Gay blogger Michael Petrelis is allowed limited access to San Francisco City Hall after pleading “No contest” to a charge stemming from his photograph of Supervisor Scott Wiener in a City Hall restroom.
Petrelis entered his plea today (Thursday, June 13) at a San Francisco Superior Court hearing before Judge Samuel Feng. In return, he agreed to a stay away order that’s less restrictive than one that had been issued earlier, among other terms.
Reading from a prepared statement, Petrelis said that he’d “made a mistake” when he took Wiener’s photo in October. “I recognize the mistake, and it will never happen again,” he said.
Wiener, who didn’t attend the hearing, declined to comment.
Petrelis, 54, has been critical of Wiener on many issues, including his legislation to prohibit most public nudity.
According to an earlier statement from Wiener and an item Petrelis posted on his Petrelis Files blog, Wiener was at a urinal when Petrelis walked into the restroom October 26. On his blog, Petrelis indicated he wanted to get a photo of Wiener urinating, but his camera didn’t focus quickly enough, so he took a picture of the gay supervisor at the bathroom sink. He used the photo on his website.
In December, the district attorney’s office charged him with a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge, the same count to which he pleaded no contest today. (A no contest plea is similar to a guilty plea.) The count was based on Petrelis using a camera to invade someone’s privacy in a bathroom.
Thursday, Feng ordered the imposition of sentence suspended and three years of probation. The terms include a stay away order, which expires June 12, 2016, and says that Petrelis can’t contact Wiener or his offices by any means including email or through a third party.
Petrelis is also supposed to stay 150 feet away from Wiener and his home. (The original stay away order, issued in December, had mandated that Petrelis stay 150 yards away from Wiener.)
However, when Petrelis is on the second floor of City Hall – home to the Board of Supervisors chambers in Room 250 – he only has to stay at least 30 feet away from Wiener. He can access the second floor of City Hall for “lawful business” only, and he can’t use the second-floor restrooms.
He can attend meetings in Room 250, even when Wiener’s there, and he can make public comment at those meetings.
For other City Hall meetings, such as those of the Police Commission and others that take place on the fourth floor, Petrelis can’t attend if Wiener is there.
If Petrelis violates probation he may be sentenced to six months to a year in county jail.
Petrelis told the court Thursday that rather than taking up public time and money with a criminal prosecution, “it would have been better” for Wiener “to take me to task for my mistake via online social media,” or through a “far less costly” mediation guided by the city’s Human Rights Commission.
“I look forward to blogging freely about local politics” again and voting for whoever opposes Wiener if he runs to be reelected to the District 8 seat. Petrelis is a resident of the district.
After Thurday’s hearing, Petrelis said he’s “satisfied with this settlement.”
When he was asked about why he didn’t save taxpayers money earlier by accepting a deal, he said he and his attorney, Derek St. Pierre “are doing the taxpayers a favor by avoiding a trial,” and he said they were “not presented with this plea settlement until recently.”
St. Pierre said there had been “a lot of negotiations,” with the “most difficult” point being finding a stay away order that was “acceptable by both parties.”
As for any future encounters Petrelis and Wiener may have, St. Pierre noted, “San Francisco is a small city,” and “it’s almost inevitable that at some time they might be in the same location.” He pledged that if that happens, Petrelis will walk away.
Petrelis posted bail after he voluntarily surrendered to the sheriff’s department in November and has been out of custody since then.
Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Lee prosecuted the case.