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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Public Defender, Immigrant Advocates Surprised to Discover They've Attacked Dennis Herrera

Posted By on Thu, Feb 4, 2010 at 4:30 PM

click to enlarge Some people seem to think Dennis is a menace...
  • Some people seem to think Dennis is a menace...
If you believe a letter bearing his name sent to the American Constitution Society, Public Defender Jeff Adachi wants to get City Attorney Dennis Herrera barred from taking the stage as the master of ceremonies at the society's San Francisco gala on Tuesday.

Well, that's news to Adachi. San Francisco's top defense attorney says he knew nothing about the letter that purports to represent his office and more than 30 immigrants rights organizations circulated last week, alleging that Herrera's advice to the city on the legality of reporting undocumented juveniles to immigration officials was against the ACS's ideals.

"We'd never sign something like that," Adachi told SF Weekly. "I think people should be free to protest in any way they see fit, but for a group of individuals to list organizations that weren't contacted previously was just wrong."


The San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee is a group of

nonprofits which joined the Pubic Defender's

Office in 2008 to fight against the juvenile probation

department policy of reporting undocumented youth arrested for felonies to

immigration officials. (Read the Weekly's cover story on the debate here.)

Now that probation officers are ignoring the Board of Supervisors'

recent law to postpone reporting until a youth is convicted, some of the

coalition's activists have turned to attacking

the man who interpreted the new law's possible legal shortcomings: Herrera. Members turned

up at Herrera's swearing-in ceremony last month with fliers that read

"Your advice sends kids to ICE." (See a copy here.)

But with the gala on next week's calendar, the activists spotted another high-profile opportunity to make a statement: Herrera, who serves on ACS' national board, is slated to emcee the event at UC Hastings College of the Law, at which District

Attorney Kamala Harris will give the keynote address. (See the invite here.)

In the Jan. 25 letter to the ACS, the coalition argues that Herrera has "failed to advise

implementation of San Francisco's historic civil rights legislation,"

citing Herrera's December memo that

states the probation department doesn't have to implement the policy if

the department determines it's against state and federal law. 

Adachi is not alone in being caught off-guard by the letter bearing his name. Brenda Storey, the executive director of Mission

Neighborhood Health Center, wrote to Matt Dorsey, Herrera's spokesman,

asserting that the center "did not endorse or approve the

letter." Randy Shaw, the executive director of the Tenderloin Housing

Clinic, chewed out the coalition in an e-mail this week, stating: "The

Committee's effort to have [Herrera] removing from MC'ing a public

event is also unjustified, unwarranted, and unfair."

The

city attorney fought back as an attorney would, responding to the ACS and all the coalition's organizations with a nine-page letter on Friday that refuted the allegations and

re-asserted his role in the debate. (Read both the coalition's letter

and Herrera's response in this PDF: CITYATTY-RESPONSE-ACS.pdf.)

The

city's attorney's role is to inform lawmakers of the legal consequences

of proposed laws; it's just that the public usually doesn't see the confidential

memos. That all changed when Mayor Gavin Newsom last summer leaked Herrera's memo, which stated that

the city may face legal action from the federal government if they stop

any employee from reporting a youth to immigration authorities.

But now

that the law has passed, Herrera's job changes from legal adviser to defense attorney: Herrera now must defend the

legislation against any lawsuits, and he's already expressed

interest in filing a preemptive action in federal court. "As much as a

handful of activists want Herrera to be their enemy, he's going to be

their ally," Dorsey said. 
 


Meanwhile, the immigrant rights coalition apologized to its members

in an e-mail Friday for not consulting all of them before sending

the letter, a decision made "after a series of discussions at our

standing weekly Friday meetings which are open to the entire

coalition." The e-mail said it's not the organization's policy to get a

sign-off from every member organization before sending a letter.

"We will

work to develop a better system for checking in with each coalition

member before sending out a letter that will garner this much

attention," reads the e-mail, written by Lily Haskell from the Arab

Resource and Organizing Center and Angela Chan of the Asian Law Caucus.

"We hope that you understand that our motivation to move forward at a

fast pace to stop these deportations may sometimes result in a flawed

process, however it is with the best of intentions."

In any event, Herrera is still planning on hosting the gala. With tickets going at $50 a pop, those must be some fancy hors d'oevres the attendees will be munching. On the menu for the potential protesters outside: braised crow.

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Lauren Smiley

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