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SF judge denies allegations of racial bias made by Public Defender Adachi

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Judge Ethan Schulman (Courtesy San Francisco Superior Court)

A judge in San Francisco denied allegations of racial bias on Thursday after Public Defender Jeff Adachi accused him of asking a Latina attorney during her opening statement, “When is this telenovela going to end?”

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman said he never made the comment, as Adachi claimed last Tuesday in an attempt to block the judge from ruling on whether to dismiss a murder case against a Latino client.

“I have been fully and demonstrably committed to equal justice throughout my career, both as a lawyer and as a judge,” Schulman wrote in a response to Adachi, categorically denying the allegations. “I devoted a substantial part of my career as a lawyer to advancing the interests of the Hispanic community.”

Adachi filed the motion against Schulman in the increasingly heated murder case of Carlos Argueta, a 34-year-old former tenants’ rights attorney who is accused of drunkenly stabbing a man to death on Sixth Street in 2015. Adachi is seeking to throw out the case based on alleged misconduct by the prosecutor.

Adachi said Schulman made the comment to Deputy Public Defender Elizabeth Camacho during a break in her opening statement in an unrelated trial in 2016. Though Adachi first said Schulman made the comment in chambers, he now claims Schulman said that to Camacho in the hallway.

Regardless, Adachi said “there is no doubt in my mind that he said it.”

“Judge Schulman’s assertion that he never made the racially insensitive statement is simply false,” Adachi said in an email.

But Schulman argued in his response that the claim “is not borne out” by an electronic recording of the trial, which shows Camacho made an uninterrupted opening statement except for a “brief sidebar,” he said.

“[I] am certain that I did not disparage Ms. Camacho’s culture or ethnicity, or that of her client,” Schulman wrote.

Camacho claimed otherwise.

“It is shocking to me that he would deny making the statement,” Camacho said in an email. “When he said it, I was taken aback and felt embarrassed. I was afraid that if I complained, it would make it harder for my client to receive a fair trial. However, there is no question in my mind that he said it.”

Adachi said the record shows Schulman did interrupt Camacho, so “it fully supports what she says.”

Adachi has also accused Schulman of being biased against criminal defendants. Schulman denied that accusation.

Whether Schulman will hear the motion to dismiss will be decided by another judge, according to the San Francisco Superior Court. A judge has not been assigned to rule on the matter.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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