SAN FRANCISCO - 10/22/2018 (PRDistribution.com)
In June 2003, Judge Angela Bradstreet spoke with the L.A. Times in response to potential ethical dilemmas posed by judges’ membership of Boy Scouts of America due to the organization’s exclusion of gay men. While campaigning to amend the California Code of Judicial Ethics, she encouraged judges to recuse themselves from cases where membership in the Boys Scouts might “give an appearance of partiality” in adjudicating cases involving gay parties.
The issue is, if Judge Bradstreet believed that mere association to the Boys Scout would give the appearance of bias, why did the judge not believe the same would apply to her? That is to say, Judge Bradstreet’s veneer of fairness only runs so deep. It is unfortunately ironic that Judge Bradstreet herself exhibited textbook-perfect bias in her own courtroom, where her own passions obscured her ability to be rational in the case of City of San Francisco v. Kihagi.
In presenting the case against local landlord Anne Kihagi, Deputy City Attorney Michael Weiss strategically played on Judge Bradstreet’s known affiliation to the gay community and alleged that Ms. Kihagi was driven by an anti-gay agenda because of her properties’ locations in predominantly gay communities. It is important to note that, until Judge Bradstreet was assigned to the case, such labels were not even used, proving that the City was trying to gain allegiance however they could. Judge Bradstreet had already ruled to deny Ms. Kihagi an opportunity to testify on her own behalf, which meant that she could not even refute these claims. The truth is that Ms. Kihagi had no discriminatory agenda; in fact, any evictions she made were a result of lease violations.
The issue with this case, therefore, is not any underlying bias on the part of Ms. Kihagi – the issue is that the judge, who publicly demanded impartiality from all in her field, failed to show that same equal consideration in her own courtroom.
Judge Bradstreet’s first mistake was not recusing herself from the case, knowing that her emotions might take over (although it is possible she never consciously realized this potential). Regardless, the standard should be the same: if she thought that potentially biased judges should recuse themselves, she should have recognized the potential conflict in her own life and recused herself, especially seeing as the City did not use an anti-gay angle until Judge Bradstreet was assigned. That didn’t raise any red flags? The judge’s second critical mistake was allowing this bias to prevail and prevent her from seeing the plain-as-day facts and malfeasance right in front of her. If she could not recognize the potential of her own bias, how could she be trusted to make fair and just rulings?
The issue at hand is not that Judge Bradstreet is gay or an advocate for gay rights – providing vocal support for the community is commendable. What is problematic is that she made her judgment at the outset of the case because of the City’s strategic framing and thus closed herself off from facts or evidence presented. That instantaneous refusal to listen is the absolute antithesis of judicial ethical integrity.
Had Judge Bradstreet taken the time to really listen to – and see through – the City’s case, she might not have penalized Ms. Kihagi with millions of dollars in fines for incidents that don’t even make sense. For instance, she would have recognized that a male couple with a combined weight of 500 pounds screaming at seeing their black landlord in broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon was not normal, and that adding a $5,000 penalty only proved her bias. She would have believed a pregnant couple who said they willingly moved out because they needed more room for their expanding family, rather than assume that they were moving because Ms. Kihagi interfered with their quiet enjoyment and penalize for another $36,000. She would have chosen to look more critically at inconsistencies raised by Defense attorneys instead of ruling based off of a misrepresented advertisement. She would have stopped herself from inexplicably fining Ms. Kihagi for thousands of dollars for politely asking a willing tenant to move off the stairs during an open house as this was common sensical to avoid anyone tripping.
Judge Bradstreet willingly ignored the professional third-party testimony of five building inspectors, instead choosing to believe the negative opinion of the sole inspector with no plumbing or electrical experience who never stepped foot in Ms. Kihagi’s buildings adding another $1.25 million in penalties.
Does this sound like a fair and open judge? Even beyond her rulings themselves, she physically exhibited “an appearance of partiality” when she sneered at Ms. Kihagi during the trial on several occasions.
In the face of many more unconstitutional and anger-fueled blind rulings, Judge Bradstreet continued to show a complete disregard for the facts and neglected the very same impartiality for which she advocates. In many cases, the factual evidence totally contradicted her rulings – a clear sign that bias is at work. For instance, over forty pages of messages among tenants were submitted as evidence, many of which detailed the tenants’ intent to cause Ms. Kihagi physical harm (“my woman wants to punch her in the face”) or celebrated their successful intimidation tactics (“we are the only building she does not frequent” and “she was fumbling her keys”). Despite this material proof, Judge Bradstreet determined that the tenants never meant to cause Ms. Kihagi any harm. Not only is this a blatant disregard for the facts, but it is complete neglect of and ambivalence toward another person’s sense of safety.
Adding insult to injury, it’s entirely possible that none of this will be reversed by the Court of Appeal, as the errors must be “material” and rooted in the laws themselves – it’s difficult to qualify actual judgment, though not when looking at the rulings all together. Even still, the Court of Appeal cannot take on every case it gets, so these rulings have the potential to continue punishing a businesswoman with no anti-gay sentiments for having an anti-gay agenda.
It’s true that examining a single ruling might seem like a brief error in judgment, but when looking at all these decisions together, it’s clear that Judge Bradstreet wanted to punish Ms. Kihagi even if the facts, evidence, and laws didn’t support it. Sadly, if Judge Bradstreet would have allowed herself to hear both sides, she would have learned that this was not an attack on the gay community at all. This was a group of tenants looking to hurt someone and a landlord trying to uphold signed lease documents – it’s that simple. Instead of Judge Bradstreet learning this truth, Ms. Kihagi has learned how crushing the unchecked bias of a judge can be.
For more information on Anne Kihagi and West 18 Properties, visithttp://annekihagisf.com/