In the wee hours of Thanksgiving, former Berkeley City Councilman James Sweeney gave thanks -- to the turkey who'd just bailed him out of jail. The day before, Alameda County Superior Court Judge William McKinstry had thrown Sweeney in the pokey after Sir James showed up an hour late to a probate hearing.
It was the second time in four months that a judge had issued a bench warrant for the unfashionably late Sweeney, who's on trial, to put it charitably, for being a big flake. Judges in probate cases rarely resort to such an extreme spanking, but this ain't your average probate dispute. This one involves one of the East Bay's most prominent and trailblazing African-American families.
James is the 55-year-old nephew of the late, great Wilmont Sweeney, a much beloved and respected figure in the local black community. Forty years ago, Wilmont became the first black face on the Berkeley City Council. He later spent twenty years as a muni judge and then superior court judge overseeing the juvenile system.
In the weeks before his death in 1999, Wilmont entrusted his nephew with a big responsibility: Managing the judge's $450,000-plus estate and keeping an eye on his grown son, Bruce, who'd had some problems in the past with the law. As trustee, James was supposed to pay Bruce his $500-a-month allowance and cover his bigger bills from Wilmont's estate. It was arguably one of the old man's more dubious decisions.
Maybe at one time James would have been a good choice for the job. In the early '80s, he was shaping up to be his uncle's political heir, riding the Sweeney name into public office. And like his uncle, James was an attorney. But unlike his uncle, he's a doofus, with the Urkel-style eyewear to prove it, and it didn't take him long to mess up his stint on the Berkeley City Council.
In 1984, near the end of Sweeney's term, the city auditor blasted him for charging $4,500 in phone calls to the city during an eighteen-month period -- about $4,000 more than the average councilmember. A year later, after Sweeney lost his bid for re-election, Berkeley cops arrested him for being delinquent on $800-worth of traffic fines. And no political insider could forget the 1996 incident when the cops pulled him over on San Pablo Avenue with a ho known to the 5-O, who told police Sweeney offered her $20 for a blow job. Sweeney, then an appointee to the Police Review Commission, didn't get busted since the cops didn't actually see any money or fluids exchanged.
Within months of Wilmont's death, according to court documents, Bruce Sweeney demanded an audit to see if his cousin was spending the money on himself instead of taking care of Bruce's bills. After all, Kaiser had dropped Bruce from its coverage plan because James kept missing the payments. "My father through his last will and testament," Bruce wrote to his cousin and trustee, "thrust both you and I into combining family with business, which at best is a most difficult proposition. The strain on both of us may very well cost us our business relationship or family connection."
Bruce eventually got so fed up with his cousin's stalling tactics that he hired a lawyer earlier this year and sued James to oust him as trustee. The court did just that in July, replacing James Sweeney with Wilmont's second choice, his old pal and colleague Henry Ramsey. But James still has yet to provide the full accounting Bruce wants, and judges such as McKinstry have tired of waiting for him to get his act together. Bruce is now asking the court to punish his flaky cousin by making him pay damages and legal costs. A bench trial is scheduled for March.
Reached by phone, James first insisted he'd already produced "an accounting" for the court. Feeder pressed him and asked if he'd provided the full accounting the court had demanded. "That's what we're working on," Sweeney mumbled.
This Girl Was Pissed
Should BART trains have toilets? The following gross-out tale from a reliable Feeder-reader in Albany might make ya think they should.
Our heroine, a lovely biznessgal from the Midwest who works at a Frisco investment firm, was returning home on BART from a stressful day at work a few weeks ago. All was fine until the train stopped at the West Oakland station. A high-school-age girl wearing jeans and a white hoodie came aboard and sat directly across from our unsuspecting commuter, who at that point was still suffering from a lingering computer-monitor trance.
She quickly snapped out of it when she noticed the girl in the hoodie shoving her arm down her jeans down to her elbow, writhing and wriggling all the while.
The teeny-dropper then began peeing like it was an El Niño season for her kidneys. (Uh, conductor? Cleanup in Carriage 2!) To make sure she wasn't hallucinating, our commuter turned to the man next to her to see his reaction and then noticed he had only one arm and was fast asleep. Another guy nearby with a backpack, which had its bottom soaked by the spreading plume of urine on the floor, seemed oblivious. After the teen finished her business, she looked at our heroine and explained, "I just couldn't hold it anymore." Then she nonchalantly got out her cell phone as if nothing had happened.
For some people, apparently, the world is their toilet. We're just swimming in it.
Seven Days - March 22, 5:57 PM
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Seven Days - March 21, 7:27 PM