Inmate at center of bail reform fight still jailed, awaiting new hearing

A man in jail on $350,000 bail for nearly a year was denied a new bail hearing again Thursday, despite winning an appeals court ruling in January that not only ordered a new bail hearing for him, but also ordered statewide reform of the money bail system.

The appeals court case involves Kenneth Humphrey, 64, a retired shipyard laborer who was arrested last May and later charged with robbery.

Prosecutors said that he followed his 79-year-old neighbor into his room at the affordable senior housing complex on Turk Street where they both lived. Humphrey then allegedly threatened his neighbor, who is disabled and uses a walker, by threatening to put a pillowcase over his head. Humphrey allegedly demanded his money, threw his cellphone and eventually left with $7 and a bottle of cologne.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Joseph Quinn set Humphrey’s bail at $600,000, despite objections from the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, which represents Humphrey, arguing that he had a troubled past and a history of substance abuse but had stayed out of trouble for 14 years until recently relapsing. Quinn later lowered his bail to $350,000.

The public defender’s office filed a writ of habeas corpus on Humphrey’s behalf and eventually prevailed with the Jan. 25 ruling.

In its decision, the court not only said that Humphrey was entitled to a new bail hearing that took his ability to pay into account, but that the state Constitution required all state court judges to examine ability to pay when setting bail unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the person poses a risk to public safety.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Tuesday he would not appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, saying he supported bail reform in California.

The public defender’s office swiftly scheduled a new bail hearing for Humphrey. But when Humphrey appeared in court he was disappointed again.

At Thursday’s hearing, San Francisco District Attorney’s Office Managing Attorney Allison Macbeth argued that the court didn’t have jurisdiction to take up the bail matter until the Jan. 25 ruling by the state appeals court officially takes effect, which will take about 40 days from the date of the ruling.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy declined to revisit Humphrey’s bail until the ruling was official, while acknowledging that the case was highly unusual.

“The time for review has not passed,” Conroy said. “Just because the attorney general is not seeking review doesn’t mean that the Supreme Court won’t decide to review on its own.”
While the Supreme Court could decide to take up the matter without the request of the state, that seems unlikely, particularly since Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has publicly expressed support for bail reform, which was noted in the appeals court decision.

San Francisco Deputy Public Defender Anita Nabha said the prosecutors were relying on a procedural technicality while continuing to deny Humphrey his rights. She said it was an “outrage.”

“There’s really no reason for them to try and delay Mr. Humphrey’s justice,” Nabha said outside of court. She said that there appeared to be no plans for a review by the Supreme Court, yet Humphrey might have to spend weeks more in jail after already being unjustly detained for nearly a year.

“If he were a rich man he would be out of custody on $350,000 bail,” Nabha said. “Because he is a poor man he has to suffer and languish in jail.”

She said that the public defender’s office had prepared for his release by securing him a space in an outpatient treatment facility — which he could lose if he’s not released soon — and transportation from the jail Thursday.

“It’s incredibly unfair and for someone who has limited legal knowledge, it’s hard to explain,” Nabha said.

She said the public defender’s office is considering its options. But as it stands now the soonest Humphrey could be released would be March 4. His next scheduled court date is on March 13 to set a date for his trial.

-Scott Morris, Bay City News

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