FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 10, 2022
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Ibarra | Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org | (628) 249-7946
Legal Action Urging SF Superior Court to Address Mass Trial Delays Moving to the CA Court of Appeal
San Francisco’s Criminal Trial Backlog & Jail Conditions Remain a Serious Cause for Concern
SAN FRANCISCO — PetitionersSan Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju, Donna Doyle, Rose Marie Sims, and John Dunbar have taken the next legal step to seek redress for the humanitarian crisis caused by the San Francisco Superior Court’s failure to afford hundreds of people the speedy trial rights to which they are entitled under California law.
On February 10, 2022, the Petitioners – which include Donna Doyle and Rose Marie Sims, two mothers with adult children whose speedy trials rights were violated – filed a petition for writ of mandate with the California Court of Appeal, seeking the San Francisco court’s compliance with California statutes that require courts to give precedence to the trial of criminal cases over civil cases, and to cases where the accused is incarcerated pre-trial. The petition alleges that the San Francisco Superior Court, Presiding Judge Samuel K. Feng, and Chief Executive Officer T. Michael Yuen are disregarding their legal duties resulting in an ongoing crisis where hundreds of presumptively innocent people are being made to endure solitary-like conditions in jail while they await trial.
“We won’t stop fighting for our clients whose civil and human rights have been violated in San Francisco Superior Court,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. “We look forward to the Court of Appeal hearing the matter urgently and granting relief to our clients and their families.”
In September 2021, Mr. Raju and a group of taxpayers filed a lawsuit in and against San Francisco Superior Court, to compel the court to address the backlog of trials that has built up since the beginning of the pandemic. The matter was transferred to Contra Costa County Superior Court after the San Francisco bench recused itself from hearing the case.
On December 17, 2021, Judge Edward Weil ruled, in part, that Contra Costa Superior Court does not have the authority to grant the writ petition, and that relief must be sought in the Court of Appeal instead.
The petition filed in the Court of Appeal seeks relief for those whose trial deadlines have passed, including the hundreds of people who continue to “suffer the harsh, solitary-like conditions of pre-trial confinement for months past their statutory last day for trial”; arguing that the court’s conduct in continuing cases past their deadlines is “arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion,” and that the “systemic violation of statutory duties to give calendar preference to criminal and in-custody trials” requires an “immediate resolution.”
Trial Backlog & Jail Conditions in San Francisco
The number of people whose trial deadlines have passed continues to grow. By the end of December 2021, there were 475 people with cases past their statutory last day for trial – including 207 people in custody, representing nearly 25% of the jail population. This time one year ago, there were only 68 people in custody past their deadline for trial. The backlog is growing, and at this rate will never be cleared. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Superior Court only devoted 11% or less of its courtroom space to criminal trials in the last six months of 2021, despite the easing of social distancing.
Conditions in San Francisco County jail remain concerning, where most people are kept on lockdown for 23 hours a day and have no access to the outdoors or in-person family visits – conditions which can cause permanent mental, emotional, and physical harm.
“As a mother and as a San Franciscan, I am outraged, disappointed, and have no faith in the so-called judicial system, which has failed everyone who has been incarcerated these last two years. The individuals that we put into office to uphold the law have violated our sons’ and daughters’ civil rights,” said petitioner Rose Marie Sims, whose son has been in continuous pretrial custody for 863 days, including 444 days past his original trial deadline in November 2020. “Men and women who have not even been convicted yet have been locked up for 23 hours a day. Their trauma of being locked up like animals can have long-term physical and mental health impacts, which also harms our families.”
The plaintiffs are represented by the law firms of Olivier Schreiber & Chao LLP and Miller Shah LLP.
The following documents were filed in the California Court of Appeal on February 10, 2022.