SAN FRANCISCO - 12/03/2018 (PRESS RELEASE JET)
As a revealing 2015 Washington Post article remarked, “We would like to believe that decisions made in U.S. courts are determined by the wisdom of the Constitution, and guided by fair-minded judges and juries of our peers. Unfortunately, this is often wishful thinking. Unsettling research into the psychology of courtroom decisions has shown that our personal backgrounds, unconscious biases…play a more important role in outcomes than the law.”
Now, years later, our county is still wrestling with the same problems. Despite slim possibilities for appeal, the deep cracks in the American legal system are not hard to find.
In the case of City of San Francisco v Anne Kihagi, for example, misconduct from the prosecutor and significant bias from the key judge – Judge Angela Bradstreet – were both blatant and abundant. Judge Bradstreet’s rulings clearly reflected her bias, whether conscious or subconscious, indicating that she should have recused herself.
So why didn’t she?
As someone with an active campaign and ambitions for higher judicial roles, Judge Bradstreet possibly felt the immense political pressure placed on judges in cities like San Francisco. Because of this, judicial officials are making rulings with more regard for the city and its politics than constitutional law. And sadly, by avoiding any noticeable patterns, most of them get away with it. This absence of checks and balances cultivates an easily flagrant disregard for the judicial system as a whole, enabling judges to make intentionally dishonest rulings with little to no consequence.
For instance, a San Francisco judge was given evidence that the prosecution’s witness had testified completely differently in another trial. This kind of misinformation is what requires courts to uphold judicial estoppel – in other words, to hold the witness to what he or she says in order to avoid variation in stories and tailored “facts.”
Yet the San Francisco judge ruled that the defendant could not rely on judicial estoppel, despite its ubiquitous application in all states and higher courts. Why? This judge did not want to rule against the witness, who was a tenant – and in San Francisco, tenants are king.
Of San Francisco’s population of approximately 870,000, around 65% are tenants, making them a large voter group, in addition to being incredibly vocal and well-supported by city funding and initiatives. This strength in numbers has even strong-armed the judicial system, as judges know that their reelection is dependent on this massive subsect’s approval.
In Judge Bradstreet’s case, many of her rulings were clearly indicative of this same partiality, despite fairness being the known cornerstone of the American justice system. And by clearly and consistently ruling in tenants’ favor, judges are emboldening tenant witnesses to commit dishonesty of their own, knowing each decision has already been prejudiced. A biased judge should therefore not be permitted to perform his or her critical role in deciding the fate of citizens, as it breeds a culture of deceit from layman to legal system.
An isolated error in a judge’s ruling might not raise too much concern but can still warrant an appeal, especially depending on the severity of the outcome. Yet not all injustices are innocent, and not all wronged parties can afford to appeal, further, the appellate process is totally flawed as the starting premise of appeals is that the underlying judgement was inherently fair and unbiased. Judicial ethics become compromised when, for instance, a judge intentionally ignores facts to ensure a personally or politically beneficial outcome. This is when error becomes bias, where distinctly cruel and unjust penalties can devastate the receiving party. Judge Bradstreet’s rulings resulted in hefty fines, overwhelmingly negative media, and mental and physical anguish for Ms. Kihagi.
The overtness of the prejudice exhibited in Judge Bradstreet’s rulings shows the immense power of a judge, especially when under equally vast political pressures. Yet it is important to remember that these city influences are not excuses; they do not invalidate or outrank constitutional law. Conscious and intentional decisions are being made by those entrusted with facilitating fairness and honest justice, and we as citizens must hold them to this charge however we can – even in the voting booth.
For more information on Anna Kihagi and West 18 Properties, visithttp://annekihagisf.com/
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