Dazed and confused - Page 2

Marijuana and quality-of-life cases clog Newsom's Community Justice Court

Modeled after New York City's Center for Court Innovation, it serves as a one-stop location for the court to refer offenders to social services to address the root causes of criminal behavior — although those programs dealing with substance abuse, mental health treatment, and other social needs are also on the budget chopping block.

CJC only handled violations in four selected central neighborhoods deemed to be burdened by chronic crime: the Tenderloin, SoMa, Civic Center, and Union Square communities. Capt. Gary Jimenez of the Tenderloin Police Station could not be reached for an extensive interview, but told the Guardian that his officers are simply enforcing the law by citing offenders and referring such cases to the CJC.

CJC coordinator Tomiquia Moss has weighed in by facilitating talks between Adachi and Deputy Chief of Police Kevin Cashman, who sits on the CJC advisory board to address which cases get referred. While all 17 of the pot cases have been dismissed at the CJC, Moss believes that Adachi must continue to communicate with Tenderloin police officers to advise on citation referrals. "We don't have any impact on how the police department administers enforcement," she said. "We can only be responsible for what happens to the case once it gets here."

Moss takes pride in the CJC for providing services even to clients whose cases are dismissed. She believes that almost all the people who have been referred to the CJC accept assistance because caseworkers are respectful and culturally competent, although she has yet to compile comprehensive statistics on CJC cases.

To get a sense on of the big picture at CJC, the Guardian reviewed a report from the Coalition on Homelessness based on the court's calendar for its first two months in existence. Out of 336 total cases between March 4 and May 1, 100 (30 percent) were for sleeping outside; 71 (21 percent) were for possession of a crack pipe; and 99 (29 percent) were "public nuisance" citations to the court, a subjective violation often given with another citation such as obstructing the sidewalk.

However, among the pending cases that faced trial, the CJC reports that more severe crimes like theft, fraud, disorderly conduct, possession with intent to sell drugs, and soliciting drugs — cases routinely heard in other courtrooms — make up the majority.

Moss acknowledged the limitations of the CJC during tight budget times. "We anticipate people not being able to get all their needs met because there aren't enough funds. Services are in jeopardy ... You gotta consolidate. You have higher client-to-service-provider ratios. It's a significant issue."

If the CJC is to continue operating with limited resources, Adachi and homeless advocates say Tenderloin police need to focus their resources on serious crimes, rather than quality of life violations that predominately criminalize the homeless.

Bob Offer-Westort, the civil rights organizer for Coalition on Homelessness and coordinating editor of the local paper Street Sheet, says it's a shame to continue funding the CJC while service centers like the Tenderloin Health drop-in center are being closed due to budget cuts. Offer-Westort acknowledges the laudable social services provided at the CJC, but said "its front-end is conducted by law enforcement officers" who treat it as a "homeless court".

While Newsom hoped the CJC would be popular with city residents concerned about the homeless, 57 percent of San Franciscan voters weighed in last November against allocating extra funding to the CJC with Proposition L.

Although the mayor is proposing a 25 percent cut in the public defender's budget, Adachi fears this would mean firing 38 lawyers, or one-third of his staff. This could translate to a withdrawal from representing approximately 6,000 clients at his office.