A light sentence for a high-profile stabbing suspect led to a protest outside San Francisco's Hall of Justice last week. But some legal experts and the SF Bar Association say that District Attorney Brooke Jenkins overstepped by criticizing the sentence as "reckless."

Two weeks ago, a man accused in the 2021 stabbing that injured 93-year-old Anh "Peng" Taylor in the Tenderloin, Daniel Cauich, received a 10-year suspended sentence with probation. The judge in the case, SF Superior Court Judge Kay Tsenin, decided not to go with the prosecutor's preferred 12-year sentence, opting to give Cauich, who suffers from mental health and addiction issues, an opportunity to seek treatment.

Cauich's recent history of reoffending very quickly after being released from jail is notable, though this was the first stabbing on his record — and his defense attorney told the court that Cauich "cried" after he learned what he had done to Taylor, apparently in an altered state.

SF District Attorney Brooke Jenkins was quick to call out the lenient sentence, writing on Xitter, "Every day our prosecutors go into court [and] fight for justice & public safety. Yet, almost daily they are met [with] staunch resistance within the courthouse. Not only was this victim denied justice, but all San Franciscans were left less safe today due to this reckless decision."

Tsenin quickly became the target of protest, and, reportedly, death threats. Those threats were mentioned by counter-protesters at a rally Friday morning outside the Hall of Justice, with one protester holding a sign that said "Jenkins, Prosecute Threats Against Judges."

Jenkins joined protesters calling out the sentencing, and spoke at that rally, clearly seeing this through the political lens of an election year.

Jenkins has since put out a statement denouncing the threats against Tsenin. "Although we may disagree with decisions and rulings judges make, like in this case or in the Supreme Court’s gutting of Roe v. Wade, death threats, which occurred in these two situations, are wholly unacceptable and will not be tolerated," Jenkins said. "My office has opposed this sentencing because we do not believe that it delivers justice for the victim."

The Bar Association of San Francisco, though, seems fairly upset about Jenkins' comments. As the Chronicle reports today, the group says that Judge Tsenin is now doing hearing via Zoom out of fear for her safety, and she did not come to the courthouse on Friday because of the protest that was occurring.

Mary McNamara, a spokesperson for the Bar Association of San Francisco, said in a statement that Judge Tsenin is "a well-respected judge who has given decades of service" who "has been threatened for doing her job." McNamara added that the sentence for Cauich was "well within the bounds of law," and said, "This is the moment when we, as citizens, must protect our democracy by protecting our judges."

The message is squarely aimed at DA Jenkins, who, the Bar Association says, is "contributing to an atmosphere of hostility toward local judges," with her rhetoric — e.g. calling the Cauich sentence "reckless" in a tweet.

"Yes, the crime was horrible," says Rory Little, a law professor at UC School of Law in San Francisco, speaking to the Chronicle. "That does not give any lawyer, and particularly a prosecutor supposedly representing ALL the people, a right or even an excuse for making things MORE horrible."

Little tells the paper that, according to the American Bar Association's code of ethics, prosecutors should only ever express "respectful disagreement" about sentences they don't approve of, and that Jenkins may have overstepped in this case.

Jenkins has been called out for alleged ethics violations in the past, though these allegations did not hurt her ability to win her first election. Retired Superior Court Judge Martha Goldin filed a complaint with the State Bar of California, just prior to the November 2022 election, over Jenkins's conduct in connection with the campaign to oust her predecessor and former boss, Chesa Boudin. Jenkins was allegedly paid over $150,000 to consult with the campaign, but she represented her work to the press as volunteering.

Jenkins was elected handily, and she now faces reelection this November, with only one challenger of note, a former prosecutor whom she fired.

Previously: Protesters Rally Against Light Sentencing For Defendant In 2021 Stabbing of Elderly Asian Woman

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images