Attorney John Paul Passaglia was found in contempt of court by Judge Ross Moody. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

SF public defender renews call to oust judge over alleged cologne thief jailed for 3 months

A mentally ill immigrant accused of stealing a bottle of cologne is still in jail three months after irritating a San Francisco judge who Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Wednesday has a history of abusing power.

Adachi is calling for the removal of San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ross Moody after a courtroom spat Sept. 14 resulted in Moody ordering a deputy to remand 55-year-old Filipino immigrant Michael Banayos.

Adachi said Banayos would have walked out of the courtroom with time served in September had Moody not “lost his temper” during the hearing, where Banayos was expected to plead no contest to misdemeanor petty theft.

“Judge Moody should not be on the bench,” Adachi said. “He’s what you call a schoolyard bully, except that he’s a judge.”

The incident also resulted in Moody finding Deputy Public Defender John Paul Passaglia in contempt of court Nov. 30 for interfering with the sheriff’s deputy he ordered to remand Banayos.

San Francisco Superior Court spokesperson Ann Donlan declined to comment on the case on behalf of Moody.

But Moody explained his decisions in the Nov. 30 contempt order where he wrote that Banayos was “behaving erratically” and “babbling incoherently.”

“Mr. Banayos appeared to be in an altered mental state,” Moody wrote.

Banayos, who has a limited grasp of English, refused to answer questions through a Tagalog interpreter and instead addressed the judge in English, according to Moody and court transcripts from Sept. 14.

At one point, Moody said Banayos “turned toward the interpreter and snapped at her and waived his arms.”

When Moody ordered a deputy to take Banayos into custody, Moody said Passaglia placed his arm between Banayos and the deputy and ignored the court’s order to “move away” from the deputy.

In the Nov. 30 ruling, Moody fined Passaglia $1,000 for being in contempt of court for not moving away from the deputy. Moody only required Passaglia to pay $250 because he has practiced law for less than five years.

Adachi said he plans to appeal the ruling, which he called a “farce,” because Passaglia did move away.

“This contempt order really shows Judge Moody’s lack of judicial temperament,” Adachi said.

Adachi also took issue with Moody’s initial decision to remand Banayos.

“There’s no indication that he was posing a danger to anyone,” Adachi said.

Adachi said Moody did not provide a reason for remanding Banayos until the next day, when Moody declared a doubt as to Banayos’ mental competency and suspended court proceedings.

Banayos will not be released from jail until a doctor finds him competent to face the misdemeanor petty theft charge.

Adachi said Moody “had to make up a justification” for jailing Banayos.

“Why would you take somebody who is obviously mentally ill, who is confused, and throw them in jail?” Adachi said. “That’s not the way our system works.”

Two doctors have found Banayos to be mentally incompetent since September, according to the Public Defender’s Office, but the second doctor was expected to issue a new report Wednesday finding him competent.

Adachi also said Moody has a history of bullying minorities and female attorneys.

Adachi pointed to an incident on Sept. 29, when Moody questioned whether a young, black female deputy public defender, who filed a declaration supporting Passaglia, was a licensed attorney during another court proceeding.

“I’m going to give you notice that the way you are acting right now is contemptuous,” Moody told attorney Anisa Sirur, according to court transcripts. “Now, what is your State Bar number?”

Adachi said he called Presiding Judge Teri Jackson with his complaints.

Adachi said Jackson investigated his complaints but could not disclose the outcome of her findings.

“This isn’t the old South,” Adachi said. “This is San Francisco.”

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