, Little said, it implied that Capozzi “may have committed a crime.”
On Tuesday, The Fresno County Board of Supervisors, without comment, rejected Capozzi’s civil rights claim against the Sheriff’s Office. The rejected claim gives Little the right to file a lawsuit on Capozzi’s behalf.
Sheriff spokesman Tony Botti said: “The Sheriff’s Office is looking forward to fully addressing the claims and allegations raised by Mr. and Mrs. Capozzi.”
Capozzi, who will turn 72 on June 28, is well-known locally and in state politics. He operates his own law firm and is a legal and political analyst with ABC30 television.
In an interview Tuesday, Capozzi said he lost the ABC30 gig from October to February while he was under investigation.
Capozzi said the news release created speculation and put him in a bad light. He said colleagues frequently confronted him with questions such as “What’s going on?” or “What happened?”
Because of the allegations, “some people shied away from me,” Capozzi said. “I lost some friendships, too.”
Capozzi, who will turn 72 on June 28, operates his own law firm and is a legal and political analyst with ABC30 television in Fresno.
Capozzi is chairman of the Commission on Judicial Performance, an independent state agency that investigates complaints of judicial misconduct. He also was a delegate last year for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
His résumé includes past president of the Fresno County Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association, San Joaquin Valley chapter; lawyer representative and co-chair of the 9th Circuit Judicial Conference; elected member of the Board of Governors, State Bar of California, 2000-03; president of the State Bar of California, 2003-04; and member of the Judicial Council of California, 2005-10.
From 1973 to 1979, Capozzi was a supervising assistant U.S. attorney in Fresno. He twice has run for political office, losing in a runoff bid for Fresno County district attorney in 1978 against Dale Blickenstaff and 11 years later to Karen Humphrey in the race for mayor of Fresno. In 2009, Capozzi was one of three finalists to be U.S. attorney for California’s Eastern federal judicial district. The job went to Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, who worked in Sacramento’s federal courthouse.
Since 1979, Capozzi’s private practice in Fresno has focused mainly on criminal defense law.
On Tuesday, The Fresno County Board of Supervisors, without comment, rejected Capozzi’s civil rights claim against the Sheriff’s Office.
Capozzi said Tuesday he was in San Francisco, chairing the judicial commission, when his wife called him on Oct. 12 about the news release. “She was in tears,” he said. “She said I was the subject of a criminal investigation.”
Soon after, reporters from Fresno, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and elsewhere began calling him about the news release, he said.
He said he retained a lawyer and immediately scheduled a meeting with the Sheriff’s Office. He said he cooperated with sheriff’s investigators.
On Feb. 13, Botti, the sheriff’s spokesman, said the investigation stemmed from an Oct. 11 incident in which Capozzi visited an inmate with a cardboard box filled with documents. Capozzi left the box with his client in an open visitation room and left the jail, Botti said.
Guards later discovered a hidden compartment containing cellphones and over-the-counter medication under the documents, he said.
Botti said two other men – one of whom was in jail on unrelated charges – were identified as suspects in the smuggling case. He said “the evidence shows there are no grounds for detectives to request charges be filed against Capozzi.”
“Based upon the gathered statements and the forensic results of the evidence, detectives could not prove that Capozzi knowingly or intentionally smuggled the items into the jail,” Botti said.