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Bad Judges, Bridge Nets and Racial Discrimination: Your Bay News for the Week of Sept. 20, 2018

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This week’s news touches on the effort to reduce suicide deaths on the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco’s racial discrimination problem and all sorts of judicial woes, locally and nationally. Here goes…

Please Don’t Jump

In 2008, the New York Times described the Golden Gate Bridge as “the most popular suicide magnet on earth.” Thousands of people have taken the leap and died since the bridge opened in 1937, but officials hope to curb the tragic statistics with the installation of a stainless steel net designed to save lives. The project has been discussed for some time, but construction of the $211 million project is now officially kicking off and will cause lane closures from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weeknights from now until the anticipated completion date in 2021, according to SFBay. The first phase entails the installation of access platforms workers will later use to construct the net itself. It is reported that at least one lane will remain open in each direction during weeknight construction.

Shoes to represent suicide deaths at Golden Gate Bridge. Photo courtesy of SF Gate

San Francisco Addresses Racial Discrimination

City Hall was filled Wednesday with people imploring Mayor London Breed and other representatives to address what many claim is racial discrimination among city hiring and employment practices. The SF Examiner reports that “African Americans make up just 15 percent of the workforce…yet comprise 36 percent of its terminations, and a quarter of all employees released before they complete probation.” The hearing in front of the Board of Supervisors’ Government Audit and Oversight Committee gave people the opportunity to share their stories of perceived discrimination, several of which focused on wrongful termination following leave for health or accident-related incidents.

The Bad Bench

First, let’s agree that every single human drudging across this mass of dust and gas is flawed in some way, shape or form. That’s the given, that’s the constant. But do we have the right to require that people seeking positions of moral authority over the rest of our fucked up populace be less flawed than most? When we consider who should enforce and decide our laws, who should wield guns and gavels, is it realistic to demand those individuals be free from criminal, racist or predatory tendencies?

Cartoon courtesy of Clarity Blog

Um, yes. The answer is yes.

On a national and local level and in real time, we are currently forced to examine the personal behavior of men appointed to federal benches. Judge John Laettner has presided over cases at Contra Costa Superior Court for the past 12 years, but nine charges indicating “willful misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and improper action” raise concern about the judge’s legal acumen. Almost half the counts being formally reviewed by the Commission on Judicial Performance are associated with his treatment of women in his courtroom. It is alleged that Laettner sexualized, belittled and made racially-charged statements to female defendants, public defenders and prosecutors in instances dating back as far as 2008.

Judge John Laettner, 62. Photo courtesy of KTVU

SFBay reports that one deputy public defender was subjected to numerous inappropriate encounters with the judge who had a habit of “winking” at her, equating her to a teenage girl that argues all the time and suggesting her parents didn’t “spank” her enough. Another deputy public defender of half-Japanese descent claims Laettner recounted “very beautiful half-Japanese twins” he knew back in college. While his “pattern of conduct ‘that would reasonably be perceived as sexual harassment or sexual discrimination,’” is being deliberated, it’s natural to consider his rulings in previous cases, especially those focused on sexual harassment or abuse. In 2013, Laettner dismissed charges levied in the People vs. Baldomero Gutierrez, where the defendant was accused of molesting two 11-year-old girls entrusted to his care through the foster system.

The commission will review all nine counts, the remaining five of which which are associated with shady procedural processes, and determine what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken.  

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We can’t discuss judicial integrity without touching on the Brett Kavanaugh situation unraveling at this very moment. Trump’s SCOTUS nominee was less-than-popular at the start of his confirmation hearing, where Senate Democrats skewered the judge for lies he made under oath during previous confirmation proceedings and condemned their Republican peers for withholding large chunks of documents they believe illuminate Kavanaugh’s beliefs on matters like the settled nature of Roe vs. Wade and whether a sitting president should ever be investigated, let alone indicted. But as the GOP relentlessly charges forward, an accusation of attempted rape while the judge was still an elitist prep high-schooler with a penchant for drowning himself in booze has dominated the news cycle. Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor and research psychologist, has been bombarded with media and public attention since she reluctantly decided to put her name to the accusation Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been holding onto for months.

Many people have offered her support and encourage her to testify Monday in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee; however, others have hacked her email and threatened her life, forcing her and her family to move for safety. Ford and her attorney have expressed a willingness to cooperate with questioning but she strongly prefers the FBI reopen Kavanaugh’s background check to specifically investigate her accusation prior to being exposed to the national limelight as the committee inevitably grills every aspect of her credibility. The 51-year-old apparently took notice of how Anita Hill was disrespected during the Clarence Thomas confirmation in 1991 and is attempting to secure her legal standing and reputation by inviting a thorough investigation. Unfortunately, her request has so-far been denied with Trump claiming that the FBI doesn’t really do that sort of thing, which is absolute bullshit. That is exactly the sort of thing the FBI does and has done since Ronald Reagan nominated once-toker Donald Ginsberg in 1986.

Supreme Court Justices are due to return to the bench next month with a docket of over 20 cases scheduled for argument over the course of October and November, according to SCOTUS blog.

Weird shit to do on your day off

Go to the Exploratorium, for free! Head down to Pier 15 Saturday to get your hands dirty with all sorts of science. If you’re in the mood to tinker, play and otherwise act like a 13-year-old boy on a field trip, Community Free Day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. will give you plenty of opportunities to do just that. Did I mention it’s free?

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.