S.F. stuck with bill for legal fees

The City is being forced to foot the $2 million legal fee bill for the defense of seven men charged with murdering a San Francisco police sergeant more than three decades ago.

Although the California Office of the Attorney General has decided to pursue the trial of seven alleged members of the Black Liberation Army accused of plotting to murder Sgt. John Young at Ingleside Station in 1971, it is San Francisco that is being stuck with the multimillion-dollar defense tab because the case has been filed within San Francisco County jurisdiction.

Although there are eight co-defendants, only one public defender can be assigned to one case to avoid conflicts of interest, according to San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. The other seven defendants must be provided private counsel at the expense of the county of San Francisco.

“This is probably the most expensive case and complex case we have had in this county,” Adachi said.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office introduced an appropriation request to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that would pay for unanticipated costs in People v. Bell, which was filed by state prosecutors in San Francisco Superior Court a year ago.

San Francisco budgets more than $7 million for indigent defense and grand juries in Superior Court, according to city data. People v. Bell, however, has already totaled expense defenses of $589,906 and is estimated to cost $1.9 million through fiscal year 2007-08. The court and local bar association have been working to introduce state legislation that would reimburse the county for the costs of defending a case brought by state prosecutors, according to the mayor’s spokesman, Nathan Ballard. “In the meantime, the financial obligation rests with The City,” he said.

Attorney Stuart Hanlon, who said he represents Herman Bell at a quarter of his normal hourly rate, said the state should pay the bill.

“What’s extraordinary is that the district attorney isn’t prosecuting this case,” Hanlon said. “It’s the state that brought the charges 35 years after the fact, and now San Franciscans have to front the bill.”

Hanlon’s client, along with conflicts counsel for Anthony Bottom and Francisco Torres are scheduled to be in court today to argue that conspiracy charges against their clients should be dropped because the three-year statute of limitations has expired. State prosecutors argue that those three defendants have been out of state and the limitations do not apply.

Conspiracy charges have already been dropped against Richard Brown, Ray Boudreaux, Henry Watson Jones and Harold Taylor. The men still face charges of murder, which has no statute of limitations. Richard O’Neal, who was charged only with conspiracy, was released in January after spending more than eight months in jail.

bbegin@examiner.com

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