Editorial: B.A.R. picks for SF DA, PD

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday September 28, 2022
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San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, right, took a walking tour of the Castro with Supervisor Rafael Mandelman July 19. Photo: Rick Gerharter
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, right, took a walking tour of the Castro with Supervisor Rafael Mandelman July 19. Photo: Rick Gerharter

San Francisco voters have an opportunity to give new District Attorney Brooke Jenkins a chance to see if her policy changes do indeed help with public safety in the city. Jenkins, whom Mayor London Breed appointed in July after the recall of former DA Chesa Boudin, had a bumpy start, especially when it was revealed that she was paid more than $100,000 by a nonprofit linked to the recall campaign. During much of the last year, Jenkins, who resigned from the DA's office last fall, became the public face of the recall campaign, for which she said she was a volunteer. In an editorial board meeting with the Bay Area Reporter, Jenkins said that she should have revealed the payments sooner.

Since taking office, Jenkins fired some assistant district attorneys, like many of her predecessors have done, and has brought on board a new team that aligns closely with her values. And while she is supportive of criminal justice reform, she said that offenders can still be held accountable. "As a Black and Latina woman, I have seen the disproportionate impacts of our justice system firsthand," Jenkins wrote in her endorsement questionnaire. "The inequity in the criminal justice system is not theoretical to me — it is part of my lived experience." She added that with her vision, the DA's office will be able to "balance accountability and compassionate reforms in a manner that achieves public safety."

During our virtual editorial board meeting last week, Jenkins told us that she is committed to maintaining the external Innocence Commission that Boudin started, and which facilitated the exoneration of a man earlier this year. On September 26, she announced her new pick for the commission, Julia Cervantes. (Jenkins had fired the previous DA's representative to the panel.) Prior to serving as lead attorney of the DA office's Post-Conviction Review Unit, Cervantes served as a deputy district attorney in San Mateo County and an assistant district attorney in San Francisco from 2011-2021. We're pleased that Jenkins is keeping this important commission.

We also asked Jenkins about widely reported instances when she was an assistant district attorney in which she was accused of coaching a child witness and withheld discovery in two separate cases. Jenkins was adamant that she's never been found to have committed misconduct. She said that the child witness incident resulted from someone from the public defender's office secretly filming her outside of court talking to the 4-year-old witness, explaining the court process. (The judge found no misconduct and the jury hung in that case.) With the discovery issue, Jenkins acknowledged that "a few items of evidence, nothing exculpatory" weren't turned over to the defense, but she said it was not intentional and she was not found to have committed misconduct. (Prosecutors dismissed the case and restarted the prosecution, according to the San Francisco Standard.)

Jenkins, who has addressed the Castro Merchants Association and toured their businesses during a walk in the LGBTQ neighborhood, said that she hears the issues of small businesses owners, not just in the Castro but in commercial corridors and residential neighborhoods throughout the city. "Property crimes are no longer insignificant," she said, adding that she has started a major crimes unit out of the office's general felony unit. She is supportive of the new surveillance policy that the Board of Supervisors has passed, though she said she "completely understands" the concerns of members of the LGBTQ community and others who may be wary of being captured on video. In this age of private security cameras that proliferate the city, Jenkins said the footage is already subject to all kinds of uses; the new ordinance will allow police easier access to it. There was one case, Jenkins said, in which video footage proved that the suspect did not commit the crime they were accused of committing. Generally, it comes down to the DA's office having evidence necessary to prove a case to a jury, she said. "Human perception isn't always accurate," she noted.

On the issue of drug dealing, Jenkins is more interested in prosecuting drug dealers rather than drug users. "Drug dealers who are repeat offenders/heavily involved with fentanyl can now be subjected to pre-trial detention to keep them off our streets," she wrote in her endorsement questionnaire. They can also face sentencing enhancements for dealing within 1,000 feet of a school, and those caught with more than five grams will no longer be redirected to collaborative courts where they can avoid conviction, she stated. "My office has revoked 30 plea deals given to drug dealers under my predecessor," she wrote. But Jenkins is also aware of the issues drug addicts face; she said she is supportive of a supervised consumption pilot program. Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have allowed such sites in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles, but city officials continue to explore options.

In short, Jenkins has pledged to reform some of the policies implemented by Boudin that many residents and small business owners believe have negatively impacted the quality of life in the city. She hopes for a better working relationship with the San Francisco Police Department — she told us she's met with Chief William Scott or his command staff several times and has begun visiting neighborhood police stations to meet rank and file officers.

Overall, Jenkins impressed us. Some critics have said she's a puppet of the mayor, which Jenkins flatly denies. While the mayor's office did provide a staff member for her first few days, that ended long ago, she said. "I'm always independent," she said. No one, she said, has tried to dictate to her how she should do her job. After the lengthy effort to recall Boudin (which we didn't support), we're endorsing Jenkins for election.

San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. Photo: Courtesy Mano Raju  

Mano Raju for public defender
San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju is up for reelection, and we endorse him for another term. We think the office under his leadership has continued its often excellent representation of defendants who cannot afford legal counsel.

During a recent Zoom meeting, Raju talked about one of his big concerns: the way San Francisco courts are currently operating. While courtrooms are open after having been shut down during the initial COVID pandemic, Raju said the problem is that the master calendar is moved and clients don't know when their trial will start, known as a "hard last day." Oftentimes, on the eve of a trial, defendants may get a better plea deal from prosecutors, Raju said, but since there isn't a set date, the public defender's office can't leverage that for the benefit of its clients.
Raju said the city's criminal justice system has changed under new DA Jenkins, and from his perspective, he sees tougher language coming out of the DA's office and hearing talk of adding prior strikes in some cases. But his office has long operated on the principle of "leave no motion unfiled," he noted, and he has invested in paralegals and other support staff, including social workers and counselors, to achieve better outcomes for his clients.

There are also other efforts that Raju's office is involved with, like his End the Cycle initiative that has case managers meet with clients soon after they are arrested so that they can access appropriate services; the Freedom Project, which challenges excessive sentences and wrongful convictions; and the Integrity Unit to collect and make accessible public records about police officers to help curb police, prosecutorial, and judicial misconduct.

Raju also talked about the office's Clean Slate program, which has tripled its capacity and provides a simple and accessible way to "clean up" prior criminal records.

We asked Raju about staff morale in the office, as that's an issue his opponent is campaigning on. With 240 people in the public defender's office, Raju said he has invested in training and in promoting candidates to management positions. "I've never seen morale so good," he told us.

Overall, Raju has run an effective office that is a critical part of the city's criminal justice system. He has the experience and enthusiasm we need when it comes to providing legal representation for those who cannot afford it.

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