vote_lede_template.jpgA man accused of stealing ballots from a San Francisco polling station last November is being held indefinitely after criminal proceedings against him were suspended today because of a judge’s doubts about his mental competency.

Karl Bradfield Nicholas, 51, is accused of taking about 75 ballots, a voter roster, and a memory box and access key to a ballot-counting machine on Knott Court in the city’s Crocker Amazon neighborhood where he was working as a voting station inspector on Nov. 2, 2010.

Nicholas was arrested the next day, and the ballots were later found in the lagoon at the Palace of Fine Arts. The memory box and access key have yet to be found, and Nicholas has been in custody ever since.

In exchange for a sentence of one year in jail and other penalties, he pleaded guilty in December to felony counts of tampering with voting machines and ballots. He later tried to withdraw the plea, but that motion was denied by San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Collins.

Nicholas could likely have been set free last week since, with credit for time served, the one-year mark came on July 5, but after a strange series of hearings that began that day, he will now be in custody until at least August.

At the July 5 hearing, at which his defense attorney Stuart Blumstein had filed a motion to have him released from jail on his own recognizance, Nicholas was tackled by sheriff’s deputies after yelling at Collins and Blumstein.

Following the outburst, Collins denied the motion to have him released and had the case continued until his sentencing, which was to take place the following Monday.

The yelling was out of character for Nicholas, said Blumstein, who said he did not know what sparked the outburst, especially since “he had an opportunity to get out.”

This Monday during his scheduled sentencing, Nicholas gave the silent treatment to Judge Anne Boulianne, who was presiding over the hearing.

He refused to acknowledge Boulianne’s questions, and wouldn’t talk to his attorney Blumstein.

Instead of sentencing him, Boulianne ordered him held for two additional days for a mental health examination.

When Nicholas returned to court this morning, he again declined to respond to the judge’s questions or speak to attorney, so Boulianne called for the suspension of criminal proceedings.

Later this morning, another judge who handles mental competency issues agreed, suspending the proceedings and holding Nicholas in custody while a more in-depth examination of his mental state is carried out.

Blumstein had said that the incident with the ballots in November was a political act by Nicholas, who felt that the city’s Department of Elections was cutting corners in its administration of the election, and said today that his client’s recent actions in court are a continuance of that.

“He’s continuing his political act, that’s what I believe,” Blumstein said. “First it was the Department of Elections, and now it’s the justice system.”

He said Nicholas is “a very principled individual and will follow his principles, perhaps to a fault.”

Nicholas will remain in jail until at least Aug. 8, when he will return to court for the report on his mental competency.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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