Have two S.F. judges released dangerous criminals? Case records tell a more complex story

A group called Stop Crime Action says San Francisco Superior Court Judges Michael Begert and Patrick Thompson are soft on crime. The group says both judges have freed dangerous defendants while they were awaiting trial — but records of their cases appear to tell a somewhat different story.

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Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

The judges’ records are under scrutiny because both face election challenges in March. Most Superior Court judges are automatically elected to new six-year terms because they have no challengers, which was the case with Begert in 2018. 

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But while San Francisco’s rate of violent crime has been steadily declining, property crime rates, drug use and public fears are high, and their potency as a political issue was displayed in the 2022 recall of left-leaning District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

Stop Crime Action, founded by anti-crime activist Frank Noto with financial assistance from billionaire William Oberndorf, was active in Boudin’s recall and now is looking to change the composition of San Francisco’s courts. 

An affiliated group, Stop Crime SF, also led by Noto, recruited volunteers to watch judges’ handling of criminal cases. The group then issued “report cards” giving F grades to Begert and Thompson, quoting unnamed observers who called them arrogant, inept and biased. In the election campaign, Stop Crime Action is focusing on specific cases.

In one case, the group says, Begert, while presiding over San Francisco’s Drug Treatment Court, “repeatedly released a convicted sex offender,” Andrew Boddy, who was then accused of five additional crimes, after which Begert freed the defendant again.

Court records of the defendant provide a different picture. Begert described Boddy as “a highly traumatized, homeless, transgender woman with substance abuse and mental health challenges.” Boddy’s public defender said she uses feminine pronouns and the name Anna Boddy. Stop Crime Action identified Boddy by the male name listed in the court docket.

It’s true that Begert has released Boddy, but the judge says prosecutors never objected.

“Every time she returned to my court, it was with the agreement of the District Attorney’s Office,” Begert told the Chronicle.

As court records reflect, Boddy pleaded guilty to a burglary charge in January 2023 and, under a plea agreement with prosecutors, was returned to Drug Court for a medical referral. Begert said Boddy had some success in treatment but remained homeless and was “repeatedly assaulted on the streets.” When she was charged with another crime in May, he returned her case to criminal court.

Nevertheless, said Noto, Boddy had a record of sex crimes and violence before being initially released by Begert. “That is still 100% on Judge Begert regardless of what excuses he tries to make,” Noto said.

In another case, Stop Crime Action said Begert had referred a burglary defendant, Sebastian Mendez, to a treatment program, and released him from custody, even though he had dropped out of the program months earlier after a referral by another judge.

That is untrue, Begert said. He said he returned Mendez to criminal court after the defendant refused the recommended treatment, and that he remains in custody. Records kept by the sheriff’s office confirm that Mendez is in jail.

Such disputes are plentiful in the campaigns against Begert and Thompson, who is also being challenged for a new six-year term. 

In Thompson’s case, Noto’s organization has also accused the judge of returning dangerous defendants to the streets

In one case, Stop Crime Action said, the judge freed an accused and previously convicted drug dealer, Erik Ramos Diaz, without bail last year while awaiting trial, and Diaz fled after disconnecting his monitoring device. But Thompson said the District Attorney’s Office did not oppose the release, and he has issued a warrant for Diaz’s arrest. 

The judge provided a transcript of a hearing in his court last June in which he proposed to release Diaz and asked Deputy District Attorney Yuri Chornobil if he objected.

“Your Honor, no new charges have been filed,” Chornobil replied. “And given that, the People would be — would consent to release with the prior release conditions that Your Honor imposed.”

Similarly, Noto’s organization cited Thompson’s decision to release Darbin Hernon without bail after he was charged with drug crimes. Hernon failed to appear for a hearing two weeks later.

That’s true, Thompson said, but it fails to mention that Hernon’s prosecutors told him “on multiple occasions that they did not object to release” on any of the charges the judge had required him to face.

Thompson cited an email he received last July from Hernon’s public defender, Stephen Olmo, who said he had spoken to the prosecutor about releasing Hernon without bail. Olmo said the prosecutor told him he “will agree (because) Mr. Hernon has a U.S. Marshal’s hold on him — that means prosecution” by the federal government.

Noto also cited Thompson’s decision last July to release Joshua Vicente Lopez without bail after he was charged with drug dealing. Two months later, Noto said, police arrested Lopez again, allegedly with fentanyl and other drugs.

Thompson said the prosecutor, after asking to hold Lopez without bail, sought to delay his  hearing beyond the legal deadline. “Under state law, my only options were to dismiss the case or release the defendant,” the judge said. “The district attorney did not object to release. After he failed to appear, I issued a bench warrant for his arrest.”

Those were cases cited in the Stop Crime SF “report card” and in the campaign by Noto’s group against the two judges.

While Stop Crime Action is accusing both judges of coddling criminals, their election opponents have said little about the incumbents’ records.

“Let’s send a message to our court: We need our streets safe,” Begert’s challenger, Albert “Chip” Zecher, a business law attorney, said at a candidates’ debate in December. He did not criticize Begert or mention any of his cases.

Likewise, Deputy District Attorney Jean Myungjin Roland, Thompson’s opponent, did not refer to the judge’s record, but told the debate audience that “you can vote to keep the status quo, or you can vote for change for public safety.”

The Bar Association of San Francisco sought to question the two challengers about their qualifications and character. The association announced Jan. 29 that it had rated both Begert and Thompson, who had answered those questions, as “well-qualified” but could not evaluate Zecher or Roland because they had not responded. The Chronicle asked their campaigns about their lack of response but got no replies.

In short, the challengers are running quiet campaigns that promote their own credentials, while Stop Crime Action attacks the incumbents.

Begert, a former business lawyer and chairman of the Asian American Justice Center, was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010. He does not handle criminal cases but runs San Francisco’s Drug Court, other treatment-referral courts and the CARE Court — Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment — established by Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers in an effort to remove mentally ill people from the streets and place them in treatment.

Thompson was appointed by Newsom in 2022 after 30 years of law practice with private firms and is a former chairman of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which seeks to “dismantle systems of oppression and racism.” He conducts preliminary hearings, which determine whether a criminal defendant will go to trial or should be released.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle


  1. Agent Orange says

    All of these things are RED HERRINGS designed to DISTRACT from the REAL issues — the truth of the matter is, a sex offender is a sex offender, and a drug dealer is a drug dealer, REGARDLESS of anything else!


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