Homeless Union Contends Sacramento Superior Court Presiding Judge May Have Broken California Judicial Ethics, Disputes Judge Claim of Unhoused Crime Wave Near Courthouse

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By Crescenzo Vellucci

The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SACRAMENTO, CA – Charging the Presiding Judge of Sacramento County Superior Court may have violated the California Code of Judicial Ethics by demanding the city of Sacramento criminalize unhoused residents around the courthouse, the Sacramento Homeless Union strongly criticized the court Thursday in a tersely worded statement.

See also: https://www.davisvanguard.org/2023/07/sacramento-district-attorney-doesnt-want-to-criminalize-unhoused-but-begs-city-to-enforce-homeless-laws-to-protect-da-employees/

“On behalf of the Court, the thousands of people who use our services and our 416 downtown employees, I respectfully request the Sacramento Police Department increase its presence near our downtown court locations, jury and employee parking lots, and that code violations be enforced,” said Judge Michael Bowman June 29 in a letter to the city.

“Judge Bowman’s letter paints a one-sided, greatly exaggerated picture of rampant crime at the Courthouse, allegedly committed by people who may not even be camping there, that is not supported by the police department’s own online crime maps,” said Crystal Sanchez, President of the Sacramento Homeless Union in a prepared statement.

Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho last week piggybacked on the judge’s request, claiming in a letter to Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela, “People are entitled to the fundamental right of fair and equal access to justice…too obtain justice, members of our community require unfettered access to the courthouse and the District Attorney’s Office without threats to their safety or well-being.” 

Ho, however, seemed focused on DA employees located across the street from the courthouse, and never provided proof of “over 86 incidents” over the past year alleging involving homeless people outside the downtown courthouse, located at 9th and H streets, alleging there has been “open air drug use and dealing,” and tents blocking sidewalks.

In fact, the union’s president, Sanchez, countered Thursday, “For the area including the Courthouse and the immediate vicinity, the crime map shows that for the entire period from June 1, 2023 through July 5, 2023 only three serious crimes were committed. The reports do not identify the housing status of the suspects or whether the alleged perpetrators were camped at the courthouse.”

And Anthony Prince, the homeless union chief counsel, charged, “Judge Bowman frames his position as stemming from concerns about ‘access to justice.’ But the tone and content of his letter could suggest a bias against the homeless that, intended or not, could send a signal that in the Sacramento Superior Courts the unhoused ‘access to justice’ may not include the unhoused.”

Prince suggested, in fact, Bowman’s demand letter may have violated Canon 2A of the Code of Judicial Ethics that states, “A judge shall not make statements, whether public or nonpublic, that commit the judge with respect to cases, controversies, or issues that are likely to come before the courts[.]”  

Added Prince, “By alleging ‘a growing number of encounters’ between ‘the unsheltered’ and members of the public and insisting that the City increase ‘code enforcement’ and “police presence” at and around the Courthouse because the unsheltered are ‘threatening access to justice,’ we are concerned that Judge Bowman has committed himself to an issue that has already repeatedly been before the courts and is likely to come before the courts.”

Prince noted last summer the Union was “forced to go to court and obtain successive preliminary injunctions to stop the City from removing homeless persons from public spaces where they were trying to escape dangerously excessive heat.”

And Prince confirmed the City Attorney’s office has already “used Judge Bowman’s letter to justify cutting off negotiations already underway aimed at an agreement to protect the homeless from this summer’s expected temperature extremes.”

“We feel that intended or not, the effect of Presiding Judge Bowman’s letter might make the courts less hospitable to such claims,” added Prince, arguing, “The Superior Court should be a place where we are able to challenge—and have challenged—the constitutionality of City policies regarding the homeless, particularly when they involve affirmative acts that increase the risk of harm.” 

Prince also alleged the judge may have also violated the California Rules of Court requiring “presiding judges to meet with or appoint other judges ‘to meet with any committee of the bench, bar, news media, or community to review problems and to promote understanding of the administration of justice, when appropriate’ when the judge refused to meet with the Union in response to a Union written request July 2.

Prince said, “Given that the Sacramento Homeless Union, representing some 2,700 unhoused and marginally housed Sacramentans, would seem to qualify as a ‘committee of the community,’ the question arises whether Judge Bowman’s failure to meet with the Union or appoint another judge to do so is consistent with the rules.

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  1. Walter Shwe

    It definitely looks to me like Judge Bowman has violated the Code of Judicial Ethics by writing a letter to the City of Sacramento falsely claiming that there is a crime spree going on in front of the Courthouse. Furthermore he possesses zero proof that any of the crimes occurring in that area were perpetrated by the unhoused. That letter constitutes at least 2 ethics violations.

    The one cited in this article violates the rule against “…statements, whether public or nonpublic, that commit the judge with respect to cases, controversies, or issues that are likely to come before the courts[.]”
    Writing a lie that there is in effect a crime spree occurring in front of the Courthouse. Three crimes going on in a one month period isn’t a crime spree.

    1. Keith Olsen

      Three crimes going on in a one month period isn’t a crime spree.

      I don’t know, but from June 1, 2023 through July 5, 2023 only three serious crimes were committed.

      That sounds serious to me.  Three serious crimes is a lot in a month’s period.

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