Gascon’s futility

Pub date April 19, 2011

If the April 12, 2011 breakfast meet-and-greet featuring appointed District Attorney George Gascón at a West Portal Avenue eatery constitutes a barometer of the campaign for that important public office, San Franciscans are in for a tepid exercise in municipal futility.

Sponsored by a prolific campaign contributor and restaurant owner, a Board of Permit Appeals appointee of former Mayor Gavin Newsom, and the owner of a new public relations/lobbying firm just awarded the $100,000 dollar public relations contract for Muni, the event attracted some 20 people, including Gascón’s campaign manager and fundraiser, and consisted of a stereotypical candidate presentation and a meager number of audience questions.

Revealing he’s “intrigued” by a chief of police becoming the District Attorney, Gascón described a Saturday afternoon meeting in early January with Newsom supposedly about the transition in local law enforcement arising from relinquishment of the DA’s office by the prior officeholder. According to Gascón, he was “really surprised” when Newsom declared he wanted to appoint him to the office — but Gascón had to accept the offer by 5 p.m. (Not a word did he provide his breakfast audience about Willie Brown-Rose Pak’s participation in promulgating the Newsom offer).

After claiming he “got some very good results” in his first year as police chief, Gascón recited the need for “separation” between his role as former chief and execution of prosecutorial duties. But he failed to specify, even by example, cases in which he has or will recuse himself from prosecuting in favor of the state’s attorney general — at added taxpayer cost, to be sure! (The Attorney General’s Office institutionally lacks trained criminal trial lawyers; the office responsibility pertains to defending the people in appeals from criminal trial court convictions.)

Asserting that the D.A.’s office is “understaffed and underfunded,” the political appointee then tried to describe the three sections of responsibility within the office, concentrating on so-called community courts for “low-level offenses” and “diversion courts.”

He referred to a section for “justice integrity” without defining its nature or scope. He proclaimed as novelty ” a pre-preliminary hearing” proceeding to resolve charges by “offers” for defendants pleading no contest or guilty to lesser crimes, an existing standard practice in Superior Court.

Audience questions involved the mentally ill, capital offenses, the Mental Health Court, domestic violence, and prosecution problems caused by a flawed drug laboratory, search and seizure police errors, and the like. Gascón conveyed his personal “misgivings about the death penalty,” asserted that 60 percent of Death Row prisoners are “minorities,” reminded listeners the death penalty is California law and must be followed and concluded: “I can’t say categorically I’d never seek the death penalty.” (There are currently seven cases in the District Attorney’s Office that qualify for capital punishment.)

Gascón finally stated he “is not a fan of” so-called consent searches and that he has established a 24-hour search warrant office capability for police — and he spoke of an unexplained relationship with Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who has criticized several warrantless Police Department searches.

Strikingly absent from the Gascón dissertation was any reference to attacking public corruption of the genre disclosed by the Guardian and many other sources. One also wonders whether punishment represents an object of this prosecutor’s office or whether social outcomes represent the dominant goal.

Never mentioned was the Special Prosecution Unit of the office (which once handled corruption cases), whether it still exists or, if so, what its current mission is. Never mentioned was the method of selecting judges for his proposed Community Courts.

And, as John Shanley, one-time spokesman for ex-District Attorney Terence Hallinan and a former deputy city attorney observes: “Anybody who thinks public corruption ended in San Francisco with the disgraced Ed Jew needs to reduce their dosage of medicinal marijuana.”

Lacking any questions or information on the candidate’s trial experience, prosecutorial successes, or experience as a lawyer, we still don’t know much about political appointee D.A. Gascón after one West Portal meet and greet.

Retired Superior Court Judge Quentin Kopp — a former San Francisco supervisor and state senator — has been engaged as a special correspondent for the Guardian covering selected political events and issues.