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Boudin’s scorched-earth legacy
“I had to make difficult staffing decisions [Friday] in order to put in place a management team that will help me accomplish the work I committed to do for San Francisco.”
— Chesa Boudin, after firing seven top prosecutors in his first week as San Francisco’s district attorney, January 2020
When Mayor London Breed appointed prosecutor Brooke Jenkins as interim district attorney, Jenkins wasted no time making changes. The office, led by her one-time boss Chesa Boudin until his recall on June 7, was staffed with Boudin hires, mostly public defenders like Boudin himself. On her first full day in office, Jenkins fired 15 people, but it was hard to do it in person because, prior to leaving his post, Boudin signed off on extended leaves of absence.
Some staffers given leave weeks prior to Boudin’s exit used their taxpayer-funded time off to support Boudin’s campaign, but in what can only be described as a vindictive final act, Boudin and his chief of staff Kate Chatfield signed off on extended leaves for management, set to take effect on July 11 — Jenkins’s first full day in the office. In fact, the only person on Boudin’s management team who was present for Jenkins’s inaugural senior staff meeting was Marshall Khine, a longtime prosecutor who has worked in nearly every trial unit since starting with the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office in 2013. One source said the office was “deserted,” with Boudin hires sitting on one side and Jenkins supporters on the other during the meeting. In a moment exemplifying that clear divide, one of those Boudin hires illegally recorded the meeting and distributed it to the press.
For a San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece titled “Brooke Jenkins just fired me and 14 others. I have no idea how the D.A.’s office will run without us,” Ryan Khojasteh, a former public defender brought over by Boudin, wrote, “I was on vacation and on my way to a wedding the day Jenkins and two representatives from human resources called me on my personal cell phone to fire me.”
Well, that’s what happens when you’re out of the office on “extended leave.”
With a certain glee, Khojasteh also discusses the recording, saying multiple media outlets quoted staffers who described that first meeting with Jenkins as “uncomfortable” and “icy.” He’s particularly angry that the new DA fired “15 staffers who were effective members of the team.” “Effective” is a strong word considering the majority, including 99 percent of the management team, took Boudin up on his offer of extended leave, skipping out on 5,500 outstanding cases which Khojasteh admits were “on average, nearly two years old” — in other words, during Boudin’s tenure. “Perhaps Jenkins may be able to hire some new attorneys in the coming months, but even the most talented attorneys will not be able to be brought up to speed to help lighten the load anytime soon.” Khojasteh says this unironically, despite the fact that under Boudin 59 attorneys left, including 37 who quit and 11 who were fired.
As for his own work? Khojasteh says he took it seriously and was good at his job, though photographs posted on social media show his cubicle floor scattered with files and his mail slot overflowing with unopened envelopes, some likely containing time sensitive information about his cases. After all, it would be tough to open mail while “sitting in the back of your mom’s car on the highway.”
As he rails against the “unfair firings,” Khojasteh never acknowledges that positions in the district attorney’s office are “at will,” meaning you can be cut loose at any time for any reason. He also neglects to mention that just two days after Boudin was sworn in, he fired seven attorneys. One prosecutor told me the original number was 14, but more bad press made Boudin nervous. Just weeks later when that prosecutor quit, he says Boudin looked right at him and asked, “Who will try homicide cases?” to which he replied, “You fired them all.”
At the time, Boudin told the press the dismissals were necessary to carry out his agenda, stating, “I had to make difficult staffing decisions today in order to put in place a management team that will help me accomplish the work I committed to do for San Francisco.”
So, both Boudin and Jenkins fired people. The only difference is Boudin fired qualified prosecutors and replaced them with unqualified public defenders, while Jenkins fired unqualified public defenders and replaced them with qualified prosecutors.
DIVERSE, ALL-FEMALE SENIOR MANAGEMENT TEAM
Not a single one of the Boudin hires dismissed by Jenkins had prosecutorial experience, but the diverse, all-female senior management team selected by Jenkins — Ana Gonzalez, Nancy Tung, Tiffany Sutton, and Kulvidar “Rani” Singh Mann — have decades of it.
A trial prosecutor and former Deputy California Attorney General with nearly two decades of experience, Nancy Tung will lead and oversee special prosecutions and community partnerships. She ran against Boudin in 2019, saying at the time she wanted to prioritize early intervention with a vision she calls “Community-Centered Justice.” Tung is currently a prosecutor for Alameda County but previously worked in the San Francisco DA’s Office.
