A MySpace blog entry written by a former intern in the San Francisco public defender’s office has prompted the superior court and Public Defender Jeff Adachi to look into whether a lawyer in Adachi’s office was once told to keep Asians off a jury.
The blogger, Carrie Wipplinger, posted an entry on Sept. 3 about a case that she said involved a drunken man whom authorities found receiving oral sex in a car.
“I got to listen in on a conference regarding jury selection,” she wrote. “My bosses gave the following advice to the lawyer … don’t pick any Asian jurors, because (and I quote): ‘Asians don’t drink, they love Jesus, and they’re creeped out by everything.’”
She wrote that the lawyer followed that advice, and the client was acquitted.
The attorneys who worked with the intern deny making such a comment, and it appears that at least one Asian-American juror was seated on that jury.
Both the California and U.S. supreme courts have declared that attorneys may not use their peremptory challenges, which generally do not require any explanation, to dismiss jurors solely because of race or ethnicity.
The blogger identifies herself only as Carrie, a 32-year-old law student in San Francisco. Adachi confirmed that she is Wipplinger, a Golden Gate University School of Law student who interned during the fall.
Wipplinger could not be reached for comment by telephone and did not respond to MySpace messages sent Tuesday and Thursday. Adachi said lawyers who worked with Wipplinger told him they never made the statement about Asians. Furthermore, the facts of the case that Wipplinger described do not bear her post out entirely, he said.
“We in no way would discriminate against any particular ethnic group or racial group during jury selection, or any other aspect of the public that we serve,” said Adachi, who saw the blog Thursday after being told about it by The Recorder. “If this type of comment were made, it would be completely contrary to what we practice in the public defender’s office.”
After reviewing the blog, Adachi said, he got in touch with the deputy public defenders who had worked with Wipplinger. They pointed him to People v. Ross Robinson, a case that finished in late August, a week before Wipplinger’s Sept. 3 blog post. A San Francisco prosecutor who asked not to be named and was not involved in People v. Robinson independently found the same case that Adachi’s lawyers recalled after he was told the details of Wipplinger’s post.
The timing and some facts of the Robinson case roughly match Wipplinger’s description: Robinson faced lewd conduct and public nuisance charges after police said they found him and a woman having sex in a car, and the district attorney’s office dismissed charges against Robinson after the jury hung.
Adachi said the deputy public defender assigned to the case, Lateef Gray, and his supervisor, Kwixuan Maloof, both denied that they or anyone else made the statement about Asians. On Friday, Maloof said that Wipplinger got several facts wrong: Robinson’s jury hung, he was not acquitted; there was no testimony or evidence that Robinson was drunk; and by his recollection one or two people of Asian descent made it onto the jury.
According to court documents, Maloof said, 54 people were called to jury duty for the Robinson case, 15 with Asian surnames, and on the list of potential jurors that attorneys must progress down as they conduct voir dire, eight of the first 20 people had Asian surnames. It would be impossible, in practice, for an attorney with such a jury panel to continually dismiss Asians without being challenged, he said.
Gray could not be reached for comment.
Adachi said that Wipplinger’s blog — which mixes personal accounts described in a sarcastic and light tone with stories about her internship — is “highly inappropriate” and that he questioned its trustworthiness.
Superior Court Presiding Judge James McBride, who also was first made aware of the blog by The Recorder , said he looked into whether the case described by Wipplinger actually occurred, but that “just because I read it on a blog doesn’t mean it’s true.”
“I think, seeing the blog, that it’s surprising and kind of disturbing, and the first place to look is for Jeff [Adachi]‘s office to look into it,” he said. “But certainly the presiding judge can’t foreclose looking into this case or anything else that has to do with the integrity of the jury trial system.”
During the Summer 2008 term, Wipplinger was named to the dean’s list and received an academic award for her work in a constitutional law course, according to the Golden Gate law school’s Web site. Her blog chronicles a roughly 10-month period beginning in February and encompasses her four-month internship at the public defender’s office, which ended in December. The case involving the potentially illegal juror challenges is one of several internship experiences she wrote about on her blog.
Adachi said he was “dismayed” that an intern would “apparently write a public blog about her experiences here, including supposedly confidential discussions that she was privy to.” He said he is satisfied by Gray and Maloof’s explanations and though he is “certainly interested” in speaking with Wipplinger, “she’s not here and she’s not an employee.”
Bryan Hawkins, a San Francisco-based attorney at the firm Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis, prosecuted the Robinson case while working at the district attorney’s office on a temporary loan program. Hawkins said on Friday that he could not remember whether anyone of Asian descent made it onto the jury, nor whether Gray appeared to be targeting Asians or any other group with his challenges.
Adachi, a fourth-generation Japanese-American who wrote and directed a documentary film about Asian stereotypes in cinema, said he “would be deeply offended by a suggestion that a whole group of people should be excluded from a jury.” He said that, with more than 200 staff members and 200 interns working in the public defender’s office each year, Wipplinger’s blog “doesn’t reflect on my administration.”
Like the tales of Southern prosecutors routinely dismissing African-American jurors in cases involving African-American defendants, the stereotype of law-and-order Asian Americans does exist among some defense attorneys, said former San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Brown.
“The thinking basically is this: that Asians are law-abiding people for one, they have a low crime rate within their community, number three, they’re a highly educated community, and number four, there’s a thought that they don’t particularly like most of the people in the criminal class,” Brown said.
He said that defense attorneys are torn between their obligation to zealously represent their clients and obtain the most favorable jury they can, while also obeying the laws regarding discrimination. He said that one way to clear the haze around peremptory challenges would be to follow the recommendation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s opinion in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986): to eliminate them altogether.
“People live their life through preconceptions, there’s no question about it,” he said. “Don’t put the attorney in this conflicting field.”