Crime

Sheriff: Prominent Fresno attorney Tony Capozzi under criminal investigation

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that it is investigating well-known Fresno criminal defense attorney Anthony “Tony” Capozzi, seen in a January 2006 photo, but won’t say why he is in trouble.
The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that it is investigating well-known Fresno criminal defense attorney Anthony “Tony” Capozzi, seen in a January 2006 photo, but won’t say why he is in trouble. Fresno Bee file

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that it is investigating prominent Fresno criminal defense attorney Anthony “Tony” Capozzi, but won’t say why he’s in trouble.

A Sheriff’s Office news release said in response to multiple media inquiries it could confirm that “our office initiated a criminal investigation” involving Capozzi on Tuesday. “No details of the allegations are available at this time,” the release said.

Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said he could not discuss any allegations, saying the investigation “is in its infancy stages.” But he said detectives are hoping to talk with Capozzi soon. Botti also said the investigation could involve others beside Capozzi.

Capozzi, who was not arrested, could not be reached for comment. His attorney, former federal prosecutor Carl Faller, said Capozzi was in San Francisco Wednesday for a two-day meeting of the state Commission on Judicial Performance, which he chairs.

In a statement released Wednesday evening, Faller said that “It is unfortunate that the Sheriff’s Office elected to make this public pronouncement before contacting Mr. Capozzi, or investigating, reviewing and evaluating all of the facts concerning the allegations, which are, at this point, still unknown.” He added that Capozzi would “completely cooperate in the investigation,” and provide whatever information the Sheriff’s Office requires, “once the specific substance of the allegations has been revealed.”

Tony has always acted ethically and legally.

Mark Coleman, Fresno lawyer

Capozzi, 71, is a well-known figure in the legal establishment and in local and state politics. He operates his own law firm and is a legal and political analyst with ABC30 (KFSN) television.

News of the investigation caught Capozzi’s colleagues by surprise, but it also rankled them.

“Unbelievable,” said Fresno attorney Mark Coleman, who has known Capozzi for 30 years. Coleman said that “considering Mr. Capozzi’s stature in the community,” he thought it was wrong for the Sheriff’s Office to issue a news release, especially since Capozzi has not been arrested or charged with a crime.

“Tony has always acted ethically and legally,” Coleman said. “It’s hard for me to believe that any allegation has merit.”

Fresno attorney Warren Paboojian said: “If the Sheriff’s Office wants to issue a derogatory press release, then it should state the facts. Otherwise, don’t issue the press release because it’s not fair to be judged by a press release.”

Botti said he hopes to have more information about the allegations by Thursday.

In March, Capozzi was elected chairman of the Commission on Judicial Performance, an independent state agency that investigates complaints of judicial misconduct. In July, he was a delegate for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

His résumé includes 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 to 2003; president of the State Bar of California, 2003 to 2004; and member of the Judicial Council of California, 2005 to 2010.

If the Sheriff’s Office wants to issue a derogatory press release, then it should state the facts.

Fresno attorney Warren Paboojian

Capozzi also is a fellow of the American Board of Criminal Lawyers, has an honorary doctorate of law degree from the Southern California Institute of Law, and is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. In June 2015, he was awarded the Bernie E. Witkin Lifetime Achievement Award from the Fresno County Bar Association.

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. Currently, he is one of several attorneys defending members of the Dog Pound criminal street gang in federal court on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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