The Grid

Judge+Sheriff=Jail Reform
Twenty years ago, S.F. art gallery owner Will Stone spent a night behind bars after surrendering on a slew of traffic warrants. The lives of jail inmates would change forever.

That night in 1977, Stone found out the hard way about the dangers of an outdated, understaffed city jail. Housed alongside experienced felons in the city's sixth-floor Hall of Justice intake jail, Stone took a beating at the hands of his holding-tank mates. As a result, he became the lead plaintiff in a federal class action challenging jail conditions in S.F.

Four years later, the city attorney and Stone's lawyers, Mort Cohen and Beth Parker, signed a consent decree, a historic pact under which S.F. vowed to reduce jail crowding, group inmates rationally, bolster guard staffing levels, and revamp health services for inmates -- all under the watchful eye of ironfisted U.S. District Judge William Orrick.

This week, after the opening of another section of the new jail next to the Hall of Justice, and the certification of a jail health clinic, another milestone was reached. The 2-decade-old Stone case has ended -- with ultimate authority over S.F. jails reverting back from Orrick to Sheriff Michael Hennessey.

A jail reformer in his own right, Hennessey recently reflected on the Stone case legacy and the sheriff's own ironic relationship with Orrick -- his adversary, at least on paper.

Hennessey called Orrick his "guardian angel," an unexpected appellation for the jurist who fined the city more than $2.5 million between 1992 and 1994 for Hennessey's failure to keep a lid on the inmate population at the intake jail. (In Hennessey's defense, that was no easy feat, and one beyond the reach of any single link in the criminal justice chain.)

It was Orrick's own intolerance for city failures that gave S.F's progressive sheriff the political cover to try out all manner of alternatives to jail sentences and to pretrial incarceration. "We are doing things now that would have not been considered before -- that people would have scoffed at," Hennessey said.

Among the measures undertaken in the name of easing jail crowding has been broad use of halfway houses for inmates in the final months of their sentences and of attaching electronic bracelets to the wrists of defendants so they can be released and monitored prior to trial.

Some glaring economic inequities also, thankfully, became casualties of Hennessey's rush to curb crowding.

Under state law, misdemeanor defendants are to be cited and released from jail without bail pending trial. An exception, however, is made for people without a local address, which, unfortunately for them, includes homeless people. In 1994, innovation knocked. A nonprofit group offered to counsel homeless people released from jail about the importance of appearing at court hearings and promised to stay in touch with them through the city's network of homeless shelters. The project, which Hennessey funded with jail-crowding fines paid by the city, proved a major success. Turns out that participants in the "No Local" Citation and Release Project are at least as likely as other defendants to make their court hearings.

Said Hennessey: "It shows what you can do with a little motivation."

New Gun in Town
Seven out of the 10 new lobbyists who registered in the city shortly after Mayor Willie Brown's inauguration were former Brown campaign workers, political or legal acquaintances, or relatives of same. Of the seven, William "Billy" G. Rutland Jr., a Sacramento lobbyist, has the deepest ties to the mayor.

Rutland is distinguishing himself with the rapid growth of his local solo practice. Starting in March with four clients, Rutland has since shed one and picked up five more, bringing his total book of business to eight firms or organizations. Only two lobbyist war horses that predated Brown's mayoralty, HMS Associates and Solem & Associates, have banked more in fees than Rutland's $54,620 since July.

Sprint Spectrum L.P. and Starbucks are among the latest to tap Rutland's talents and contacts. Both companies see local land-use decisions as real or potential business obstacles. Sprint needs approvals for cellular phone antennas. Starbucks, with 16 S.F. stores, plans to wedge in more.

Another new Rutland client is ITT Hartford of Connecticut, which holds a city contract to invest city employee pension funds. But Rutland's shingle isn't out just for corporations. He also represents a neighborhood group trying to block national supermarket chains from moving into their microcommunity.

As has been his want, Rutland refused to return several calls to his Sacramento and S.F. offices to discuss the yeasty nature of his local practice. Regardless, Billywatch will continue.

Racked with Clout
San Francisco Bay Guardian Publisher Bruce Brugmann -- vigorous chronicler of conflicts of interest, real, perceived or potential -- has a card up his sleeve in the brewing debate over a French firm's pitch to replace S.F.'s ubiquitous (some say ugly) coin-fed and free newsracks.

Turns out that Brugmann's son, Danny Brugmann, former operations manager for his father's weekly paper, has taken a new job as special assistant to the director of the Department of Public Works, where Danny says his new duties would include implementing any changes in S.F. newsrack policy.

1
 
2
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.
Loading...