San Fran Public Defender May Face Probe Over Behavior

A San Francisco public defender is facing potential sanctions after accusations that she painted a victim of domestic abuse as a "Fatal Attraction" style woman obsessed with her abuser. Deputy Public Defender Ilona Yanez reportedly made statements during the trial that shifted the blame onto the victim, Jordana Cahen, who was brutally attacked by her ex-boyfriend, Antonio Gamero, in 2022. Cahen was left hospitalized needing surgery for her injuries, while Gamero was found guilty and sentenced to seven years to life in prison.

According to court transcripts, Yanez repeatedly questioned why Cahen stayed with her abuser and even referred to the victim's actions as "obsessed" during her closing arguments. She also invoked the 1987 movie "Fatal Attraction" in which a stalker terrorizes her former lover, insinuating that Cahen's actions were similar to those of the movie's antagonist. These statements have caused concern and outrage, with San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins considering filing for sanctions against Yanez.

The District Attorney's office has raised concerns about four specific incidents that may warrant sanctions against Yanez. One of these incidents involves Yanez buying drinks for several jurors at a bar near the courthouse on the day the jury was discharged. A juror later expressed discomfort with Yanez's behavior and stated that she had been victim-blaming during the trial. The juror also claimed that Yanez mentioned that Gamero's sentence could be a potential "life sentence," prompting other jurors to email the judge asking for leniency in sentencing.

Another incident that has raised red flags is Yanez's emotional breakdown during her final comments on the day of sentencing. She sobbed uncontrollably throughout her speech, at times becoming unintelligible. This has led to questions about Yanez's objectivity and competence in representing her client. Judge Cordell has expressed concerns that Yanez's emotional display may indicate that she is too personally invested in her client, potentially blurring the lines between ethical representation and personal attachment.

In response to these allegations, Raju's office stated that it is not uncommon for attorneys to speak to jurors after a verdict to gather feedback on the trial. They also claim that Yanez only disclosed information about Gamero's potential sentence after being asked by the jurors themselves. However, the District Attorney's office believes that this behavior falls under unethical conduct and goes against ethical rules that prohibit attorneys from sharing information with jurors that was not presented during the trial.

Another incident that has raised questions about Yanez's conduct involves a small claims court complaint filed by Cahen against Gamero for back rent and other money he owed. Yanez got involved in the matter and began emailing Cahen about it, which has been deemed inappropriate as it put the victim, who had been traumatized by her abuser, in direct contact with Yanez. Retired Judge Cordell stated that this crosses a boundary and could potentially compromise Yanez's ability to represent her client effectively.

In a final incident, Cahen alleges that Yanez called her at work, despite being asked to only communicate through email. Cahen claims that Yanez attempted to make her feel bad for Gamero, stating that he had a troubled childhood and had apologized for his actions. This behavior has been deemed unethical and a violation of the victim's expressed wishes. It also raises concerns about Yanez's objectivity and potential personal attachment to her client.

Despite these allegations of impropriety, Yanez's office has refuted all claims and accused the District Attorney of pursuing a vendetta against her. They state that the DA is retaliating against Yanez for accusing her of misconduct in a previous case and that her actions were within the scope of her responsibilities as a public defender. They also claim that Yanez rejected a plea deal that would have resulted in a shorter sentence for Gamero, therefore missing an opportunity to potentially lessen the severity of his sentence. The District Attorney's office is currently determining their next steps and whether sanctions should be taken against Yanez.

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