When Boudin dismantled the gang unit, Ana Gonzales, who led the unit, was fired. Now she will serve as chief assistant and lead managing attorney, bringing with her 20 years of experience in the DA’s Office in her native San Francisco. After she was fired, Gonzales (and several other fired prosecutors) served as a deputy attorney general for the California Attorney General’s Office. When Boudin barred his staff from charging gang and gun enhancements, Gonzales likely saw the writing on the wall. Now she is second in command under Jenkins.
Kulvidar “Rani” Singh Mann also has decades of experience in the SFDA’s Office, where she served as a neighborhood prosecutor and in the juvenile and adult divisions. Currently an attorney for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, she will act as Senior Transition Advisor for Jenkins.
Vice President Kamala Harris hired Tiffany Sutton when she was the San Francisco District Attorney. After 12 years in the office, Sutton most recently worked as Director of the Crime Strategies Division for the San Francisco Police Department, where she was responsible for the leadership and management of the crime analytics team and analyzing SFPD’s crime and community strategies. While at the University of San Francisco Law School, Sutton received the prestigious Thurgood Marshall Achievement Award. Under Jenkins, she will lead and oversee alternative programs and initiatives and the juvenile division.
You would think news of this strong, diverse, all-female management team would delight former Boudin staffers who claim to “punch up” for Black and Brown women while presenting themselves as allies. Instead, fired chief of staff Chatfield hopped on Twitter to punch down at the powerhouse team — and new Black and Latina DA Jenkins — calling them “Girl Bosses for mass incarceration.”
Chatfield, who is white, once compared Boudin’s critics to The Birth of a Nation, the controversial 1915 film that depicts Ku Klux Klan members as heroes. In between dissing the women taking leadership roles under Jenkins, she managed to punch up for Boudin’s fired communications director Rachel Marshall, who is also white, tweeting, “Unsure which is stronger: her heart or work ethic.” It’s definitely not her work ethic. As I reported previously (“Six podcasts, four trials, and a blog,” August 2021), Marshall created a seven-page Word document titled “Dion Lim Misrepresentations,” a detailed manifesto of the cases the ABC7 reporter and anchor has covered, with talking points and “evidence” of her bias against Boudin.
In text messages obtained through a public records request, Marshall goes back and forth with Tennessee blogger Radley Balko, offering information on an open criminal case and sending him the Lim manifesto to help with a hit piece that eventually ran in The Washington Post.
Also complicit was Kasie Lee — I was surprised Jenkins didn’t fire her, though she was demoted from her interim Chief of Victim Services position. Lee’s equally blind devotion to Boudin led her to divulge a victim’s contact information to Balko. On Twitter, @NikiSolisSF lamented that Lee was actually “a juvenile justice reform expert, appointed by @chesaboudin to overhaul the system.” If that’s true, she should have thought better of instructing Balko on how to file a 827 petition, even providing him with a PDF of form JV-570, to request disclosure of a juvenile suspect’s case file. Balko replies, “I was told that’s a pretty involved process . . . I can maybe write something based on my interview with the witness . . . But the victim would obviously be preferable. Just maybe check to see she got my email.”
(You can read the text messages between Balko, Marshall, and Lee, as well as view the “Dion Lim manifesto,” by clicking here.)
‘INTERIM, UNELECTED D.A.’
As if Boudin’s former staff weren’t already headed for Hypocrite Hill, their attempts to demean Jenkins by calling her the “interim, unelected D.A.” push them right up to the tippy-top. Nearly all of them came from the San Francisco Public Defenders Office where their boss, Mano Raju, also appointed by Breed, served out the late Jeff Adachi’s term in March 2019. That made him the “interim, unelected” P.D. until he ran to fill Adachi’s remaining three years that November and won.
While Boudin’s supporters constantly denounced the recall effort as “undemocratic” (it’s not), someone purchased the URL recallbrooke.com the day her appointment was announced. On Twitter, an anonymous account claiming to be “parody” uses the image and name of William Oberndorf, the largest individual donor to the Boudin recall campaign, to spew racist and sexist tropes. It’s neither parody nor is it funny. “Hey @BrookeJenkinsSF — @LondonBreed and I were chatting this morning and we agree that you should smile more. You’re prettier when you smile,” one tweet reads. Other tweets talk about “paying for London Breed’s implants,” his “wife’s tramp stamp,” and the “elephant in the room” — race. “Everyone seems to be concerned about Brooke’s race. Well you know what? They were skeptical of Clarence Thomas when we first had him installed, and just look how well that worked out…!” One of the account’s first followers? None other than Chesa Boudin. The usual suspects make up the rest — fired Boudin staff, public defenders, defense attorneys, Democratic Socialists of America “comrades” (yes, that’s what they call themselves), and anonymous Boudin admirers who use telltale terms like “cages,” instead of prisons, “mass incarceration,” which doesn’t exist in San Francisco, and “carceral state” (see above).
