Appeals Court Gives Life to San Francisco Public Defender Claim SF Courts Denying Speedy Trial Rights to More than 1,000 People

PC: Daniel Lawrence Lu
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By The Vanguard Staff

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – A California appeals court late last week said San Francisco Superior Court can be sued by taxpayers and SF’s Public Defender for “allegedly refusing to make enough courtrooms available for criminal cases during the pandemic,” according to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Noting, “Delays in criminal cases due to COVID-19 have been upheld by California courts, rejecting defendants’ claims of violations of their right to a speedy trial,” the Chron article said the appeals story seems to be saying things have changed.  

“According to the suit filed in September 2021 by Public Defender Mano Raju and three private citizens, more than 400 criminal defendants in San Francisco had been waiting for their trials for more than 60 days, the usual legal deadline, and 178 of those defendants were being held in jail, some for more than a year,” wrote the Chronicle.

The suit noted when the city’s courts resumed jury trials in June 2020 after a three-month halt, 11 courtrooms were available but judges reopened only four of them.

“While more of those courtrooms are now being used for trials, the suit said, judges still are refusing to make enough courts available for criminal cases,” said the story, adding a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge assigned to San Francisco, after SF judges dismissed themselves, dismissed the suit.

However, added the Chronicle, “the First District Court of Appeal reinstated the suit late Thursday and said Raju and his fellow plaintiffs could seek court orders to reserve more courtrooms for criminal trials.”

“Many months into the pandemic, (the court’s judges) failed to take feasible, common-sense measures to devote adequate resources to criminal trials, and thus failed to adequately prioritize criminal cases over civil matters,” the court said in a 3-0 ruling.  

“While state law allows courts to delay felony trials more than 60 days for ‘good cause,’” the appeals court wrote, judges “do not enjoy discretion to decide whether to devote sufficient resources to criminal departments to ensure speedy trials in criminal cases.”

The purpose of the law, the court added, is “to protect not only the rights of criminal defendants, but the right of the people, the defendant, and the victims and other witnesses” to a speedy resolution of criminal cases,” according to the Chronicle story.

The court said the suit adequately alleged San Francisco judges “shortchanged the court’s criminal caseload” by often giving priority for civil rather than criminal trials and failing to provide adequate staff to handle criminal cases, as alleged by Raju in the suit.

The suit seeks to require San Francisco courts to give priority to criminal cases and to make all courtrooms at the Civic Center courthouse, at 400 McAllister St., available for criminal trials.  

The Chronicle wrote, “Other appellate courts have rejected individual defendants’ claims that pandemic-related postponements have violated their rights, ruling that judges can extend normal timetables to protect public health,” noting another First District panel about a year ago, in a suit by Raju’s office, refused to lift COVID-19 restrictions that delayed trials for more than 400 criminal accused.

Raju said he and staff would protest, starting last Friday, eight straight Fridays with posters showing how many people have had their right to a speedy trial violated—as of Friday it was about 1,000, he said.


“The right to a speedy trial is enshrined in the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to prevent the government from violating the liberty of all who are presumed innocent under the law,” Raju said, adding in a statement, “But too many people in San Francisco are waiting months and years, often in jail or shackled to 24/7 ankle monitors, just to get that chance.”

Superior Court spokesperson Ken Garcia said, “The San Francisco Superior Court is committed to fair and prompt handling of all cases,” he said in a statement issued by the court. “It will continue to send criminal cases to trial in a timely manner based on the priorities set out by the Legislature and the appellate courts.”

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