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Letter to the Recorder Editor from 2009 President Russell Roeca

Cartoon seems to sanction violence in courtroom


April 24, 2009

To The Recorder:

I am writing on behalf of The Bar Association of San Francisco regarding the cartoon that appeared in the Ad Hominem section of the April 17 Recorder. That cartoon depicts members of the public defender's office assaulting Judge Anne-Christine Massullo. In fact, in the cartoon Deputy Public Defender Kwixuan Maloof has the judge in a headlock and is jabbing a finger into her head. This cartoon no doubt is an attempt at an amusing follow-on to the April 15 Recorder article that details apparent tensions between at least some members of the public defender's office and Judge Massullo ["Some S.F. PDs avoid judge in misdemeanors"].

I do not write to take a position on the merits of the situation described in the article. I do, however, write to suggest caution in the publication of cartoons that appear to sanction courtroom violence. I do so as one who is a staunch supporter of the First Amendment's protection of press freedom. But I also do so because of the very unfortunate history of violence in our society against members of the bench. The cases of such physical attacks against judges have been many; the terrible stabbing of a Stockton jurist sadly is only the most recent. Ironically even on April 22, in a wholly unrelated Recorder article, security concerns were cited as a reason the Sixth District Court of Appeal is seeking to relocate its courthouse [" Edifice Complex "]. As noted by Chief Justice Ronald George, "Courthouses must be a safe harbor to which members of the public come to resolve disputes that often are volatile. Once courthouses themselves are perceived as dangerous, the integrity and efficacy of the entire judicial process is in jeopardy."

While appreciating First Amendment concern s and not wanting to be seen as dour, I urge caution in portraying violence in the courts. Cartoons such as the one published, no doubt unintentionally, may encourage brutality against members of the bench. That would be a serious and unacceptable consequence none of us wants.


Russell S. Roeca
2009 President, The Bar Association of San Francisco

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