Public defender blasts judge’s decision to jail homeless defendant 

A 64-year-old homeless man was sent to County Jail on a judge’s orders last month to “punish” his attorney for voicing concerns over his client’s mental health, according to the Public Defender’s Office, which blasted the jailing as an “egregious” abuse of authority by the court.

Ronald Gill has been in jail since March 20, just as his trial for a 2012 misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence was about to begin.

Gill, who has bipolar disorder, believed that his defense attorney, Herman Holland, was “conspiring” with police to fabricate breath-test results and put him behind bars, he told Judge Ronald Albers, who runs The City’s courtroom for defendants with mental health issues.

Holland asked for the trial to be delayed while Gill underwent a psychiatric evaluation. Albers agreed, but put Gill in custody to wait for a doctor’s evaluation, according to court records. The defendant had previously not been incarcerated for the case.

Gill will be in jail in lieu of bail until at least April 16, the date of his next hearing.

That’s a stiffer sentence than Gill would have received had he pleaded guilty to the offense in the first place, said an outraged Matt Gonzalez, the chief attorney for the Public Defender’s Office.

“This is egregious,” said Gonzalez, who believes Albers put Gill in jail in a fit of pique over Holland asking for a delay. “If he had pled guilty, he’d be free with no jail time. The whole thing is a farce. It’s quite offensive.”

Albers, a former defense attorney who spent 22 years at the Public Defender’s Office before overseeing The City’s Behavioral Health Court, was on vacation Thursday and could not be reached for comment, a clerk at his Hall of Justice office said.

It costs about $140 a day to keep a person in custody, according to Gonzalez.

During a March 28 bail hearing, Albers set Gill’s bail at $30,000 due to concerns over “public safety” — specifically, the risk Gill would pose behind the wheel of a car.

However, Gill has no car and his license is suspended, Holland said.

The ruling to hold Gill is “uncharacteristic” of Albers, who has a reputation as a patient and accommodating judge, according to George Bisharat, a law professor at UC Hastings College of the Law.

“If the reason why Judge Albers remanded [Gill] into custody is because he suspected [Holland] was delaying, that would be improper,” said Bisharat, himself a former public defender, whose supervising attorney was Albers. “It sounds like he [Gill] got a raw deal.”

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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