communityjusticecenter1.jpgIt was just a year ago that the Community Justice Center — the Tenderloin District community court and pet project of Mayor Gavin Newsom meant to connect petty offenders with services rather than jail time — opened its doors to fanfare, controversy and the best-paid public defender SF’s money buys. Rejected by the voters at the ballot box and decried by progressive supervisors as a pointless political gimmick, the Center has nonetheless in one year handled over 2,100 cases and “connected 860 clients with services,” the Mayor’s Office boasted on Tuesday.

Some of those clients — note the use of Project Homeless Connect-esque language — were on hand Tuesday. One, Lawayne Hopkins, 44, who was referred to the CJC for selling crack and marijuana in the Tenderloin, credited the CJC for saving his life.

“I’ve been with the CJC for four months,” he said. “Before, I thought [the CJC] was bull crap. Now, I’m entering San Francisco City College.”

Nonprofits like Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics and Tenderloin Housing Corporation offer services to these criminals-turned-clients through the CJC, which is exactly why progressives dislike the CJC so intensely, explained Supervisor Chris Daly, whose district includes the Tenderloin.

Other non-offending clients have a difficult time finding adequate services in part because of the city’s ongoing fiscal meltdown, Daly said. It would be one thing if those services were adequately funded; it is another to spend money on a new court designed to connect clients with those services, he said.

“It [the CJC] incentivizes crime,” Daly said.

At least running the CJC won’t be very expensive: the city plans to spend only $900,000 on operating the Polk Street court and community center, according to mayoral spokesman Joe Arellano. The rest will be covered by federal and state grants.

However, it is unclear if that figure includes the city money spent on hiring outside attorneys to represent malefactors at the court, as the Public Defender has refused to use his overworked lawyers to staff the CJC. We’ll post back if and when we hear back from the PD and the Mayor’s Office.

In the meantime, the CJC plans to ramp up its operations and handle up to 400 new cases a month in 2010-2011, according to Tomiquia Moss, the CJC’s coordinator. 150 of those the CJC plans to welcome back again and again as clients, Moss said.

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