SF Public Defenders Dispute ‘Misleading and Erroneous’ ABC News Report Questioning Ethics of PD

Via Unsplash.com

By Crescenzo Vellucci

The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – A “misleading and erroneous report” by ABC7 News’ Dan Noyes that questioned the ethics of San Francisco Deputy Public Defender Ilona Yañez “omitted several key facts, misled viewers about the law and unfairly sought to impugn Ms. Yañez’s reputation,” according to a statement issued this week by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.

“The attacks on Ms. Yañez’s ethics and character are totally baseless—she is a defense lawyer, and her job requires her to defend her client. We stand by Ms. Yañez, who carried out her legal and ethical duty to her client in providing a vigorous defense,” the office said in the statement.

The public defenders charged, “In publishing the story, ABC 7 News allowed itself to be a mouthpiece for DA Brooke Jenkins to carry out personal retribution against Ms. Yañez, and did a disservice to its viewers, who reasonably expect ethical journalism and professionalism.”

The story by ABC7 News about the trial and conviction of an alleged domestic abuser suggested Yañez may have been unethical in her work, and DA Jenkins supported that assertion. But the SF Public Defender’s Office insisted the story was in error.

“Our office attempted to correct these errors prior to the report’s publication, and though the report included portions of our statement, it omitted several key facts,” including that “an appellate court found District Attorney Jenkins had committed prosecutorial misconduct in a 2021 trial after Ms. Yañez raised concerns about Jenkins’ behavior.”

“This fact is critically important because it explains Jenkins’ motivations for participating in and/or orchestrating this story attacking Ms. Yañez,” added the SF PDO, noting the news report “omits the fact that Jenkins’ office vindictively punished our client…for exercising his constitutional right to a jury trial by turning a domestic violence case into a life-eligible torture case.”

The public defenders said their client “rejected an offer for him to plead guilty in exchange for six years state prison. Then after he decided to assert his right to trial, the District Attorney’s office added a new charge that would expose him to life in prison and made no offer to settle the case.”

The news report, claimed the PD Office, “does not cite a single state law or ethical rule that was supposedly violated. Rather, it quotes legal experts who had no firsthand knowledge of the case and had not spoken with our office. Likely because they were given one-sided information, the comments they made about this case are simply inaccurate.”

The SF PD Office clarified, “Contrary to the ABC 7 News report, it is appropriate and ethical under California law for a public defender to take…actions as part of their duty to provide a vigorous defense of their client.”

Yañez’ attempt to speak with a victim in a criminal case is allowed, confirmed SF PD, noting, “Extensive case law supports this. The victim in criminal cases is a witness; and it is, in fact, considered ineffective assistance of counsel for a public defender to NOT try to speak with witnesses.

And, quoting case law, the office added, “Defense counsel has a fundamental duty to the client to investigate and attempt to secure exculpatory information…substantial portion of the (Constitutional) obligation counsel owes is not directly connected with the trial but involves investigation and advice at pretrial.” 

The office added that “the victim in the Gamero case never refused to be contacted by Ms. Yañez and in fact reached out to Ms. Yañez via email to ask if there was any way she could speak to Mr. Gamero (and was told no).”

Regarding a suggestion by the ABC7 News report that Yañez wrongly became involved in the client’s civil case, said, “There is no rule that prohibits criminal defense attorneys from communicating with victims of crime to arrange payment to settle a small claims suit. 

“At the time of such communications in the Gamero case, Mr. Gamero was incarcerated and subject to a criminal protective order prohibiting communication between himself and the victim except through his attorney, Ms. Yañez. Ms. Yañez’s communications with Ms. Cahen were not only appropriate, but were also made specifically so her client could abide by the court’s order.”

And, the office refuted the news story suggesting it was somehow unethical for a defense attorney to speak to jurors after the conviction.

“After a trial has concluded, attorneys are permitted to speak with jurors, and jurors are permitted to ask attorneys about a case as well as to send letters expressing their thoughts to the judge. It is reasonable that Ms. Yañez responded to jurors’ questions about the sentence her client was potentially facing. The possible sentence was public information at that time. 

“It’s also important to point out that in this case, the District Attorney’s Office itself issued a press release after the verdict and before sentencing that explicitly stated the possibility of a life sentence. The jurors who decided to contact the court regarding the client’s forthcoming sentencing did so of their own volition and were not coerced in any way.”

The ABC7 News story, using comments from the judge, criticized Yañez for emotionally appealing to the court for her client, who now faces up to life in prison.

But, the SF Public Defender’s Office said, “Ms. Yañez served her client impeccably throughout this case, and to criticize her for showing emotion and caring about her client is offensive and sexist.”

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