By Bob Egelko
San Francisco Gate
San Francisco’s chief judge says he and his colleagues discarded 66,000 arrest warrants issued over five years for quality-of-life crimes, like sleeping on the sidewalk, because it made no sense to lock people up for fines they couldn’t afford.
The crimes, which also include urinating on sidewalks and being drunk in public, are infractions punishable only by fines. But when those who were cited failed to show up in court, judges in the past have issued bench warrants ordering them to appear, with a sentence of five days in jail for failing to show up.
But San Francisco Superior Court judges stopped issuing the warrants a year ago and recently disposed of about 66,000 bench warrants issued since January 2011. The city’s police union and some members of the public have protested, but Presiding Judge John Stewart defended the court’s action Tuesday in a meeting with The Chronicle’s editorial board.
“You’re putting somebody in jail because they’re poor and can’t pay a fine,” he said. “We got a lot of criticism, but we thought it was the right thing to do.”