After months of wrangling, a judge ruled that the entire San Francisco District Attorney’s Office must recuse itself from a murder case because of conflicts involving the city’s top prosecutor.
SF Superior Court Judge Christopher Hite said Wednesday that the California Attorney General’s Office should take over the prosecution of Sincere Pomar and Stevie Mitchell, who allegedly killed Jerome Mallory, a relative of DA Brooke Jenkins.
Jenkins, who swore in a statement that she never violated ethics rules, asked the state to review the case soon after taking office in early July. But the AG declined to take it, saying a firewall that applies only to Jenkins should suffice.
The AG plans to appeal Wednesday’s ruling.
Judge Hite made clear that the sweeping recusal should not imply any wrongdoing by the DA or her staff.
The conflict stems not only from Jenkins’ family ties to the victim, but how she opined on the case before taking office by criticizing her predecessor and ex-boss Chesa Boudin for not pursuing gang charges.
Officials from the DA’s Office said they respect the judge’s decision to expand the recusal. A spokesperson noted that the DA took the initiative of going to the AG “to avoid the appearance of any impropriety,” but the state declined.
Then the defense filed a motion that led to the ruling that the AG should take the case regardless of its prior refusal.
Yali Corea-Levy, the public defender who represents Mitchell, said that based on his reading of the law, he’s unsurprised by the judge’s decision.
“It was clear the judge thoroughly considered the options, giving the attorney general multiple days to argue their opposition,” he told The Standard after the hearing. “He made a an uncommonly lengthy record demonstrating his deep understanding of the law, facts and magnitude of the issues before him.”
Pomar’s attorney, Pam Herzig, previously argued that the internal firewall wasn’t enough to ensure a fair prosecution.
“[Jenkins’] opinions as to charging decisions and appropriate punishment are in the public record,” Herzig said. “It is impossible to see how ‘walling’ her off from the case resolves that conflict, as her deputies have been made aware of her position. The letter does not address that in any way.”
The case ruled on Wednesday isn’t the only one involving conflicts with Jenkins.
The resentencing of Mayor London Breed’s brother Napoleon Brown raised similar issues.
Brown was convicted of murder in 2005 over his girlfriend’s death but pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter during a retrial decades later. His request for a new sentence was pending earlier this year when the mayor appointed Jenkins.
Jenkins asked the Attorney General’s Office to take over that case, too, but the state said it was enough to limit the recusal to Jenkins.
Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at [email protected]