vote_lede_template.jpgA man accused of stealing ballots from a San Francisco polling station will remain in jail indefinitely after refusing to talk to doctors who were appointed to determine his mental competency, a judge ruled today.

Karl Bradfield Nicholas, 51, could likely have been out of jail more than a month ago, but a series of bizarre court appearances have kept him in custody beyond the sentence he had agreed to as part of a plea deal.

Nicholas 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. He has been in custody ever since. The memory box and access key have yet to be found.

He could likely have been set free last month since he pleaded guilty in December to felony counts of tampering with voting machines and ballots in exchange for a year in jail and other penalties, although he later tried to withdraw the plea, a motion denied by Judge James Collins.

With credit for time served, the one-year mark came on July 5, but after a series of odd hearings that began that day and included another one today, Nicholas will be in custody for at least 10 more days.

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 week.

During the scheduled sentencing, Nicholas then refused to talk to or acknowledge the questions of Judge Anne Boulianne, who was presiding over the hearing.

Instead of sentencing him, Boulianne ordered him held for two additional days for a mental health examination, and when Nicholas returned to court again, he again declined to speak to the judge or his attorney, so she called for the suspension of criminal proceedings.

Judge Garrett Wong, who handles mental competency issues in San Francisco Superior Court, agreed with Boulianne, suspending the proceedings and holding Nicholas in custody while two doctors conducted a more in-depth examination of his mental state.

Nicholas returned to Wong’s court today to discuss the results of the reports, where the judge revealed that Nicholas also refused to speak to either doctor.

Blumstein argued that since a refusal to talk does not necessarily imply mental incompetence, the case should be sent back to Boulianne, since she was the judge who initially declared doubts about his competence.

Boulianne is a retired judge who occasionally fills in on the bench and will not be back in court until next week.

Wong agreed with the defense attorney, ordering the case to be sent back to Boulianne on Aug. 18.

He told Blumstein and the prosecutors, “You folks make up your mind” about whether to make that hearing about his competency or to finally sentence and release him.

Blumstein said outside of court that he thinks his client’s refusal to talk to the doctors or judge was “a political statement” from someone who “is principled, to a fault.”

He said the incident with the ballots in November was another political act by Nicholas, who felt the city’s Department of Elections was cutting corners in its administration of the election.

However, Blumstein acknowledged that he could not know for sure what his client is thinking since Nicholas is still refusing to talk to him, too.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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