SAN JOSE — Bay Area criminal-justice reform advocates say they are alarmed by the Santa Clara County district attorney’s decision this month to hire a veteran San Francisco prosecutor infamously reprimanded for misconduct in the wrongful conviction case of Jamal Trulove, who received a $13.1 million settlement from the city after a federal jury ruled he was framed for murder.
Linda Allen was hired by Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen two months after she was fired along with several other veteran prosecutors by incoming San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a former deputy public defender who ran on a reform-minded platform. Ana Maria Gonzalez, another San Francisco prosecutor who was let go during what an attorneys union called the “Friday Night Massacre,” also just joined Rosen’s office.
But Allen’s hiring has drawn most of the attention from critics because of the central role she played in the prosecution of Trulove, who in 2010 was convicted of murdering his friend and neighbor Seu Kuka in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley neighborhood in 2007.
Trulove was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison, but in 2014 a state appellate court overturned the murder conviction. A judiciary panel found “highly prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct” by Allen, asserting that in her closing argument she unduly influenced jurors by suggesting that the sole eyewitness faced threats of retaliation from Trulove’s family and friends, and entered witness protection because of it.
The panel found that Allen “did not present a scintilla of evidence” of any threats during the trial, and that “this yarn was made of whole cloth.” Allen re-tried Trulove, who was acquitted of the murder charge in 2015 and freed after seven years of incarceration. Trulove sued the city and police, and in 2019 was paid a $13.1 million settlement after a federal jury ruled he was framed for the murder, by San Francisco police detectives who presented only Trulove’s image in a photo lineup to a witness, and ignored another suspect.
Trulove, a rapper and one-time reality-show contestant living in Oakland at the time of his arrest, could not be immediately reached for this story. But in response to the news of Allen’s hire, he tweeted that it was “a slap in the face from a county that says they (were) following in the footsteps of San Francisco with progressive prosecutors. But then hires one of the most (crooked) DA’s that has ever prosecuted.”
Rosen’s office said that it evaluated Trulove’s case, but decided that the span of her career, in which she was highly regarded among her San Francisco colleagues and rose to a managing attorney role, dwarfed any notoriety she might bring with her.
“We carefully looked at this case. It concerned us. We spoke with judges, and prosecutors who have closely worked with Ms. Allen. The DA spoke directly with Chesa Boudin,” Santa Clara County district attorney spokesperson Sean Webby told this news organization. “We decided to hire her because we feel confident that Ms. Allen will bring her depth of experience and excellence to our team, and will protect the people using the highest ethical values.”
“And we believe in second chances,” he added.
Lara Bazelon, who closely followed the Trulove case and is a University of San Francisco law professor who runs the school’s criminal juvenile justice and racial justice clinical programs, was startled by Allen so quickly finding a landing spot in Rosen’s office.
“It sends the worst kind of message to prosecutors. You can behave as badly as possible and cost someone their freedom, but don’t worry, a DA will hire you,” Bazelon said. “They talk about second chances, but she had a second chance to make it right. She could have dismissed the case after it was overturned. Instead she tried him all over again.”
Bazelon also said that in Allen’s deposition for the civil lawsuit, she was “unrepentant” about her chastised acts in Trulove’s case.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office said Allen was not available for comment for this story. But at least one prominent former colleague supports her fresh start in the South Bay.
Eric Fleming, a former chief trial attorney for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office who is now an appellate judge in the San Francisco Superior Court, contends that the Trulove case is a singular blemish in an otherwise decorated prosecuting career.
“Linda Allen is one of the best prosecutors I have ever seen in terms of ethics and professionalism,” Fleming said. “I would have hired her. I told (chief assistant district attorney) Jay Boyarsky they would be getting a top-notch prosecutor, if not one of the best. Without a doubt, she can prosecute the most important cases in the office.”
Fleming acknowledged the gravity of the misconduct finding against Allen, but contends that it was a lapse during an argument rather than an egregious ethical violation such as refusing to turn over evidence to the defense.
“This has weighed on her,” Fleming said. “She has outstanding character, and the fact that she’s been accused of prosecutorial misconduct is not something she’s taken lightly at all. When you look at arguing the facts, something can happen without intentionally doing anything wrong.”
Raj Jayadev, director of the civil-rights group Silicon Valley De-Bug, said Allen brings too much baggage for defendants to ever feel like they’ll be treated fairly if they see her across the aisle in a courtroom.
“It seems like a bizarre move. You have a prosecutor who has become this notorious figure in the world of criminal-justice reform,” he said. “It’s a huge concern to us, because who you hire moving forward is indicative of the values you want to guide the office. It makes the community less trustful that the D.A. is progressive.”
Jayadev argued that Allen’s actions in the Trulove case “were so public” that it would be difficult to view her without a cloud looming overhead, and that gathering public feedback before her hiring might have softened the blow.
“There is a responsibility on the person to make the argument that they’ve reoriented their approach that is deserving of being a public servant, especially in the backdrop of getting justice for communities of color,” Jayadev said. “Her hiring has already made waves. Now we’re saying, how many Jamal Truloves will there be in Santa Clara County?”
Published at Wed, 18 Mar 2020 15:40:00 +0000