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SF prosecutor accused of lying

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Prosecutor Maggie Buitrago. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Prosecutor Maggie Buitrago. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi is accusing an attorney prosecuting an LGBT woman of lying because the prosecutor wasn't prepared to prove her case.

In the complaint he filed May 4 with the State Bar of California against Assistant District Attorney Maggie Buitrago, Adachi says Buitrago falsely claimed she had a witness ready to testify in a case against Jacqueline Sims.

Sims, 31, who was born male but identifies as female, was facing a motion to revoke the three-year probation she received in December after pleading guilty to felony second-degree burglary in a plea deal. In January, she was arrested for allegedly stabbing a man's hand.

"Buitrago lied," said Adachi, and among other allegations, he said the prosecutor "abused her position in threatening to file a new strike case solely because she was unprepared" for a March hearing in which she would've had to prove the probation violation, "and after our client had already spent nearly two months in jail." Having a new case filed against her would have likely meant more jail time for Sims.

Buitrago, who's one of the city's hate crime prosecutors, has disputed claims that she lied, according to a court transcript.

In his complaint, Adachi wrote that at the March 10 hearing on Sims' probation, "Buitrago claimed she had a witness available in the courthouse who was in fact neither under subpoena nor expected to appear. When forced to admit she was not ready to meet her burden, Buitrago threatened to file a new case against our client without authority and for reasons unrelated to [Sims'] conduct."

Fearing a new case, "our client accepted a time-served sentence and admitted a probation violation that could not be proven," said Adachi. In his complaint, he alleges that Buitrago violated codes related to making false statements, one of which "holds that 'any act involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption ... constitutes a cause for disbarment or suspension.'"

According to the transcript of the March hearing, Buitrago told Superior Court Judge Linda Colfax that she wasn't "ready to proceed," and that she'd be withdrawing the motion to revoke probation and "filing new charges."

There was an offer for Sims to admit to violating her probation in exchange for serving 90 days in a program instead of doing the time in jail.

"It's my understanding that Ms. Sims does not want that offer. And I'll be proceeding with the new charges," said Buitrago.

But Deputy Public Defender Ilona Solomon said Sims would take the offer, and Sims admitted to violating her probation. She was released that day.

As the hearing was wrapping up, Solomon told Colfax that Buitrago had told her she had a victim waiting in the DA's victim-witness room.

"Given the fact that the district attorney has now stated that she is unprepared to proceed with this hearing, I believe that she lied to me," said Solomon, according to the transcript.

Buitrago responded, "I think that the only unethical thing here is that Ms. Solomon made these accusations after her client took the deal, essentially saying that this deal was coerced, which her client explicitly stated it was not."

She added that she hadn't told Solomon the victim was available, and she said that she did have a police officer ready to testify.

In his complaint, though, Adachi disputes that notion, saying that "is not credible given the motion clearly depended on the testimony of the civilian witness given evidentiary rules."

Among other things, he also added that Solomon had learned that the DA's office hadn't subpoenaed any officers for the hearing, and Central police station had said no officers involved in the case had indicated they would be in court.

Asked about Buitrago's alleged actions, Sims told the Bay Area Reporter, "I'm not surprised. If I was a DA, I would probably pull every dirty trick in the book, too" to see "how can I keep this person in custody?"

After the March 10 hearing, Sims was again arrested and released from custody weeks later. Court records indicate that Sims, who said that she's dealt with substance abuse and that she's been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, has been released to HealthRight360.

In an interview, Laura Ernde, a spokeswoman for the state bar, said, "When someone files a complaint against an attorney, that complaint is confidential by law unless or until disciplinary charges are filed."

The agency "generally" tries to resolve complaints "within six months," said Ernde.

Alex Bastian, a spokesman for District Attorney George Gascón, declined to comment for this story.

In his complaint, which was also sent to Gascón and Presiding Superior Court Judge Teri Jackson, Adachi says his office hasn't received "a substantive response" about the matter from Buitrago's supervisors.




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