Santa Clara County Judicial Candidates Asked to Respond to Issues of Homelessness

On May 18th, the Stop the Ban Coalition (STB) -- a broad coalition of groups opposed to criminalizing the homeless -- held a judicial candidate forum in Palo Alto, CA. Annrae Angel was the only candidate to attend, and she along with candidate Julianne Sylva submitted written responses presented by coalition member Aram James. The forum, and written correspondence, is precedent setting in that it serves as the first time judicial candidates were asked to respond to the homeless community and advocates. All 2014 Santa Clara County judicial candidates -- Judge Diane Ritchie, Deputy District Attorney Matt Harris, Defense Attorney Annrae Angel, Deputy District Attorney Julianne Sylva, Defense Attorney Dennis Lempert, and Deputy District Attorney Stuart Scott -- were invited by the Stop the Ban coalition to participate in the forum and submit written responses, and were told their writings would be posted on the De-Bug website. Below is a summary of Annrae Angel's verbal responses in the forum from the moderator STB member Edie Keating, and Annrae Angel's and Julianne Sylva's written responses to the separate set of written questions by the STB coalition. Forum organizers say the candidates who have not responded in writing to the questions from the coalition are encouraged to submit writings up until June 2nd, 2014.

Stop the Ban coalition members Aram James and Edie Keating discuss issues with judicial candidate Annrae Angel (in center).

Santa Clara County Judicial Candidate Forum
Focus – Intersection of Law and Homelessness
Meeting Summary and Responses from Candidate Annrae Angel
by Edie Keating

All Santa Clara County judicial candidates were invited to this forum, focused on the intersection of law and homelessness.  Annrae Angel was the one candidate who attended the forum.  Edie Keating, STB member, moderated the meeting and started with three questions she presented.  After the discussion regarding these questions, others present asked questions and made statements regarding homeless/unsheltered persons, car dwellers/vehicle habitation bans, and criminalization of the unsheltered and those who use their vehicles to provide shelter (vehicle dwellers).

Stop the Ban thanks Candidate Annrae Angel (Candidate for Judge of the Superior Court, Office #24) for her attendance at the forum and her open participation. We also thank Candidate Julianne Sylva (Candidate for Judge of the Superior Court, Office #21) for providing written responses. Other candidates have not provided written responses.

Question #1: Imagine three different individuals in your courtroom for a similar offense, which often carries a penalty of $1,000. Suppose they have incomes of 500K, 60,000, 10,000 or $0 income. Please comment on your options to consider the varying financial circumstances of these individuals as a judge. 

Candidate Angel’s Response:
Income should not matter in having access to the court. A person’s ability to pay is not information a judge automatically receives and it is up to the person’s attorney to state this information. A judge has the prerogative of other types of payment, eg. community service. Candidate Angel was asked if judges read police reports, which aren’t admitted as evidence, and she stated some judges ask permission to read these reports. She stated the person can be sentenced up to a year in the County jail for breaking a law. A person also has a right to a jury trial if he/she has been charged with a felony or misdemeanor.   Also the defense attorney and DA can work out a plea bargain.

Question #2: While we all live in the same region, our different cities each have their own relationship with the homeless, including their own laws, and their own standards for enforcement. Please comment on the cities where you live and work, and your perception of the place the homeless have in those communities, and how you see those communities balancing the needs and rights of all citizens, and the needs and rights of the homeless. 

Candidate Angel’s Response:
A Judge’s primary job is to follow the laws equally for all citizens in various communities within her jurisdiction. (She lives in Santa Cruz and is knowledgeable regarding the panhandling ban there.)    Candidate Angel also commented on balancing the needs of homeowners with the needs of the unhoused, saying that one can generally have confidence that the needs of homeowners will not be forgotten, while more care is needed to make sure that the needs of the homeless are not overlooked.

Question #3: Palo Alto’s ban on car dwelling is currently suspended, but consider if the ban becomes enforced, and car dwelling becomes a misdemeanor offense in these possible situations:

A longtime, extremely low income van dweller, quiet and low profile, is cited for seeping in a vehicle.

