Rape case against rough San Francisco lawyer faces obstacles 

UPDATE: The District Attorney's Office eventually dismissed all charges against Robert Michael Hoffman.


A San Francisco lawyer accused of raping women he met through the personals wrote in his ads that respondents should expect to be dominated, beaten and made to cry.

But prosecutors going after the lawyer, whose San Francisco law firm specializes in workplace sexual harassment claims, say the seedy sex acts continued despite pleas from the women to stop.

Robert Michael Hoffman, 51, was arrested Aug. 5 after three women came forward with tales of sadistic encounters in his Aquatic Park apartment.

The allegations include a March sexual attack on a 36-year-old East Bay woman, the rape and beating of a 19-year-old San Francisco woman in June and an assault on a 25-year-old East Bay woman this month. Police said they are searching for more possible victims.

The case will be a challenging one, said Evan Lee, associate dean for research at Hastings College of the Law. Although "no means no," Lee said, jurors might judge these women for being in Hoffman’s apartment in the first place.

"It makes the prosecution’s case harder," he said.

And even if a juror were to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the women didn’t consent, there is the question of whether Hoffman thought they consented, Lee said. If Hoffman thought the act was consensual, then it’s not rape under California law, Lee said.

Hoffman’s attorney, Stuart Hanlon, said the encounters were "implicitly consensual" since the Craigslist ads clearly indicate the sex would be rough.

"His ads are direct, to the point and make clear that he is looking for sexual encounters that included domination, control and some form of sadomasochistic activity," Hanlon said.

An ad posted in June stated, in part, "I want you, I want to hit you, I want you to cry," court documents show. "I want you to be scared of me sometimes."

Other ads told women who agreed to meet him they would be pulled to the knees by their hair, slapped, degraded and humiliated.

Hanlon said two of the victims who came forward to cops had more than one encounter with Hoffman. One of the victims wrote an email to Hoffman stating, "I read your ad and sounds so hot," court documents show.

But prosecutors say the women became victims as soon as their demands to stop the sex acts went unheard. Hoffman became rough with the women as soon as they reached his apartment door, court documents show.

After the women became uncomfortable, they asked to stop, but Hoffman continued, prosecutors said. He raped the crying 19-year-old woman for about 10 minutes after she demanded he stop, they said.

The victims said they escaped after Hoffman was finished and went to the bathroom.

Hoffman has had run-ins with cops before. In 1986, he was arrested for forcible rape and robbery in Massachusetts, but the case was dismissed after he proved he had an alibi, his attorney said. He’s also had drug-related arrests in Southern California and Hawaii.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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