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FOR COURT AND OVERNMENT WORKERS, A POTLUCK SURPRISE On Dec. 8, two officers with the California Highway Patrol arrested 41-year-old Rudy Valentino Brooks at a BART station in Oakland, hoping to end a crime spree that had court and government employees on both sides of the Bay on edge. Brooks, of San Francisco, is accused of felony burglary and felony petty theft for allegedly stealing money from wallets and purses while posing as an employee or guest at government buildings. Victims worked in offices behind secure doors at City Hall, the State Building and the Federal Building in San Francisco and at the city hall annex in Oakland. Wanted posters, complete with a photo, went up on inner doorways, and employees — including those at the California Supreme Court — were on alert for days. CHP officer Eric Francies, who with fellow officer Tony Erves apprehended Brooks, said the alleged thief has a history of targeting government offices and has a unique modus operandi. “He dresses well and he waits ’til someone comes out of a door or goes in, and he pretends like he knows someone,” Francies said. “He’ll see a nameplate on an empty cubicle or office, so if anyone challenges him, he’ll say, ‘I’m looking for such and such a person.’ “He looks like he belongs, he acts like he belongs,” Francies said. “He even took part in a potluck lunch, where he got a plate and food. He’s very smooth, he’s very fast.” CHP Sgt. Jonathan Mobley, who’s stationed at San Francisco’s State Building, said his staff has encountered the defendant three times in the past. He said he even had to chase the man down a couple of years ago, catching him only with the help of a daring bike messenger who rode him down and jumped him. The defendant was hit with a parole violation that time, but, as always, came back to the scene of the crime. Both Mobley and Francies say the defendant lingers around people’s desks, learns where they keep their valuables, takes their cash and discards the wallets and purses behind copiers and other office equipment. Luckily, Francies said, there were witnesses on Dec. 8 in Oakland who saw the defendant slip out a back door and head to BART. Brooks was booked into Oakland Jail. Frederick “Fritz” Ohlrich, the administrator and clerk of the California Supreme Court, said the alleged thefts were “a big game” to the defendant, and that the whole thing should remind everyone in his building to be more vigilant. “It was a lesson to our people,” he said, “to say you can challenge somebody if they don’t have proper ID.” — Mike McKee GOING POSTAL Shawn Gementera’s buddy came before U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker last week, but Marvin Velasco was spared the heavy lifting forced upon Gementera. For those who don’t know, Gementera was the mail thief sentenced by Walker to wear a sandwich board in front of a local post office announcing his thievery to the world. He later got caught stealing mail again, though, and got two years in round two. Velasco, his partner in crime, was spared the sandwich board during sentencing last week. Walker, saying Velasco didn’t need as severe a punishment as Gementera, merely gave the scofflaw probation. He may still be forced to observe the lost and found window at a local post office, though nothing has been set yet. Meanwhile, Gementera is expected to appeal his sandwich board sentence to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals this week. So-called scarlet letter sentences seemed to be coming into vogue among state court judges a few years ago, but Walker is one of the first — if not the first — to hand down such a sentence at the federal level. Gementera’s lawyer, solo Arthur Wachtel, maintains that the sentence robs his client of dignity. Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Mary Schroeder recently initiated a long-term project aimed at finding new approaches to criminal punishment. Looks like one new tactic may be on the court’s docket sooner than anticipated. — Jason Hoppin DEATH MARCH Jon Streeter, a Keker & Van Nest partner who began his term as BASF president Wednesday, used his inaugural lunchtime speech in San Francisco to outline his ambitious goal of ending the death penalty. Streeter wants California to declare a moratorium while it conducts a comprehensive study of the costs and fairness of the system. “We need to weigh in on this issue,” Streeter said, “particularly now with a new governor coming in and taking a hard look at the fiscal implications of various aspects [of government].” Streeter, a member of BASF since 1981, said the cost of litigating capital cases should alone warrant review. “An entire industry has grown up around this,” Streeter said. “I fully expect that basic inquiry into whether the death penalty’s cost is justified should lead to a more fundamental examination of whether it’s being fairly applied.” – Renee Deger FUN WITH FURLOUGHS Christmas came early for the bean counters at San Francisco Superior Court, who surpassed a goal to shave $100,000 off the court’s annual budget with a voluntary furlough program. The court was off to a promising start when it racked up about $55,000 in savings through furloughs around Fourth of July and Labor Day. By October, court officials questioned how many additional people the court could spare for furloughs around Christmas and New Year’s, when many employees had already booked paid vacations. Lucky for the court, 12 workers asked to take furloughs instead of vacation days at the end of December. When all was said and done and the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s weeks were taken into account, the court’s savings had mounted to $113,827, said Human Resources Director Cheryl Martin. Presiding Judge Donna Hitchens, relieved to have avoided layoffs in a frightening fiscal year, notes that a hundred grand nearly covers two jobs for a year. “I think of everything in terms of positions.” — Pam Smith

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