A van dweller who circulates between several sites, and is not low profile is cited for sleeping in a vehicle.

An out of state family member who has been staying in a RV on city streets for three months is cited for sleeping in a vehicle.

Candidate Angel’s Response:
She stated she would follow the law/laws in each case which is “my role as a judge”.  She reminded the group that advocating for appropriate laws and enforcement is the task of groups like Stop the Ban.

Meeting Conclusion:
After these questions and our discussion,   Aram James, who had invited Candidate Angel to the meeting, commended her for coming to the STB meeting.  She stated she believes it is important for candidates to meet with grass roots groups. She reminded us that a significant part of her practice has included representing indigent and low income individuals in her practice as a criminal defense attorney, and stated that she is confident she has the intelligence and experience to serve well as a judge.


Written Responses by Judicial Candidates to the Stop The Ban Coalition Questions:

Candidate Julianne Sylva

Question #1: Your views on the intersection of law and homelessness. What role, if any, can you conceive for yourself, as a judge, in mitigating this social problem?

Julianne Sylva: I have had the honor to work in four different therapeutic courts during my career:  adult and juvenile drug treatment courts, STOP domestic violence/mental health court, and the adult truancy court that I helped to establish.  My experience in these courts has shown me that there is a connection between socioeconomic standing and involvement in the criminal justice system.  Unfortunately, individuals who are not able to get or maintain economic security are often not able to get access to public health, mental health, nutrition assistance and public housing assistance.  When this occurs, a problem that may be easily resolved by a person with access to resources is compounded for a person who lacks the same advantages and such obstacles can easily overwhelm the person. I have seen this happen with individuals who lose their job, their home, their family and who turn to street drugs or alcohol as a salve or escape and who then resort to theft crimes in order to survive.

I am a firm believer in the benefit of therapeutic courts.  While I do not believe that it is the court's primary job to resolve all of society's problems, when an individual enters the justice system driven by an unresolved need for which they are unable to get help, my view is that the court work with probation, county and non-profit agencies and the community to attempt to resolve the underlying issue to help heal the individual.  This approach has been embraced by other jurisdictions and is sometimes referred to as "holistic law."  

Question #2: Are there collaborative options–solutions that you would consider i.e., once a month taking your court to where the unhoused reside to resolve infractions and low level misdemeanors, knowing that it can often be a great hardship for the unhoused to make numerous court appearances?

Julianne Sylva: One of the issues I have seen that contributes to the number of bench warrants is lack of transportation.  (A bench warrant is when an individual facing criminal charges fails to appear in court after receiving notice of the hearing.  When this happens, the court has the power to issue a "bench warrant" for the person's arrest.) I see this quite often on the truancy calendars I handle.  In many cases, especially for juveniles charged with truancy who often fail to appear before the hearing officer due to lack of transportation or because their parents cannot take time from their job or else risk losing it in this competitive economy. 

I am working on a pilot program with Gilroy High's Assistant Principal Mr. Bruce Corbett, juvenile probation, and the Gilroy Police Department.  Mr. Corbett worked in another county with a student population that has similar economic/language/transportation issues as many of our families in Gilroy.  He suggested that we bring an evening truancy court to the families in South County, rather than have them travel from Gilroy to San Jose and back in a day.  Not only is it a great distance to travel but the hearings typically occur during the work day, which would cause parents to have to miss an entire day of work and possibly risk losing their job.  Our first attempt at this new model will be later this month and we are hopeful that it will be a success. 

I do not know how much latitude I will have as a new judge and I know that there are possible court security and union issues that will have to be addressed, but I will do all I can in my power to keep myself informed about social issues, to brainstorm to try to resolve these concerns creatively with the help of county and non-profit groups, and to advocate for changes in order to bring justice for all. 

Question #3: Based on your experiences as a prosecutor, your community involvement, etc., what makes you particularly well suited to be a judge who would create solutions/options that might even be seen as non-conventional isuch as -- employing a restorative justice model as opposed to a punitive model to your sentencing practice in certain types of cases?

