By Darling Gonzalez
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The San Francisco Public Defender Office Monday addressed the long-standing backlogs in San Francisco Superior Court, noting Wall Street Journal reporter Laura Kusisto’s interview of SF Public Defender Mano Raju and an examination of the persistence of backlogged cases.
Kusisto interviewed SF Public Defender Mano Raju about the actions being taken against the extreme backlog of cases in SF as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and PD Raju noted his petition to the California appeals court to address the backlogged cases that began at the start of the pandemic.
PD Raju argued how the extensive amount of backlogs was creating major injustices for many people who suffered the aftermath of delayed trials and court dates.
For example, Laura Kusisto’s article, “Covid-19 Pummeled the U.S. Legal System. It May Take Years to Catch Up,” includes descriptions of the detrimental effects of delayed cases.
In Nov. 2020, the reporter cited, William Cogman had been arrested for assault and weapons possession charges, pleaded not guilty in the SF Superior Court, and had to wait more than 15 months in jail waiting for his case.
During his time in jail, Cogman developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease where he struggled to breathe and his voice had reduced to a whisper.
Due to restrictions created by COVID-19, Cogman was only able to leave his cell one hour per day, which further limited his ability to focus on his health and well-being.
As a result, Kusisto added that Cogman made the choice to take a tentative plea deal because he saw “no end in sight.”
Cogman explained, “I’ve been holding on and holding on and holding on.”
In a recent tweet PD Raju commented on Cognam’s situation: “His health has deteriorated to the point that he feels pressured to take a plea on a defensible charge just so he can get out of jail and attend to his health. No one should have to choose between health and justice.”
Rachel Marshall, a DA spokesperson, detailed DA Chesa Boudin’s shared concern over the extensive backlogs of cases over the pandemic and his urgency in creating more courtrooms available for trials.
Boudin said, “The backlog not only impacts those who are accused of crimes but has also delayed justice for crime survivors who seek closure.”
Kusisto, in her story, noted, “The civil side of the system faces similar strains, with a nearly 75 percent drop in jury trials and 1.2 million fewer civil cases resolved than came into the system in 2020, according to the National Center for State Courts.”
In New York’s family court, Christine Perumal, director of Safe Horizon Domestic Violence Law Project, explained that before the pandemic clients would usually wait one to two months for a court date, but they are now waiting as long as a year.
In a child-custody case, a woman who had filed an emergency application for the custody of her 9-year-old son expressed that she had to wait seven months between her hearing in December and her next one in June.
“She says she has seen her son only twice since last November and has endured stress that has taken a physical and mental toll,” reporter Kusisto wrote.