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Police Chief Earl Sanders, some members of the San Francisco Superior Court bench and the city attorney’s office all apparently knew months ago that there was possibly a systemic problem with the San Francisco Police Department’s response to Pitchess motions. But none of them bothered to mention it to the defense bar. “I went to several judges that I respect and asked them how to proceed,” said Sgt. Reno Rapagnani, the police lawyer who uncovered what at best could be a handful of isolated Pitchess violations, but at worst could cast doubt on hundreds of criminal cases. “I did go to the judges that I had the best rapport with and they said, ‘You’ve got to do this, this, this and this,’” Rapagnani said. He declined to name the judges, saying his conversations with them were off the record. “It’s disturbing because they should have come forward right away and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem, we’ve got to fix it,’” said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when the media finds out these things before the justice system.” Rapagnani said he was troubled by the discovery that police personnel records may not have been turned over in response to court orders routinely sought by defendants in criminal cases. The discovery was triggered by a press account of a damning internal memo about Alex Fagan Jr., the cop at the center of District Attorney Terence Hallinan’s case against three officers involved in an off-duty brawl and five members of police department brass accused of trying to cover it up. That memo was not in Fagan’s records at the Hall of Justice. After investigating, Rapagnani learned that some material considered disciplinary in nature was routinely kept at stations and not recorded at the Hall of Justice. Rapagnani said he notified his supervisor, who then took the unusual step of calling in Police Chief Earl Sanders. When the situation was explained to Sanders, Rapagnani said, the chief was supportive and told him to do whatever he had to do to rectify the problem. However, Rapagnani and his wife, fellow police lawyer Sgt. Leanna Dawydiak, later quit the legal department because they felt its response was inadequate. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Donna Hitchens said she had not been notified of the problem by any judge. She said whether they should have told her is hard to know from Rapagnani’s account. “I’m not sure there is a protocol,” Hitchens said. After talking to Sanders, Rapagnani sought and received an opinion from the city attorney’s office advising the police department to adopt new procedures. However, Rapagnani said that more needs to be done to ensure the department was and is in compliance with court orders under Pitchess. Last week, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera welcomed a court investigation, but downplayed the seriousness of the problem. He said Herrera planned to meet with Adachi and police lawyers to make sure Pitchess motions are handled correctly. There are several places where police disciplinary records are kept. Anything considered disciplinary is supposed to be forwarded to the internal affairs department, which — even if it decides to take no action against the officers — is supposed to log the complaint or report before it is returned to the local stations. The Fagan memo was either never sent to internal affairs or was never logged. Rapagnani hopes the problem is a narrow one, but said there are other places that need to be searched, including field training report files. “They’re all in one spot; it would be a pain to do, but we’ve got to do it,” Rapagnani said. Meanwhile, Rapagnani said he has spent $3,500 so far trying to get a retraction from the San Francisco Examiner and columnist Warren Hinckle in an effort to clear his and his wife’s name. In a Feb. 6 column, Hinckle accused Rapagnani and his wife of leaking the damning Fagan memo. “The disclosure of a confidential personnel record is a misdemeanor, a crime,” Hinckle wrote. But Rapagnani says he couldn’t have leaked the memo because it was missing from the central file. Rapagnani’s libel lawyer, Charles Morgan Jr. of San Francisco, said the newspaper is considering a retraction. Darrell Salomon, a lawyer for Examiner parent company ExIn LLC, said Friday that the paper had not yet made a decision.

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