Behind the Story: The Case That Came Back to Haunt a San Francisco Judge
Credit…Illustration by Mark Harris
The story of Anthony Kline and Jamesetta Guy seems almost too coincidental to be true.
As told in a gripping article in The New York Times Magazine, Kline was the most senior justice on California’s First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco until last year, when, at age 83, he asked to be transferred to the juvenile bench. It seemed to be a downward career move, but Kline wanted to escape the abstract world of the appeals court, where he had spent so many decades. It had been 40 years since he had done a stint in the very real-life universe of the juvenile courts.
So Kline began handling juvenile cases — students caught at school with knives, kids stealing cars. And then, five weeks into his new role, Kline was assigned the case of Jamesetta Guy.
Guy was 58, but she was slated to appear in his courtroom because of a new California law intended to help reduce the state’s prison population. An inmate serving an inordinately long sentence for a crime committed as a minor could now return to juvenile court and have the case reconsidered.
Kline learned that Guy had served 41 years for a homicide during a botched robbery that she committed at 17. A lifelong progressive, the judge found her term to be staggeringly long, especially for someone convicted as a minor. In Kline’s view, Guy’s ordeal confirmed what he felt was wrong with California’s judicial system, inequities that he had dedicated his career to fixing.
But Kline soon learned that he was one of the people who helped put Guy behind bars many years ago. As a juvenile court judge in 1981, Kline had declared her “unfit” to be tried as a juvenile and sent her case to the adult system instead, which contributed to the length of her sentence. When he encountered the case again in 2021, he didn’t even remember the ruling.
Jesse Barron, who wrote the Times Magazine article, said, “A lot of the people around this story — including some very sober-minded lawyers — started to feel that there was a logic at play beyond pure chance, because it’s unheard-of for a judge to descend from such a lofty position in the system back to such a lowly position by comparison.”
He continued, “And then to do that, to be drawn back to juvenile as Justice Kline was, only to slam into an unfinished case from his own past — it’s a kind of coincidence that does seem almost fictional.”
The article follows Kline as he grapples with the decision he made 40 years earlier, and considers whether he could, or should, try to rectify the extreme effect it had on Guy. At the time of his original ruling, Kline thought that Guy would be sentenced to 15 years in prison. But because of a confluence of unlucky circumstances, including the harsh treatment of juveniles within California’s criminal justice system at the time, she got 27 years to life.
Jesse told me that the longest sentence Guy would have received under the current judicial system, in which punishments for minors are much less severe, was probably eight years in juvenile detention. There are many people like Guy who are currently serving sentences that would, according to today’s standards, be considered extreme and unfair. Jesse’s reporting revealed that about 470 prisoners are serving life sentences in California state prisons for crimes they committed as minors.
“A lot of those cases, if you pulled at the threads, would have similarities to Jamesetta’s, because they were decided before the Supreme Court overhauled juvenile sentencing in the 2010s,” Jesse said. “In California, for example, 15 of the 470 juvenile lifers are serving life without the possibility of parole, a sentence the Supreme Court has since found unconstitutional for juveniles.”
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“Jamesetta’s is an exceptional case because it’s the same judge on both sides — that’ll never happen again, I think — but there are other people in similar situations, whose cases we might never hear about.”
Read Jesse’s full article in The New York Times Magazine.
If you read one story, make it this
Applying to college, and trying to appear “less Asian.”
The rest of the news
Twitter: Under Elon Musk, Twitter’s new owner, the company has cut its revenue projections after repeatedly missing its weekly advertising targets.
Achievement gap: California’s school closures during the pandemic widened the state’s achievement gap, with the most negative impacts felt in local school systems with high numbers of poor children, CalMatters reports.
Welcome, lawmakers: The newest class of state legislators will be sworn in on Monday in Sacramento, and they will immediately find themselves in the middle of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s battle with the oil industry, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Weinstein: Jurors in Los Angeles began deliberations in the second trial for Harvey Weinstein on sex crime charges, including seven charges of rape and sexual assault. He was convicted of similar charges in New York in 2020.
Retail theft ring: Eighteen people were arrested after the Los Angeles police busted an organized crime ring that targeted clothing and shoe stores as recently as last week, The Associated Press reports.
Oil and gas drilling ban: The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to ban drilling of new oil and gas wells and to phase out existing ones over the next 20 years, The Associated Press reports.
House race: John Duarte, a Republican, defeated Adam Gray, a Democrat, in a new U.S. House district in the Central Valley farm belt, in the closest congressional contest in the state this year, The Associated Press reports.
Traffic stops: A plan to limit when San Francisco police officers can make certain types of traffic stops has been revised because of heightened concerns about public safety in the city, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Coding academy layoffs: A for-profit San Francisco coding academy, the Bloom Institute of Technology, plans to lay off 60 employees by early next year, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
What we’re eating
How to stock a modern pantry.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Ricki McGlashan, who recommends a Bay Area hike:
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
What we’re recommending
Does Broadway need another “Romeo and Juliet” musical? Pat Benatar says yes.
Have you visited any of the travel destinations that we’ve recommended in the newsletter? Send us a few lines about your trip, and a photo!
We’d like to share them in upcoming editions of the newsletter. Email us at [email protected]. Please include your name and the city in which you live
And before you go, some good news
With December underway, TripsToDiscover.com, a website that provides trip-planning suggestions, released a list of the 21 best small towns to visit for Christmas — and one California town made the list: Solvang.
The tiny village, located in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, has European architecture and sensibilities, and goes all out for Christmas, KRON reports.
The town has dozens of boutiques that sell traditional Danish items, including clogs and other knickknacks. During the winter, much of the town is decorated with holiday lights and wreaths, and there’s a palpable holiday spirit as you walk along its decked-out streets.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
Briana Scalia and Maia Coleman contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].