Public Defenders Gather One Last Time to Protest Court Backlogs in San Francisco

Protest of Trial Backlogs in Front of San Francisco Hall of Justice – Photo by Angela Chan

By Yash Mishra   

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Lawyers and staff from the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office gathered on the steps of the San Francisco Superior Court last Friday to protest the trial backlogs for one last time.

More interns, attorneys, and community members have continued to be part of this cause and have gathered every Friday on the courthouse steps to stand up against the injustice of trial backlogs.

Public Information Officer Valerie Ibarra, who led the protests, exclaimed, “I want to welcome everybody back because we have been here all summer.” As Ibarra said this, the lawyers and staff cheered and roared with their booming voices.

Ibarra continued, “The reason why we are here is simple. Everyone has a right to a speedy trial. And that right has been routinely violated from the San Francisco Superior Court in the past three years. It has led to a massive backlog of over 1,100 cases that are overdue.”

She took a pause and then emphasized, “They (cases) have gone past their constitutionally mandated deadline for trial. That is not the fault of individuals who are charged with crimes and who are presumed innocent under the law. That is the failure of this court behind me to hold trials and dismiss cases as other California counties have done.”

Doug Welch, a managing attorney for the Felony Unit, noted the progress that the court has made for felony cases.

He explained, “I want to thank everyone for all the work that has been done. I will say that we have got to a place where the 60th day, which is how long it takes to ask for speedy trial to get to trial, is honored again in the Superior Court. And that is a huge victory.”

The lawyers and staff whistled and cheered as they learned about this news.

Welch continued, “We had lawsuits filed. There have been multiple motions to dismiss. There have been writs filed. There has been pressure put on the court in multiple ways and there has been consistent requests by the attorneys going into court asking to be sent out.”

Community members Jeff Kubis and Christine Cipra who have been active at the protests, were given the opportunity to speak regarding the trial backlogs. Lawyers and staff cheered as they approached the front of the courthouse.

Kubis exclaimed, “It has really been a privilege to join you this summer and support your protests and demand the court to provide timely trials to people who are being charged.

He continued, “I have been really moved by your actions like the expression of your commitment and empathy to people who are going through the system. I want to acknowledge your hard work and impressive team effort.

He then emphasized, “I stand with you here today to demand the court to provide timely trials for all people who are incarcerated and awaiting trial and stop denying their constitutional rights to speedy trials.

Cipra then took the stand and with a booming voice, she added, “These are just basic human rights that are placed in the 6th Amendment of our U.S. Constitution. And who is getting affected? Our community members. Our neighbors.

She added, “People are losing their homes. Jobs. Pets. All kinds of circumstances are being affected by people that are being held without the basic human right of a speedy trial.”

Manohar Raju, elected San Francisco Public Defender, who was present, spoke about the hard work that the office has made to address trial backlogs.

He exclaimed, “I am very pleased to say that we have made some progress. The taxpayer lawsuit is moving forward. Thanks to the First District Court of Appeal, our Research Unit, and outside counsel. Felony trials are moving faster by all indications.

He then noted, “I am also here to say that this situation is by no means over. And our work is not done. And why is that? Because the bulk of cases that are delayed past their mandated deadlines are misdemeanors. And those cases are still getting unacceptably delayed.”

Jacque Wilson, a managing attorney for the Misdemeanor Unit and the lead of the internship program, then approached the front and fiercely spoke about the severe and worsening trial backlogs.

With a firm tone, he said, “Now, somewhere I read about the greatness of America was the right to jury trial. Somewhere I read about the greatness of America was the right to a speedy trial. Somewhere I read about the greatness of America was the right to go to trial and the presumption of innocence. All of that is being ignored in San Francisco.”

Wilson continued, “A lot of these individuals who are in jail spend 23 hours a day in these cells. I know personally because I had two brothers who were incarcerated during the pandemic and more people died in prisons than in death rows in a matter of weeks. So, this is not only personal to me, but it also means something to me as a public defender.”

He added, “Prior to the pandemic, there was on an average from 2013 to 2019, 155 jury trials tried a year in the Misdemeanor Unit. From 2018 to 2020 at the Civic Court Center, there were 166 misdemeanor trials tried. Since the pandemic, there has been only an average of 15-19 trials tried a year.”

He then raised his voice and exclaimed, “That’s pathetic. The lack of trials in San Francisco should be on the dangerous species list. It’s pathetic. Less than 10 percent of trials prior to the pandemic in misdemeanor courts are happening now. Some of the judges are doing a great job. But the rest of them have to get back to work.

As Wilson concluded, his emotions flared across the street, boosting the presence of protestors and catching spectators’ attention.

Ibarra then took the stand and concluded with a final message, “Just because this is our last planned protest for the summer does not mean that this fight is over. We will be back.

“We are calling on the court to hold trials in a timely manner. We are calling on the court to dismiss cases past their trial deadlines. We are calling on state and community leaders to continue to support this fight for justice and simply speedy trials,” continued Ibarra.

About The Author

Yash Mishra is a senior at California State University, Fullerton where he studies Criminal Justice. He is very passionate about the burning issues in the criminal justice system. After completing his undergraduate studies, he plans to pursue a career in investigations.

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