Daniel Blank is taking the week off. And if you had won his recent verdict, you probably would, too.

Blank, an assistant federal public defender in San Francisco, was lead counsel in the trial of David Lin, who spent the past six years incarcerated, awaiting trial on charges that he killed a man by sending him a pipe bomb disguised as a robot dog. On Feb. 23, a federal jury in San Jose acquitted Lin; he was released that afternoon.

The case was never an easy one for prosecutors. Lin admits he sent the package in 2001 but said he didn’t know what was in it � and even the prosecutors agree that it was Lin’s friend, Anthony Chang, who built the bomb to kill Chang’s ex-wife’s brother, Patrick Hsu.

But the U.S. attorney’s office had one major leverage point: Officials with the Justice Department in Washington decided to aim for a death verdict against Lin, the only defendant in the case since Chang is on the lam in Venezuela.

So for five years the efforts of the defense team � then led by Assistant Federal Public Defender Nicholas Humy � were directed at ensuring Lin wouldn’t be killed.

“The strategy before was just to hold out to make sure he didn’t get death,” Blank said Monday morning, speaking from his cell phone on his way to spend a day in the redwoods. “It took five years to do that.”

Blank said it was Humy’s work that got death off the table about a year ago. But after Humy was diagnosed with cancer last year (he’s currently in remission and back at work), Blank stepped in to take over the case.

Even without a capital case, the prosecutors pursued a first-degree murder charge, creating a tough standard for themselves since the jury had no option to convict Lin of a lesser crime.

The severity of the charge, Blank said, played a big part in the victory. “What should have happened when they withdrew death is they should have offered some sort of negligent homicide, which we might have taken,” he added.

Instead, the government went to trial, and Blank, along with Assistant Federal Public Defender Angela Hansen, managed to convince the jury that the sole murderer was Chang.

By the time the jury went out, Blank said, he was optimistic his client would go free.

“We had 10 good days,” he said. “We had a good day, and another good day, and another good day, and I thought, ‘When would we have a bad day?’ We didn’t.”

Justin Scheck


The same day last week that the state inspector general reported the grim conditions (.pdf) at the state’s largest juvenile correctional facility in Chino, Alameda County officials opened the doors of the county’s new Juvenile Justice Center for tours and a dedication ceremony.

For the first time, this San Leandro facility will put treatment, education and court services in one place, according to Board of Supervisors President Scott Haggerty.

The $176 million complex � which includes six maximum-security units � contains five courthouses and 300 beds. It is 2 1/2 times larger than the old juvenile hall and can expand capacity to 360 beds, according to county officials.

Given the large volume of cases, the new center is a welcome relief. Every year, approximately 4,500 new juvenile cases are filed and 41,000 hearings are conducted.

For now, about 240 detained youths are still living at the old juvenile hall, which includes buildings dating back to 1939. They’re expected to be transferred in either April or May.

The long-awaited facility � with its natural light and colorful, feel-good artwork � counters the “stereotypical notion of the courts as punishment and little else,” said Gail Brewster Bereola, the presiding judge of the juvenile court.

“It’s a place of healing,” Bereola said.

The green building’s indoor environmental quality is particularly important because the detainees spend 85 percent of their time indoors, said James Kachik, deputy director of the county’s general services agency.

Among the state-of-the-art features are electronically equipped touch-screen doors and an equipment room where guards can monitor the 127 cameras strategically placed throughout the center.

The cameras, Superintendent Ron Johnson said, will be crucial for keeping detainees in line.

Millie Lapidario