James Myart is a demagogue and an impassioned crusader; a vainglorious publicity hound and a quiet lifeline for the dispossessed and exploited; a convicted petty thief and a seeker of justice. Trying to untangle Myart’s contradictions would be a lifetime project for the best psychiatrist, and without those contradictions what would we be left with?
The infamous SA civil-rights attorney pleaded guilty in May to stealing boxes of tile from a Habitat for Humanity store, filing a false report concerning an alleged 2006 attack by a police officer, and failing to give his client (a member of the Mexican Mafia, no less) more than $13,000 that had been returned from a federal government seizure.
Some say Myart had been spiraling out of control well before the DA lowered the boom, and his public antics — which included a 2007 arrest after throwing a tantrum at a City Council meeting — did seem to be growing more reckless and arbitrary. Unfortunately, no one benefited more from Myart’s abrupt shackling than the DA who prosecuted him, and the police force. Surely Myart’s media-magnet efforts to draw attention to numerous cases of alleged police brutality contributed to Police Chief William McManus’s decision to bring in the Police Executive Research Forum `see “PERF-o-rated,” `.
For all of his personal failings, Myart served an important role as a defender of those who would otherwise go undefended. A persistent, and frequently effective, critic of SAPD’s use of force, he’s refused to let this city forget that our police department must be held accountable. His concern for the underdog will be missed, even if his flamboyant act won’t be.