Was Dennis Herrera's Op-Ed on Alioto-Pier Term Limits Case Ethical?

Categories: Law & Order
Can Dennis do what he did?
It's not every day Dennis Herrera will launch a media onslaught to publicize his appeal of a long-running case in which he was legally licked -- but that's just what San Francisco's city attorney did yesterday. Herrera was on TV, his 42-page appeal in the Michela Alioto-Pier term limits case was fired off to the Twitterverse, and the city attorney announced his quest to overturn "an unjust ruling" in a Chronicle op-ed.

That Chronicle op-ed brings up an interesting question: By lambasting District 2 supervisor candidate Alioto-Pier repeatedly in his op-ed and goading her for having the temerity to sue the city (and win, let's not forget) -- was he crossing the line into influencing an election?

There are limits to what you can and cannot do as city attorney in San Francisco. According to the city charter, Herrera may not "publicly endorse or urge the endorsement of or otherwise participate in a campaign for a candidate for City elective office, other than himself or herself..."

By penning an op-ed slamming Alioto-Pier just months before her contested election, was Herrera in the wrong? The executive director of San Francisco's Ethics Commission, John St. Croix, weighed the matter at SF Weekly's behest. Here's his answer:

The Chronicle piece does not urge an endorsement (or an opposition) to any candidate, including Alioto-Pier. He is not expressing opposition to her election to the board; he is expressing opposition to the court ruling that allows her to seek another term. The courts have been fairly clear that the presence of certain words (ie "vote for" or "vote against") are required to consider the language an endorsement. Herrera is criticizing a process, not a candidate and therefore does not cross the line.

So there you go. District 2 voters -- consider yourself uninfluenced.

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