BASF Press Release

The Bar Association of San Francisco Renews Its Call to Protect Judicial Independence

March 27, 2024—In recent days, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kay Tsenin has received threats in response to her sentence in the case of Daniel Cauich, the homeless man who stabbed an elderly Asian-American woman. Late last week, Judge Tsenin did not come to the courthouse, due to safety concerns.  This is appalling.

This is not the first time that the Bar Association of San Francisco has felt compelled to speak out in defense of the judiciary – just last November, we published an op-ed in the Chronicle  “Stop making judges the scapegoats for San Francisco’s problems.”  Tensions in the City are now even higher over concerns about maintaining public safety under a complex criminal justice system. We have just emerged from a highly contentious judicial election where two well-respected judges had to contend with a slew of misstatements about their records. While San Franciscans reelected those judges in the March elections, the campaigns against the judges have eroded some people’s faith in the judiciary.

Regrettably, recent statements by elected officials are contributing to an atmosphere of hostility toward local judges. The Bar Association of San Francisco is particularly concerned about the substance and tone of some of District Attorney Brooke Jenkins’ recent remarks. On March 15, DA Jenkins took to X (formerly Twitter) claiming that, as a result of the sentence, “all San Franciscans were left less safe today,” that her office faces “staunch resistance within the courthouse” and that Judge Tsenin’s decision was “reckless.”

In truth, Judge Tsenin was well within the bounds of the law in imposing her sentence. First, the prosecution never alleged this was a hate crime, which would have carried a higher penalty – Mr. Cauich, who apparently was hearing voices and has a history of substance abuse and a traumatic brain injury, appeared to have attacked the victim at random. There was no claim that his crimes were racially motivated. The indicated sentence was not simply probation, rather a 10-year suspended prison sentence (meaning a violation of probation would trigger a 10-year prison term); his sentence is conditional: he must abide by 5 years of focused supervision by a specialist court – the Intensive Supervision Court, which provides clinical case management, including cognitive behavioral therapy, substance abuse treatment and counseling. He is subject to search conditions and more.

The atmosphere in the City is overheated - dangerously so. A well-respected judge who has given decades of service has been threatened for doing her job. Will someone, someday carry out such a threat? How many judges will decide cases not on the facts and the law – as they are required to do – but on the expected public reaction or the latest rancor? This is the moment when we, as citizens, must protect our democracy by protecting our judges.

The Bar Association of San Francisco calls on our community to stand up for judicial independence, to speak out against attacks on judges and to demand more of our leaders. The judiciary is a bulwark against overreach by the other branches. Let’s give our judges the ability to carry out their duties.

We call on our elected officials to exercise restraint.