Julianne Sylva:  I have been a prosecutor for the past 23 years and have worked in many different assignments, handling a large variety of cases, at all stage of prosecution.  I have been fortunate to work in therapeutic courts under role models such as the Hon. Stephen Manley and Hon. Sharon Chatman, both of whom embrace holistic law and therapeutic jurisprudence. 

I am certain that I am known to go above and beyond what is considered the typical prosecutor's role.  I did not anticipate I would ever run for judge.  In fact, I often stated I would never undertake a judicial campaign, mainly because I am comfortable working for justice because of justice and not because I want to attract political attention.  The things I have done to improve our community I did because they were the right things to do, and not for any other reason. 

As a community prosecutor I worked in East San Jose with truant teenagers and various community non-profit organizations trying to keep students in class and out of gangs.  Bilingual in English and Spanish, I serve as the chair of the local Boy Scouts Hispanic Initiative in an effort to bring scouting to kids from homes where their parents only speak Spanish.  I organized a donation drive for gently used camping equipment so that our first troop of high school boys could go to sleep-away camp fully equipped.

After learning how many of our children take to the streets after sharing their sexual orientation with friends and family, I met with the directors of Youth Space and asked them if I could run a coat/sweater drive to collect warm clothing for their clients, many of whom are homeless.  We collected 2 1/2 car loads of clothing for the teens.

When I supervised the Child Abduction Unit I simplified our case intake procedure established by my predecessor because the system was so complicated.  My fear was that individuals would not seek our assistance if they spoke another language, were unfamiliar with our judicial system, feared law enforcement or were illiterate.  Our intake procedure was so complicated that a traumatized parent who is trying to seek their abducted child could not possibly navigate the system to open a case with us.  I cut our application from 26 pages to 6 pages and initiated an intake interview where we could gently screen for English comprehension, literacy, and cognitive impairment that would make it difficult for a parent to recover a child on their own.  To more ably assist individuals with cognitive processing issues, I linked with family law attorneys willing to work pro bono or for  reduced fees and I worked with our family law clinic to inform them when we had a special case in which the parents needed immediate and personal assistance. 

Unrelated to my work as a prosecutor, I have organized my co-workers to donate the following:  used cell phones to give to organizations serving domestic violence victims; children's books for a local literary organization; and school supplies for a friend who teaches at one of our most impoverished public schools since their families could not afford basic school supplies.

I hope from these examples you can see that I have taken my role as a public servant, serving the people of this county very seriously: I work for you. As your judge, I will continue to serve you and will safeguard and uphold the principles of our Constitution and laws so that justice really is attainable for all. 

Candidate Annrae Angel:

Question #1: Your views on the intersection of law and homelessness. What role, if any, can you conceive for yourself, as a judge, in mitigating this social problem?

Annrae Angel: A judge must fair and unbiased to all parties before the court.  Whether a person has the benefit of a home or not has no bearing on how a case is decided. 

Question #2: Are there collaborative options–solutions that you would consider i.e., once a month taking your court to where the unhoused reside to resolve infractions and low level misdemeanors, knowing that it can often be a great hardship for the unhoused to make numerous court appearances?

Annrae Angel: Court proceedings are held in a courthouse for many reasons.  I would support methods that would make it easier for individuals to address court matters. However, any courtroom alternatives engaged in, would need to have the authorization of the court administration since it would also involve court staff and resources.

Question #3:  Based on your experiences as criminal defense attorney, your community involvement, etc., what makes you particularly well suited to be a judge who, would create solutions/options that might even be seen as non-conventional i.e., employing a restorative justice model as opposed to a punitive model to your sentencing practice, in certain types of cases?

Annrae Angel: I cannot and will not indicate what my sentencing model and practice will be, because each case will be decided on its own individual facts and circumstances.  That being said, I believe people are important, and I believe in accountability. In many cases a judge has the power of his/her discretion. I will exercise my discretion fairly and in accordance with the law and my conscience.


Also read Stop the Ban member Chuck Jagoda's commentary on the Judicial Candidate Forum published in the Palo Alto Patch:
The Intersection of the Law and Those Doing Without 



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