Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

The Grid 

Wednesday, Dec 11 1996
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That night in 1977, Stone found out the hard way about the dangers of an outdated, understaffed city jail.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.

The proposal to streamline and automate newsracks, which is now under consideration by Mayor Brown, may beautify the city streets. But it'll hurt alternative weeklies, namely the Guardian and SF Weekly. These papers rely on solitary, unique newsracks to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Forcing them into the uniform, "candy-machine" dispensers would cut into circulation.

We asked Bruce if Danny's gig presents a conflict he should disclose in his pages. He said no, noting that his son is not the city's decision-maker and adding, "We will fight tooth and nail." As for SF Weekly, we admit to shopping for a lobbyist.

Move-In Target
Trying to sketch a political persona for himself in advance of the Nov. 5 election, Michael Yaki, a mayoral appointee to the Board of Supervisors, briefly positioned himself as a champion of the tenants movement and introduced a major piece of legislation on its behalf. His Owner Move-In Reform and Senior Housing Protection Act was a classic case of legislative overkill -- the equivalent of prescribing a lobotomy as a cure for the blues. As pre-election opposition jelled, Yaki began distancing himself from his own measure, thus alienating people on both sides of the tenant-landlord divide.

Last month, however, a chance for redemption arose. But Yaki, who was re-elected by finishing fifth in a race for six seats, didn't have the sense to grab it.

Heading into a Dec. 9 vote on his doomed bill, according to a City Hall aide, Yaki was approached by Supervisors Leslie Katz and Susan Leal about signing onto a moderate alternative. It, too, aimed to guard tenants from evictions by owners who claim to move into their units as a ruse to evade rent control. But, unlike Yaki's original, the alternative carried the virtue of likely passage. Yet, according to one City Hall aide, Yaki inexplicably said "no thanks." The rookie supe tabled his bill and passed the reins to Katz and Leal, sealing his abdication of leadership on the issue.

The upside for Yaki? He's got the next four years to figure out whether he has an authentic position on the issue or not.

About The Authors

George Cothran


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"