Dennis Herrera Slammed -- for Advising Against Breaking the Law

Categories: Media, Politics
Dennis Herrera by Jim Herd.jpg
Jim Herd
Lawyer charged with being cautious and advising law-abiding behavior! The horror! The horror!
The Chronicle's front-page salvo against Dennis Herrera today was something of a head-scratcher. The story's multiple anonymous sources lambaste Herrera for supposedly assessing that a city policy designed to flout the law was, indeed, illegal.

Huh. Just what is the function of a city attorney these days?

Here's a synopsis: Several anonymous members of former Mayor Gavin Newsom's administration told the Chron that Herrera was not initially in favor of the erstwhile mayor's 2004 decision to render San Francisco the Las Vegas of same-sex marriages, describing him as "obstructionist."

Herrera -- whose office will put out a press release to announce it put out a press release -- has made a lot of political hay based on the city attorney's successful campaigns against marriage discrimination. Using that odd amalgamation of student council politics and Stalinism it takes to win Democratic Club endorsements, he beat out gay candidate Bevan Dufty for the Alice B. Toklas club's No. 1. So, it's understandable why an article like this would be written. But it has nothing to do with marriage equity.    

Instead, a City Hall insider tells SF Weekly it's because Newsom and his inner circle hated Herrera and his office. Newsom's people felt Herrera ran a "political city attorney's office" that often undercut and thwarted the Newsomites. This is a chance to trip up a despised foe -- and, no doubt, prop up other candidates in the race.

Putting Herrera on the defensive for supposedly advocating against opening the gates en masse to same-sex couples places the city attorney in the awkward position of having to offer a nuanced retort to a red meat allegation.

Herrera was quoted as stating the accusations in the Chronicle were a "bald-faced lie." With us, he took a more nuanced line. "Anybody who says I was not supportive of [marriage equality] is, No. 1, lying, and, No. 2, it is absolutely my job to advise of the legal risks," he says. "When I advise my clients of the possibilities and legal risks of going down a particular course and what the likelihoods of success and failure are, I'm doing my job. I've done this for the entirety of the case. It's never impinged on my desire or ability to fight for marriage equality here in California.

"I was never an obstructionist in this case," he continues. "Anyone who says that me or this office is obstructionist is lying or doesn't understand what our role was in this case and continues to be."

Fair enough. But why debate the particulars of a manufactured controversy? If Herrera didn't offer an opinion that a concerted effort to break the law was, ahem, against the law, he wasn't doing the best job of lawyering. As to how he's performed since 2004 with regards to marriage equity, that's something one needn't rely on shadowy anonymous sources to deduce.

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