Court Watch

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We monitor trials to hold San Francisco's elected judges accountable.

Be a court watch volunteer. Join us in court to monitor the trials of defendants charged with burglaries in our neighborhoods. Help ensure our judicial system takes these crimes seriously.

Why is Court Watch needed?
Prosecuting attorneys are more likely to bring burglary cases to trial if they know community members are concerned enough about the crime to show up for the proceedings. Prosecutors need our support because they are often alone in the courtroom. Victims can be afraid to attend and it’s rare for general members of the community to show up and demand justice. An important part of court watch is being there as an advocate for victims to help them feel supported and heard.

By showing judges that the community wants to see cases move forward, we hope the courts will be less likely to let burglars off with slaps on the wrist. Judges have told us that court watchers can have an impact. The people elect judges, after all.

How does Court Watch work?
Community volunteers attend open court to monitor the trials of defendants charged with burglaries in San Francisco neighborhoods. When you sign up to be a court watch volunteer, you will get regular emails that list upcoming cases. You can choose which cases you would like to attend. After your court session, report what happened with our online form. We will compile the data and post the results so the public can see how judges are doing.

What is a Court Watch attendee?
Attendees show up in court on the assigned dates and times.

What is a Court Watch coordinator?
Coordinators take a lead in their neighborhood to track cases and organize the volunteer attendees to appear in court.

We are seeking Court Watch coordinators so we can scale the Court Watch program to follow more cases. No need to be intimidated by the coordinator role. We will train you. We've recently completed a comprehensive Court Watch manual that provides a clear step-by-step guide.

The goal is to have a team of Court Watch coordinators assigned to neighborhoods all over San Francisco.

What is the time commitment for Court Watch?
Coordinators work several hours a week, but can do the coordinating when it best fits their schedule. Coordinators don’t have to attend the court sessions, which are during business hours. Coordinators can do their work on evenings and weekends if they have a regular day job.

Attendees need to be available during court hours, which are weekdays from 9a to 4p. Many sessions are in the morning at 9a and can last two or three hours. Attendees choose which cases they want to attend based on their availability. One case a month or even one case a quarter is welcome.

Your day in court: Tips for court watch volunteers

Before You Start

Getting There

  • If driving, there is an "early bird" daily parking rate before 9am. After 9am, private parking is charged every 30 minutes. Street parking is metered and hard to find.

  • Use this link to find public transportation to the Hall of Justice. Just type in your address and the app will tell you which bus or MUNI route to take.

  • Uber or Lyft might be the most convenient way to travel to the Hall of Justice and avoid parking fees.

Finding Your Courtroom

  • After going through security, walk straight to the end of the hall (passing the elevators). Turn around and look up to see an electronic monitor that lists the judge's name, floor number, department number and time.

When In the Courtroom

  • Dress casually and comfortably.

  • Bring a notebook to jot down important facts and turning points of the case.

  • Arrive on time. Before proceedings begin, approach the Assistant District Attorney (prosecutor) assigned to the case. Tell them you are a concerned neighbor and volunteer court watcher (we will have notified the prosecutor to expect you).

  • Sit in the section behind the prosector (usually on the right side, as you face the judge).

  • Sit as close to the front as possible due to low volume. It is notoriously hard to hear courtroom proceedings from the audience because microphones are not always used and people tend to talk very low. We wonder if they do it on purpose!

  • Never attempt to speak to the judge or the defendant. Direct contact with the judge could trigger a recusal from the case. When appropriate, the prosecutor can announce to the judge that concerned neighbors are present.

  • Please note that as a Court Watch volunteer, you are sitting in open court without expectation of privacy. There is always the chance you will be recognized. Lawyers for the prosecution or defense may reference your attendance and point you out to the judge. If you want a guarantee to remain anonymous, you should not be a Court Watch volunteer. But you could help Stop Crime SF in other behind-the-scenes capacities.

After the Session

  • Report what happened in court. It is important you fill out this online form at the end of your Court Watch session. The only way we can track judicial behavior is to compile data.

Court Watch Forms
Court Watch Report (for attendees to report what happened in court)
Case Tracker (for coordinators to follow cases)
Court Watch Roles and Responsibilities (all volunteers must agree to abide by these guidelines)