The last of three defendants guilty of election fraud in San Joaquin County was sentenced last Tuesday. Ashley Drain Hampton got 15 months in jail.
Hampton, 30, also had more than $7,000 seized from her taxes as restitution for welfare fraud. She also racked up a perjury conviction.
As for the jail time, Hampton can apply for an alternative sentence such as home detention. She may qualify, or she may spend time behind bars.
Shown leniency by the judge (the prosecution sought a six-year sentence, two in prison, four out, but supervised), Hampton went out in the hall after court was adjourned and dumped on the criminal justice system.
“The process was not of the highest integrity,” she declared. “Am I OK with the process? Am I OK with how this county runs? Absolutely not. Not even a little bit.”
She then went “into the arms of her legion of supporters,” according to a Record story.
That’s the interesting part of this case: the radically different perspectives of prosecutors and the community of which Hampton and Sam Fant are a part. It’s really a story of a system that deemed defendants guilty, and a community that deems the system unjust.
Background: In 2014, Fant, a Manteca Unified School Board member seeking a board majority, provided Hampton and Alexander Bronson with false addresses so they could run for board seats. Both won. Both had to resign when the scheme unraveled.
Bronson, who is white, plead away felony charges in 2016 by agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors. His charges were reduced to one misdemeanor.
Fant and Hampton, who are black, fought the charges.
Some of their defense moves seemed loopy, but only if you don’t see things the way a black defendant might.
Fant’s attorney Yolanda Huang argued that Deputy District Attorney Scott Fichtner and others in the D.A.’s Office were conducting a vendetta against Fant because of an earlier case. Huang moved to disqualify the entire District Attorney’s Office. Motion denied.
Perhaps because Fichtner was liason to the county grand jury that earlier had blasted Fant, Huang argued that the secrecy granted the grand jury should be lifted and a juror brought into court to testify about its racist machinations. Motion denied.
Meanwhile Fant found time to file a defamation suit against the man in Weston Ranch who wanted to secede from Stockton, and to run for a seat on Stockton’s City Council.
Hampton, for her part, was contesting a heated divorce and custody battle as her case proceeded. An occasion, perhaps, to wonder why people pick the most tumultuous moment their lives to run for office.
Fant — despite facing felony conspiracy and election fraud charges — actually won the District 6 primary, a telling indication of who his community trusts and distrusts. He lost in the general election.
After changing attorneys, and numerous delays, Fant pleaded no contest in September 2017. He was sentenced to 120 days in the San Joaquin County Jail and five years of probation. He, too, was ruled eligible to apply for work programs or home detention.
Hampton’s case took the longest partly because she fired something like nine court-appointed defense attorneys. Some viewed her as a flibbertigibbet. Others, people of color, believe the court kept appointing her incompetent attorneys.
Caught lying on the stand, Hampton — the woman who later would denounce the system’s lack of integrity — came out with this gem: “People make up their own narratives. It doesn’t mean it’s accurate. And everyone is entitled to make up his own narratives. People say and do what works for them and their narrative.”
In my eyes, that godawful spiel disqualifies Hampton from public service, conviction or no. But Bobby Bivens, head of the local NAACP, sees it differently.
To Bivens, Fant and Hampton broke a white monopoly on the Manteca Unified School Board. They worked to rectify neglect of African-American students and others of color. They encountered strident racism, but they bettered kids’ lives.
“She ran to help children,” Bivens said of Hampton, whom he supported throughout her trial. “Unfortunately, that part of the story never got told in the courts.”
Hampton’s case had its sideshow, too. No sooner had jury deliberations begun in April 2017 than the sole black juror (and lone holdout) was dismissed.
Jennet Stebbins had not used her common name — it turned out she uses something like 25 names — or revealed that she sits on the San Joaquin Delta College board. Her dismissal could be chalked up to her weird misrepresentation. Some black community members didn’t think so.
Said activist Ralph Lee White, who is black: “They took a black off the jury — and she was only one black on the jury — what kind of justice is that?”
Stebbins was replaced by a juror who joined the rest in finding Hampton guilty.
So there you go. It’s amazing how race complicates the criminal justice system.
Justice is blind. People can see. But people of different color see different things.
Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at recordnet.com/fitzgeraldblog and on Twitter @Stocktonopolis.