Last night at a party I met a guy who works at the Public Defender's office who told me some really interesting stuff, which I'm going to try to get him to send me in more detail in writing. Some of the things he mentioned:
-While the D.A.'s office is having trouble managing their caseload (good!), the Public Defender's office is now well-staffed, thanks to Jeff Adachi. Apparently Jeff went to the Board of Supervisors and told them that he didn't have the personnel to handle all the cases, and consequently they were going to pull back from taking cases generated by certain departments at the Hall of Justice. Because people have a constitutional right to free legal representation, these cases would instead go to contracted lawyers who would be a lot more expensive for the city. Therefore by giving us more staff, you'll save money, he said. This logic persuaded the board to fund 15 extra positions. My source has a high opinion of Adachi (as do I), and says that the office functions in a very non-hierarchical way, with senior attorneys willing to ask junior attorneys for help in areas they're less experienced with and so on. He says Adachi has promoted the ethic of treating poor clients exactly as if they had paid a lot of money to be represented in the private sector.
-In domestic violence cases, "the cops probably charge the wrong person 80 percent of the time" in his opinion. With heterosexual couples, they normally charge the man, whether he's most at fault or not. He said one person pushing the other in a marital dispute shouldn't rise to the level of the criminal justice system. Most of the time the victims do not want to press serious charges, and often they come to him to find out what will happen to their partners or spouses, even though he represents the accused and is forthright about telling them this. This is largely how he's discovered that...
-...attorney's in the D.A.'s office routinely lie to victims in order to secure their testimony. (This may not exactly be news, but it's still nice to hear it confirmed by an official source.) He said they sometimes threaten people with jail if they don't testify, even when they would have no legal ability to imprison someone. He also said they have told domestic abuse victims that they just needed their testimony in order for their abuser to get counseling, when in fact the actual consequences for the accused would be more serious, such as jail time.
-The Sheriff's Department, which manages the county jail, has routinely been refusing to let defendants out of jail in order to attend restraining order hearings. However if someone shows up at the jail with papers to serve someone, they *will* serve them! Judges apparently have been unaware of this; they simply see that a defendant failed to show up for a hearing. Since they can see on the paperwork that the person was properly served, they typically rule against them. My source says he had been doing other types of cases, but had started doing domestic violence, and was furious with the Sheriff's Department when they would not release his client from jail to attend his hearing. When he brought the matter up in court, it turned out the judge had no idea this was happening either, and the judge hit the roof too. My source was unaware of any press coverage of this, but agreed the matter should be exposed and expressed a willingness to name names.
-He knew very little about the Community Court system -- something I myself learned about only in the past year or so and have previously posted about on this list. He agreed that having a police officer stay in the room with the panelists determining a person's sentence while the person had to leave the room was "fucked up," and is interested in learning more about how the community courts works. He said he's never yet had a client who was transferred to community court come back and pursue justice through the regular courts.
Yours in liberty,
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