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Terence Hallinan should not seek reelection to a third term as San Francisco district attorney. His handling — or rather, mishandling — of the indictments of Police Chief Earl Sanders and Deputy Chief Alex Fagan Sr. has been a national embarrassment, and for that sin alone, he should reconsider a run. But the DA’s catalog of catastrophe began long before this sorry episode. From nearly the day he won election in 1995, Hallinan has turned the San Francisco district attorney’s office into the legal equivalent of a tornado-prone trailer park, lashed by media storms and political trash talk. The DA has a talent for personally taking on headline-grabbing cases — and then screwing them up. Remember the botched prosecution of a San Francisco landlord accused of involuntary manslaughter for a fatal deck collapse at one of the landlord’s buildings? Or how about the time a judge booted Hallinan from a gang murder case because of his courthouse antics and media posturing? Hallinan recently told the San Francisco Chronicle he views the prosecution of Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller — the married attorneys whose dog mauled a woman to death — as his “finest hour.” He would. The dog-mauling trial was a salacious frenzy of tabloid headlines. And Hallinan seems to conveniently forget that a judge tossed the second-degree murder conviction against Knoller for insufficient evidence. Then again, at least the office got a conviction. During Hallinan’s first term, a pathetic percentage of criminals went to prison. The numbers were so bad that even the public defender at the time — Jeff Brown — sounded the alarm bells. Yet voters forgave Hallinan. And in 1999, he bumbled back into office by the barest of margins. Hallinan purports to personify the values that a majority of San Franciscans want from their DA: a liberal who focuses on the crimes that matter — murder, robbery and the like — while taking a more humane approach to offenses like drug possession and prostitution; a free-thinker who won’t bend to the will of the cops and isn’t afraid to prosecute the police brass for wrongdoing; a progressive boss who hires women and minorities to fill key jobs. The DA contends he is a check on the excesses of Mayor Willie Brown’s administration, corralling Brown cronies like Hector Chinchilla, the planning commissioner accused of multiple conflict-of-interest violations. (Three of the seven counts Hallinan’s office brought against Chinchilla were just dismissed, by the way.) It all sounds so good. If only voters hadn’t been betrayed by Hallinan’s buffoonery. If only his office hadn’t lost scores of veteran lawyers. If only we didn’t know that the DA slithered into office in 1995 as a friend of Brown’s and turned against the mayor when he needed progressive votes to win reelection four years later. Political calculation has been the hallmark of Hallinan’s tenure. And the DA’s decisions during the current police scandal seem to rely less on law than on pure election-year strategy. Despite his awful courtroom record over his tenure, Hallinan took on the case himself — a sure way to grab headlines. And though he essentially told the grand jury the case against the chief and deputy chief was weak, he ignored that fact and moved ahead full steam when the grand jury indicted them. Imagine the political windfall that could have accumulated if Hallinan actually had a case. Progressive voters would have been energized for the fall election. And the focus of media and voters would have been on public corruption, not on quality-of-life issues — like street crime — that Hallinan is weak on. Actually, he did succeed in readjusting the political spotlight. Now everyone’s focusing on his ineptitude. Corruption should be investigated, and cops are not above the law. Likewise district attorneys must be above politics — particularly when public safety is at stake. The DA’s behavior during this scandal proves that he is incapable of fulfilling the duties of his office. After 7 1/2 very long years, it’s time for Terence Hallinan to step aside.

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