‘INSURRECTIONIST BROOKE JENKINS’
One of the most relentless Jenkins attackers has been John Hamasaki, a private defense attorney who stepped down from the San Francisco Police Commission last April after a majority of the Board of Supervisors said they would not reappoint him. The reason? His crass, misogynistic tweets against Supervisors Myrna Melgar and Catherine Stefani, and his inflammatory late-night rants, like the one that had many supervisors calling for his resignation: “Taking a gun from one kid may as likely stop violence as end up in that kid getting killed,” he tweeted after New York City police displayed a stolen handgun recovered from a 17-year-old. “It may feel good to post this photo, but I’ve known too many kids who were killed for being in the wrong neighborhood (often their own) & being unable to protect themselves.” Recently, Twitter temporarily suspended Hamasaki’s account for encouraging someone to commit suicide. (For more on Hamasaki’s bad behavior, sign up for an extended version of this column coming next week in my free newsletter.)
From the minute Jenkins was announced, Hamasaki hammered her lack of management experience, but never criticized Boudin for his. Before law school, Boudin was a translator in the Venezuelan Presidential Palace during Hugo Chavez’s administration. After law school (2011) he was a law clerk, then a Liman Fellow in the public defender’s office (2012–13), and again a clerk (2013–14). In 2015, Boudin started full time as a deputy public defender and left in 2019 to run for district attorney. Jenkins, conversely, worked as a prosecutor under Boudin’s predecessor George Gascón from 2014–19. When Boudin took over, he promoted her to the homicide division, where she worked until 2021 when she joined the recall effort after becoming disillusioned by Boudin’s ideological approach.
In the months leading up to the recall, Boudin, who has never prosecuted a case at trial, refused to debate Jenkins, instead sending ardent supporter and USF law professor Lara Bazelon as a surrogate. Boudin was enthusiastic, however, about debating that big donor to his recall effort, William Oberndorf (needless to say, that never happened).
Hamasaki, also an avid Boudin fan, continued his unhinged assaults on Jenkins, referring to her repeatedly as “Insurrectionist DA Jenkins,” which could only make sense in a manic mind. He also encouraged public defenders to “clog up the courts” by taking every narcotics sales case to trial, and tweet-quoted himself from a Courthouse News article in which he said, “Assuming that attorneys and judges are going to get in line for somebody that isn’t particularly widely respected or loved is just a fantasy.” In that same piece, he said the city’s lawyers and judges are “tight-knit” so Jenkins won’t be successful. This is Hamasaki we’re talking about, but to suggest that lawyers and judges are in cahoots against Jenkins (who had been in office just 14 days at the time) is not only baseless, it’s absurd.
For her part, Jenkins hasn’t paid any attention to Boudin’s embittered troll patrol — she’s too busy building a team that she hopes will help her make San Francisco safer for law-abiding citizens without losing sight of necessary reforms. She recently tapped Darby Williams as managing attorney of the Internal Affairs Bureau (known as IIB), which investigates police misconduct and decides whether officers are cleared or charged. Williams worked two decades as a public defender in Los Angeles, Solano, and Santa Clara counties; she previously worked in IIB under Gascón, moved on to work as a deputy attorney general, and was hired by Boudin in April as an assistant district attorney.
Williams replaces Lateef Gray, who worked as a civil attorney in the Law Offices of John Burris, where millions of dollars are made from cases against police officers — including some that are also investigated by IIB. Adding to Gray’s conflicts of interest, he is married to Cindy Elias, vice president of the Police Commission, which disciplines officers and sets police policy. Jeffrey Pailet, a former IIB lieutenant investigator under Boudin, filed an ethics complaint in April against the couple, claiming they obtained information about him and an underlying investigation in which Gray had a financial interest.
It remains to be seen how many of her stated goals Jenkins will be able to accomplish before running for the job in the November election. Already, repeat offenders released under Boudin are popping up with new arrests, and how Jenkins handles those cases will be crucial as her supporters will be watching carefully. As for the staff she has fired and hired and how she’s handled herself in the office thus far, the consensus seems to be that the new district attorney is making all the right moves.
Meanwhile, Boudin’s backers throw around terms like “law and order” with disgust as they shout into an echo chamber. Only in the small world of far left “progressives” could the fundamental adversarial relationship between district attorney and public defender be seen as a negative. There’s a reason so many defense lawyers — including Jenkins’s counterpart, Public Defender Mano Raju — fought so hard to keep Boudin in office.
“Holding offenders accountable does not preclude us from moving forward with vital and important reforms to our criminal justice system,” Jenkins said at her swearing in. That makes sense to me and anyone else who understands the word “balance,” which Boudin and his supporters clearly do not.
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