Cothran

Mentor court takes first-offender drug dealers and puts them through counseling, education, and job training programs, all the while holding their sentences over their heads as incentive to do well. If they jump through all the right hoops, their sentences are wiped away, and they graduate from the program into, one hopes, more productive lives. Chaitin is the judge who oversees the program.

On Aug. 11, several mentor court participants were set to graduate, and everyone involved with the program wanted to get some publicity out of it. Hallinan, apparently, wanted the bulk of the credit and press-play. He hit the roof when he heard Chaitin had invited the mayor to make a speech at the graduation.

Then scheduling became a problem. One of the graduates had to leave immediately for a prestigious East Coast college where he had earned a scholarship. The mayor also had a crowded agenda. The only day that seemed to work for most participants coincided with a long-scheduled Hallinan vacation at one of his family's cabins near Yosemite.

Our hotheaded DA hit the roof. Again.
Hallinan went ka-boom for a second time on Aug. 3. He stormed down to Chaitin's courtroom to talk about the scheduling issue, and instead launched into a discussion about a rape case Chaitin had dismissed.

Because the DA's Office was planning on re-filing the case, it was reasonable for Chaitin to assume that it would land back in her courtroom. She informed Hallinan, in front of witnesses, that he was engaging in what's called an ex parte communication between a judge and a prosecutor. In other words, not all the parties to the case were present; it was therefore improper under the Canon of Judicial Ethics for Hallinan to be speaking to her about it. Hallinan kept pressing her to talk about the case, which involved a 14-year-old runaway who had accused a man and a woman of raping her.

Chaitin finally got Hallinan to leave her courtroom, but she felt the conversation had gone too far and she needed to put it on the record in front of all the parties in the case. The next morning she had a brief hearing in her courtroom, where she did just that.

This hearing, Chaitin supporters think, boosted Hallinan's anger to a level where it could only be sated by revenge.

Eventually, Hallinan decided to attack Chaitin over her handling of three cases: a brutal gang rape, the previously mentioned alleged rape of the 14-year-old runaway, and a series of offenses allegedly committed by a predator who supposedly used drugs to help him rape women.

We'll take them one by one. And unlike the Examiner, I will give you all the facts in the proper context.

To be sure, the gang rape had emotional punch. Between 10 and 15 young thugs approached a couple waiting for a bus in 1995. They beat the crap out of the guy, and dragged the woman, screaming, for more than a quarter-mile across the Potrero Hill projects (no one called police) until they had her inside an abandoned boiler room.

Inside, evil occurred.
A juvenile was arrested and charged with everything from kidnapping and assault with a firearm to rape and sodomy (via anal penetration).

But there was a problem: no evidence of sodomy. The woman's anus was unscathed, and although semen was found in the rectal area, it meant nothing vis-a-vis anal rape, because of the proximity to the vagina, which, everyone agreed, had been terribly violated. So Chaitin made the reasonable and not very dramatic or significant decision of dismissing the sodomy charge. Her ruling had no effect on the overall case. She sent the young man to Superior Court with so many charges loaded on him that he could have faced 90 years in prison.

Once the case was out of Chaitin's court, and as the juvenile awaited trial as an adult, the District Attorney's Office voluntarily dropped all sex charges against the defendant and allowed him to plead guilty to assault and kidnapping. He is now serving 12 years in the state pen.

If anything, Chaitin's preliminary rulings upholding most of the charges gave the District Attorney's Office leverage with which to extract a guilty plea and a lengthy prison sentence.

The second case involved a 14-year-old runaway from the Los Angeles area who said she was raped by a man and a woman who were working in concert.

Again, there was an evidentiary problem: The victim's testimony was so shot through with implausibilities and holes and documentable falsehoods that her account of the actual rape (which if true would be a horrible crime worthy of horsewhipping) lacked credibility. Even the victim's mother told the defendant's attorney that the girl was a wild kid "not to be believed."

This time, however, there was also a presentation problem: The deputy district attorney on the case made a serious mistake. He did not enlist an expert to comment on medical records detailing the 14-year-old's examination at San Francisco General Hospital. Without the expert, the records could not be included as evidence, because there was no properly designated expert to authenticate the records and comment on their meaning.

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