December 13-19, 2006

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The Byrne Report

Kayo of the North

By Peter Byrne

Three years ago, Sonoma County resident Terence Hallinan lost a bitterly contested race for reelection as San Francisco's district attorney. Forced from the media spotlight, where he relished being at the epicenter of legal and political controversy, Hallinan quietly carved himself a niche defending drug dealers and lobbying on behalf of pornographers. The ex-district attorney's new career path is not surprising, considering his previous propensity to portray some crimes of moral turpitude--such as smoking weed and soliciting prostitutes--as politically correct and largely unprosecutable.

During two contentious terms as district attorney, the politically pugilistic Hallinan, known as "Kayo," was internationally renowned as the voice of liberal (some say libertine) San Francisco. In 1996, he was the only district attorney in California to endorse Proposition 215, which legalized the possession and cultivation of medical marijuana. And in matters sexual and consensual, Hallinan strongly advocated for the decriminalization of prostitution. So it is not surprising that, since leaving office, Hallinan became a go-to guy for dopers of all persuasions, multiple mavens of the medicinal marijuana industry and sexual impresarios who pimp women's bodies.

At an age when many lawyers retire, Hallinan is pounding the street for fees. The craggy-faced former prosecutor, 70, says he keeps a criminal defense calendar with a specialty in drug cases. He also represents the business interests of Jim Mitchell, who operates the O'Farrell Theater, a strip joint and porn palace in the Tenderloin. And he represents 14 of the city's 40 pot clubs in efforts to obtain and keep city permits to operate medical marijuana dispensaries.

Last year, after the board of supervisors required pot clubs to make their facilities handicapped-accessible, Hallinan lobbied, in vain, for such "extreme" requirements to be reduced. "It is not like a pot club is a candy store that can just go out and find a place," Hallinan explains in recent interview by phone from his San Francisco office.

At quitting time each day, Hallinan drives home to Petaluma. "I live on a farm with three cows, two goats, a couple of sheep, a wife and a daughter," he says. And he is becoming a figure in North Bay courts. He recently got a parole violation for Will Foster, a convicted drug offender, squashed in Sonoma County Superior Court. And he regularly schleps to Mendocino County, where he concentrates on defending marijuana growers who use Proposition 215 as a defense against drug charges. Hallinan seldom goes to trial. "I have done a lot of cases where we head it off before a person is charged by showing the doctor's medical marijuana recommendation to the district attorney or the judge."

Doc Knapp, spokesperson for the Sonoma Alliance for Medicinal Marijuana, considers Hallinan to be a smoking class hero. "He spoke on our behalf before the Sebastopol city council," Knapp, who hangs with Hallinan socially, says. Indeed, the former prosecuter is passionate about marijuana use. Alongside Woody Harrelson and Bill Maher, he sits on the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. And in his raspy baritone, he regularly addresses gatherings of marijuana users around the country in favor of legalizing pot.

Kayo is also passionate about protecting sleazploitation. He recently lobbied the city on behalf of the Mitchell Brothers' organization after the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Woman proposed legislation to ban private booths in adult clubs. The commission had received reports that, because the clubs pay lap dancers minimum wage, the women are forced to prostitute themselves in private rooms in order to make a living. Stretching credulity, Hallinan denied that prostitution takes place in the sex clubs. During our interview, he pooh-poohed the wage problem: "These women make a lot of money. Many are single mothers raising children. One woman put herself through law school with the money she made."

Dr. Emily Murase, executive director of the Department on the Status of Women, told me, "Dancers have testified that they are coerced into sexual acts with customers in private booths. Club owners charge them nightly stage fees of up to $500 in clear violation of both the San Francisco police code and the California Labor Code."

But Hallinan has never been a stickler for the letter of the law when it butts up against his personal predilections. "Look at Proposition 215," he muses. "There is hardly an type of medical condition that, if helped by marijuana, wouldn't be within the legal qualifications, such as headaches, in-grown toenails or feeling better by virtue of using marijuana. And I am absolutely convinced that that for some people, smoking marijuana is part of their religious practice."

So is drinking blood.

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