A handwritten sign-in sheet for court witnesses that labeled defendants “bad guys” prompted San Francisco’s outspoken public defender to question out loud the fairness of the legal system.
The San Francisco Chronicle first reported the sheet circulated in Department 11 at the Hall of Justice on Bryant Street and was intended to keep track of witnesses testifying in Superior Court criminal cases.
But in the column where witnesses were supposed to indicate who they were testifying against, the person who created the sheet wrote “Bad Guy” in blue ink on school notebook paper.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi spotted the sheet and circulated a photo of it to the media. He told the Chronicle that people in court indicated it may have been made by an intern in the district attorney’s office. “Never, in the 30 years that I’ve been practicing at the Hall of Justice, have I ever seen anything that flies so in the face of the presumption of innocence and the idea that people are to be treated with dignity,” Adachi told the Chronicle. “‘Bad guy’ is not synonymous with the word ‘defendant.’ If it were a judge who wrote that, he or she would be subject to discipline.”
Max Szabado, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office said prosecutors are not trained to use such biased terms and didn’t think the sheet was written by anyone in the office. Still, he said, the DA was looking into the matter.
“This is very concerning behavior and this is not how we train our employees. We have been looking into this matter and have no reason to believe this was created by our Assistant District Attorney,” Szabado. “We do not know who created this sign in sheet, as typically our sign in sheets are typewritten.”