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Ed Lee’s bizarre judicial strategy…

June 2, 2016

By Tim Redmond : 48hills – excerpt

…plus some real rules for Airbnb, a memorial for a local hero, Tasers and the cops, and more: We preview the week

Mayor Ed Lee stopped by the Chronicle last week for an Editorial Board meeting, and since he didn’t have an effective answer for why there have been so many car break-ins and house burglaries in the city of late (um, radical income inequality tends to lead to these sorts of crimes), he blamed the judges.

The Chron’s story quoted a couple of people saying that was a bad approach, but it’s remarkable how little attention his comments have gotten. Because, as Joe Eskenazi points out in SF Magazine, what the mayor suggested is really pretty terrible.

He wants the insurance industry to fund a group to show up in courtrooms and “pressure” judges – the same way, I guess, the Airbnb and other corporate entities fund groups that go to City Hall to pressure the supes.

But courtrooms are a bit different. From Eskenazi:

“There is so much wrong with Lee’s statements and so much wrongheadedness behind them, it’s important to unpack them here. The mayor, now more than ever, seems exceptionally confused. He’s certainly confusing.

Let’s start with procedure: A court of law is not a daytime talk show. It’s not even a Board of Supervisors meeting. You can’t just show up and tell the judge what you think about the facts and law of a case you aren’t involved in, let alone “testify” in any way. “In all my years sitting on the criminal court, I don’t think I’ve ever had a member of the public saying, ‘I wanna testify,’” says [retied Judge Harry] Low. “If you’re the victim or you have a specific interest in the case, you might be able to comment. But not testimony.” Presenting matters regarding a defendant’s criminal history is, naturally, the job of the prosecuting attorney and/or the probation officer, Low continued. When asked why Lee, a civil rights attorney, wouldn’t know this, Low replied “his practice was rather limited.”

But the truly disturbing elements of Lee’s suggestion go deeper than its unworkability. Rather, it’s the notion that the mayor seems to believe that citizens, underwritten by insurance companies, should be pressuring judges into making their decisions, not based upon the facts of individual cases, but due to concerns about electability. This gets to the underlying problems with electing judges in the first place. But to call for a crass exploitation of this dynamic—by activists funded by business interests no less—is insidious.

Finally, regarding the true culprits of the property crime surge itself, let’s take a step back and look at some statistics. While Lee seems to be scapegoating bleeding-heart judges, it warrants mentioning that, through the first eight months of 2015, only around 3 of every 50 property crimes reported in San Francisco resulted in an arrest and a suspect being presented to the District Attorney for charging. Much of this city’s property crime is highly visible car break-ins; 25,813 were reported in 2015 alone. But only 487 cases were eventually presented by the police to the DA (1.9 percent). Let’s state that again: Of the more than 25,000 car break-ins last year, less than two percent of the cases ended up with arrests that made it to the DA’s desk (around 80 percent of these cases were charged). Those are paltry numbers for a city experiencing a crime wave.… (more)

I’m all for electing judges – the appointments process is also really political and subject to the same kinds of influence; in fact, often it’s worse – but does the mayor really understand what he’s calling for? An insurance-industry-funded group trying to force judges to put more poor people in jail for stealing car radios? Is that really a serious criminal-justice solution?

In fact, most of the modern progressive law-enforcement types, including our current district attorney, are trying to find ways to keep small-time offenders OUT of jail, and the trend even in some more conservative circles is against harsh crackdowns on people who commit nonviolent crimes.

The mayor’s deputy chief of staff and criminal justice advisor, Paul Henderson, is running for judge. What does he think of this? Did Lee discuss it with him in advance? Is this how he wants to be seen as a candidate — the guy whose boss wants to lock up the mostly low-income folks who do these kinds of crimes? (Haven’t heard back from him yet, but I know it’s a holiday weekend, will update when I do.)

The other two candidates were pretty clear that this is a bad idea. “I don’t support having insurance companies fund citizen groups to pressure judges,” Victor Hwang told me. Notes Sigrid Irias: “The California Code of Judicial Ethics requires in part that a judge ‘shall be faithful to the law regardless of partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism.’  Any person who appears in court is entitled to a judge who is free from bias, and independent of political or popular pressure.”

What, exactly, is going on in the Mayor’s Office these days?

.… (more)

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