Gay attorney faces jail for helping boy-lover

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Activists are wondering whether homophobia lies behind the prosecution of a well-known San Jose gay rights attorney sentenced in late August to four months in Santa Clara County jail for allegedly assisting a client's flight.

Attorney Bruce Nickerson, who has to report to jail in January, was found guilty on June 8 of one felony count of being an accessory to a crime. The charge stems from a 1998 incident in which the attorney told a client under investigation for sex with two 10-year-old boys that he should lay low and wait for Nickerson, who was about to leave on a long vacation, to arrange his surrender. Nickerson arranged with a friend in Germany to temporarily house his client, who had not been arrested or indicted, and drove the man to San Francisco airport. But once in Germany, the man disappeared. San Jose police now have a warrant out for his arrest.

Nickerson, now suspended from the state bar and facing possible expulsion, says he did not think he was breaking the law "to stash out" a client against whom no charges were filed. It is not unusual for an attorney to arrange a client's surrender.

San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer, openly gay San Mateo County Supervisor Tom Nolan, and San Jose gay activist Bill Kiley wrote letters of support on behalf of Nickerson to Superior Court Judge William Martin, who refused to reduce the attorney's charge to a misdemeanor and imposed a $1000 fine in addition to the jail sentence. The judge said Nickerson committed "a serious setback for justice and for society."

The attorney's supporters disagree. "Without Bruce Nickerson in the gay community we are at a detriment," says Kiley, who won widespread attention this summer when, at Nickerson's suggestion, he set up video camera in his window and recorded a gay-bashing he suffered at the hands of a long-threatening neighbor. Kiley likened what happened to Nickerson to attacks on civil rights attorneys in the South during the 60s. "The authorities wouldn't necessarily say, 'We don't want you to defend black people,' but rather something like, 'We found you had too many parking tickets.' This is typical of the harassment that gay people and people who defend us have to go through."

Nickerson's client faced spending the rest of his life in jail for sex the consensuality of which was not at issue. Even if Bruce Nickerson with full presence of mind put his client on an Underground Railway to freedom, compared to those prosecuting him, the attorney has a far keener sense of justice.

source: Article 'Gay Attorney Faces Jail for Helping Boy-Lover'; Nambla Bulletin, vol. 12, no. 8, October 1991; Article reprinted from The Guide, issue: November 1991