Tight-lipped ballot thief to be set free, 50 days later than expected 

A man accused of stealing ballots from a San Francisco polling station last November will be set free Wednesday after staying in jail for 50 days longer than necessary because of his conduct during a series of bizarre court appearances.

Karl Bradfield Nicholas, 51, was accused of taking about 75 ballots, a voter roster, a cellphone, and a memory box and access key to a voting machine on Knott Court in the city's Crocker Amazon neighborhood where he was working as a voting station inspector on Nov. 2, 2010.

Nicholas was arrested the next day, and the ballots were later found in the lagoon at the Palace of Fine Arts. He has been in custody ever since. The memory box, access key and cellphone have yet to be found.

Nicholas was set to be freed last month after pleading guilty in December to a felony count of tampering with voting machines and ballots in exchange for a year in county jail and other penalties, although he later tried to withdraw the plea.

With credit for time served, the one-year mark came on July 5, but at a hearing that day, at which his defense attorney Stuart Blumstein had filed a motion to have him released from jail on his own recognizance, Nicholas was tackled by sheriff's deputies after yelling at the judge and Blumstein.

Following the outburst, the judge denied the motion to have him released and had the case continued until his scheduled sentencing the following week in the court of Judge Anne Boulianne.

But during the scheduled sentencing, Nicholas began refusing to talk to his attorney or acknowledge the questions of Boulianne, who ordered him held for a mental health examination instead of sentencing him.

Nicholas also refused to speak to two doctors who were asked to conduct the examination of his mental competency earlier this month. He was eventually declared competent on Monday after finally deciding to talk to Blumstein, his attorney.

Nicholas returned to court today after asking for a hearing on whether he could have Blumstein removed as his attorney, but then decided to withdraw the motion this afternoon.

At that point, Boulianne said she was finally ready to sentence Nicholas -- 50 days after she had originally planned to.

"You've been here a long time, I think it's time to proceed with this," she said.

Boulianne reduced the felony charge to a misdemeanor since he had served the term of his jail sentence -- and then some -- and also ordered him to serve three years of probation.

Under the terms of his probation, Nicholas is required to stay out of all polling places on Election Day, as well as the basement of City Hall during early voting days.

He was also ordered to pay $250 in restitution to the city's Department of Elections and reveal the location of the items that remain missing from the polling station last November.

Blumstein said outside of court that his client seemed "quite happy" with the results of today's hearing, and had stayed in jail longer than necessary as a political statement.

He said the incident with the ballots was another political act by Nicholas, who felt the Department of Elections was cutting corners in its administration of the election.

District Attorney George Gascon released a statement about the case following today's sentencing.

"The right to vote is the basis of our democracy and will not be trampled on," Gascon said. "As a poll worker, this defendant was entrusted to protect this right. Instead, the defendant violated that trust. This sentence makes clear that San Francisco voters will not be disenfranchised."

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