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Saturday, July 2, 2022

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News + PoliticsCrimeAn SF courtroom veteran says the Chron is missing the point (and...

An SF courtroom veteran says the Chron is missing the point (and the facts) on Boudin

Another Sunday, another rotten Heather Knight column—and a response by a public defender who knows how the system actually works.


The Heather Knight attack on District Attorney Chesa Boudin continues—and continues to miss relevant facts. Her latest column ran on the top of the local page Sunday, and it features and interview with a prosecutor who left Boudin’s office and is now working on the recall.

It’s called “Why a progressive prosecutor just left Chesa Boudin’s Office and joined the recall effort.”

The Chron still can’t get the facts right on Boudin stories.

The essence of the story: Brooke Jenkins quit her job in the DA’s Office.

But Jenkins’ decision to speak out about what she views as chaotic management, high turnover and ideologically driven decisions at the D.A.’s office sets her apart in the normally tight-lipped criminal justice community. And so does her new role: volunteering for the campaign to recall her former boss.

First of all, just for the record: Decisions on criminal prosecutions, are, by definition, ideological. The concept that the solution to crime is to lock people in cages is an ideological position. Almost every single prosecutorial decision is based on ideology.

Boudin’s ideology is different, apparently, than that of Jenkins. Fair enough, Heather—just say that.

Second: “Chaotic management” often means that a reformer has taken over a hide-bound office used to doing thing a different way, and there have been clashes and people have left. People have also been hired; some of them are excellent people who are good at their jobs, but have a different approach than the (failed) prosecution policies of most of the past, oh, maybe 172 years in San Francisco.

But let’s get back to the story.

Jenkins may call herself a “progressive,” but that’s pretty easy to do. The Davis Vanguard has a different perspective on some of her work. So does Deputy Public Defender Rebecca Young, who has spent decades working in the local courts and knows pretty much everyone in the system.

This is the letter she sent to the Chron, which has not yet been published:

Heather Knight’s piece in the Sunday Chronicle omits crucial facts that should have been included.

First, not a single person was interviewed regarding Jenkins’s self-description as a “progressive prosecutor.” There are some who would beg to differ. She is certainly effective; that is not the same thing as being progressive.

Second, I assisted the young lawyer who defended Daniel Gudino. Omitted from Knight’s piece is that Daniel Gudino, first diagnosed in 2013, had an extensively documented history of mental illness and hospitalizations. Three psychiatrists retained (by the court and counsel) for this case said he was not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI) at the time. The hung jury on the sanity phase (7-5 vote for insanity) shows that a majority of jurors felt he was not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI) at the time of the killing.

Also omitted is that DA Brooke Jenkins first agreed to let the judge try the sanity phase without a jury, but when she realized the judge probably was going to find Gudino NGI, she reversed course and said she wanted a jury to try the sanity phase. It was only after the 7-5 hung jury that Chesa Boudin stepped in.

Third, the mother’s ex-husband of 18 years (who loved her still and was utterly grief-stricken), her brother and sister all wanted Daniel to go to state hospital. The voices of the family and Daniel Gudino’s public defender are absent.

Finally, prosecutors under Chesa Boudin are winning murder verdicts even in cases that we public defenders thought we should win. (The Gudino guilty verdict was the second guilty verdict in a murder case in less than 30 days.)

It is a disservice to Chronicle readers to publish on topical issues that are coming before voters without a portrayal of all the facts.

Knight quotes Jenkins:

“I simply believe he is wedded to his radical approach to prosecution and to criminal justice, and therefore me attempting to promote more balance would go unheard,” she said.

It seems to me that the “radical” approach to criminal justice is the one we’ve been following for decades: The idea that incarceration is a good outcome for any case, that filling the jails and prisons with Black and Brown men makes any sense, and that a DA should seek more convictions and more long sentences as a matter of public policy.

The approach Boudin is taking is, perhaps, the one that’s “more balanced.” Unlike the articles Knight is running in the Chron.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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