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S.F. taxpayers may be struck with the legal tab for a failed Ingleside murder case 

Wednesday, Sep 23 2009
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One of the higher-profile San Francisco murder cases in recent memory concluded with something less than a whimper in July, when six of the seven defendants accused of killing a city police officer saw their charges dismissed or reduced through plea deals. The defendants, alleged former members of the Black Liberation Army, were charged in the killing of Sergeant John Young at the Ingleside police station in 1971. The case was politically charged, with many arguing it was a waste of scarce law-enforcement resources. But the full cost of the Ingleside prosecution has yet to be tallied — and may fall hard on San Francisco taxpayers.

The California Attorney General's office brought the charges after San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris declined to do so. Yet it was San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi's office that was obligated to mount a defense for the seven men. Each defendant was entitled to two lawyers because of the heavy workload, but state conflict-of-interest laws barred more than one staff attorney from the public defender's office from being assigned to the case. So 13 private defense attorneys were hired by the city. While they worked at reduced rates of $85 to $140 per hour — about a third of what private criminal-defense attorneys typically charge, Adachi said — the bill added up.

"I'm sure our costs were over $1 million, just from what I saw," said Stuart Hanlon, one of the private defense attorneys. "There's no case in my memory in San Francisco that compared to this case in its scope." In fact, legal costs for defense attorneys in the Ingleside case have so far added up to $1.7 million, according to city records. That hefty expenditure springs in part from the large volume of casework; Hanlon said he and his colleagues had to sift through more than 300,000 pages of documents. "San Francisco County didn't bring it, but the people of San Francisco bore the cost of it," he said. "Given the outcome, it's outrageous."

Adachi said he will be "adamant" in seeking full reimbursement for defense costs from the state. But nothing has been paid back yet, and, given California's bleak finances, footing the legal bill for accused cop killers may not be high on the list of state budget priorities.

Meanwhile, Dave Druliner, the state's lead prosecutor, said he has no regrets. "Look at the crime, and what these individuals did," he said. "That's not something that society or the criminal-justice system should ever turn its back on. Whatever funds were and are being used were extremely well-spent."

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Peter Jamison

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