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DAs meet with Kamala Harris on gun enforcement

The Bay Area was heavily represented as California Attorney General Kamala Harris convened a group of county district attorneys Friday in Los Angeles to seek ways to reduce gun violence through enforcement of existing laws and prevention efforts.

Among the 11 DAs present were Nancy O’Malley of Alameda County, Jeff Rosen of Santa Clara County, Stephen Wagstaffe of San Mateo County, Edward Berberian of Marin County and Gary Lieberstein of Napa County; also present were the top prosecutors from Los Angeles, Merced, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Santa Barbara counties. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and former Assemblyman Mike Feuer, a Democrat now seeking the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office.

“Gun violence continues to be a distressing and persistent problem in the United States, but California is leading the nation in smart, common-sense gun policies designed to protect our communities,” Harris said in a news release. “By working together, law enforcement and our state’s district attorneys can make a difference by improving enforcement and increasing prevention to help keep all Californians safe from gun violence.”

This “leadership group” will prepare a report of best practices that will serve as models for law enforcement in other communities to adopt, and as models for potential legislative reform.

Harris took the opportunity to once again tout the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS), which matches lists of handgun and assault-weapon owners to updated lists of convicts and mental-health patients so that firearms can be seized from those barred by law from owning them. Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law SB 140, which diverts $24 million into the badly backlogged APPS program from a surplus of background-check. In the first four months of 2013, agents have collected 461 firearms and 23,080 rounds of ammunition statewide.

Posted on Friday, May 17th, 2013
Under: Attorney General, gun control, Kamala Harris | 9 Comments »

California sues big bank over debt collections

California Attorney General Kamala Harris sued JPMorgan Chase & Co. today, claiming the bank used fraudulent and unlawful debt-collection practices about 100,000 Californians.

The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court claims Chase engaged in widespread, illegal robo-signing, among other unlawful practices, to commit debt-collection abuses against credit-card borrowers over at least three years.

Kamala Harris“Chase abused the judicial process and engaged in serious misconduct against California credit card borrowers,” Harris said in a news release. “This enforcement action seeks to hold Chase accountable for systematically using illegal tactics to flood California’s courts with specious lawsuits against consumers. My office will demand a permanent halt to these practices and redress for borrowers who have been harmed.”

Chase spokesman Paul Hartwick said the bank would make no comment Thursday.

Chase from January 2008 through April 2011 filed thousands of debt collection lawsuits every month in California – including 469 such suits on one day alone. The lawsuit alleges that to keep up this pace, the bank “cut corners in the name of speed, cost savings, and their own convenience, providing only the thinnest veneer of legitimacy to their lawsuits.”

For example, Chase is accused of illegally “robo-signing” various court filings, including sworn documents, declarations, and verified complaints, without reviewing the relevant files or bank records or even reading the documents before signing.

The lawsuit also accuses the bank of failing to properly serve notice of debt collection lawsuits against consumers while claiming they had been served as required by law – a practice sometimes called “sewer service” which results in the consumers not even knowing they’ve been sued.

And the lawsuit claims Chase haphazardly assembled its official legal filings – for example, failing to redact consumers’ personal information in attachments to filings, potentially exposing them to identity theft and in violation of California law. Also, when asking courts to enter default judgments against consumers, Chase consistently swore under penalty of perjury that the consumers weren’t on active military duty when in fact the bank hadn’t actually checked.

Posted on Thursday, May 9th, 2013
Under: Attorney General, Kamala Harris | 1 Comment »

State took 2,000 guns from illegal owners in 2012

California may have a sizeable leg up on other states in taking guns away from mentally ill people who are barred by law from owning them.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris said Tuesday that more than 2,000 firearms were seized in 2012 from people in California who were legally barred from possessing them, including mentally unstable people and those with active restraining orders. She noted the state has clear laws determining who can and can’t possess firearms based on their threat to public safety.

“Enforcing those laws is crucial because we have seen the terrible tragedies that occur when guns are in the wrong hands,” she said, referring to a mentally ill gunman’s spree Friday at a Connecticut elementary school that claimed 26 lives, including 20 children.

Harris said 33 state Department of Justice agents used its Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) database to identify convicted felons, people with active restraining orders, people determined to be mentally unstable and others barred from owning guns. Agents seized 2,033 firearms, 117,000 rounds of ammunition, and 11,072 illegal high-capacity magazines from Jan. 1 through Nov. 30, with most of the firearms seized during two six-week sweeps.

The first statewide sweep targeted people barred from gun ownership because of mental health issues, and the second focused on people with legally registered assault weapons who were later prohibited from owning them.

Harris last year sponsored SB 819, carried by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, to increase funding for the APPS program through the use of existing regulatory fees collected by gun dealers; the new law took effect at the start of this year.

The APPS database cross-references people who legally bought handguns and registered assault weapons since 1996 with people who are prohibited from owning or possessing firearms. APPS was launched in November 2006, and the first statewide sweep was conducted in 2007. California is the nation’s first and only state to have created such a database.

Posted on Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
Under: Attorney General, gun control, Kamala Harris, Public safety | 10 Comments »

AG Kamala Harris says give, but give wisely

Commercial fundraisers in California raised $338.5 million in 2011, but only just over half of that actually went to charitable organizations, according to a report released today by state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

So in this season of giving, ask a lot of questions about how and who to give to.

“This report gives Californians the vital information they need to make educated choices about where to make charitable contributions this holiday season,” Harris said in a news release. “While commercial fundraisers play a role in supporting charities in California, it is important for donors to know how much of their money will be used to support the charity’s programs, and how much will go to overhead.”

The 51 percent of donated funds going to charities using a professional fundraiser in 2011 is actually an increase from the 2010 average of 44.4 percent.

Commercial fundraisers, hired by charities to raise money on their behalf, typically charge a flat fee for their services or take a percentage of the contributions they collect.

Most charities registered with the Attorney General don’t use commercial fundraisers to raise funds, but do their own, in-house fundraising. But state law requires commercial fundraisers to register with the Attorney General’s office and file annual financial disclosure reports detailing income and expenses for each fundraising campaign.

The $338.5 million figure excludes thrift store operations and vehicle donation programs, which are accounted for separately.

The Attorney General’s office also publishes a Guide to Charitable Giving for Donors with advice and guidelines, including:

    Ask the fundraiser how a donation will be distributed. Fundraisers are required by law to tell a consumer this information.
    Ask what percentage of donations will be used to pay for fundraising expenses. This information can better inform the consumer as to how much of the contribution will go to the cause versus overhead.
    Ask if the fundraiser works for a commercial fundraiser and is being paid to solicit. If the answer is yes, then it is likely less of the funds are going to the charity.
    Avoid cash donations, as cash can more easily be diverted to non-charitable purposes and there is no way to trace it.
    Avoid giving credit card information to a telephone solicitor or in response to a telephone solicitation.
    Learn about a charitable organization, its activities and its fundraising practices before giving.

The Attorney General’s office maintains a searchable online database on registered charities and registered professional fundraisers, but donors also can check with the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and the American Institute of Philanthropy.

Posted on Thursday, November 29th, 2012
Under: Attorney General, Kamala Harris | No Comments »

Lawmakers boycott contempt vote on Holder

The House voted 255-67 today to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for allegedly stonewalling over documents relating to the probe of the Fast and Furious “gunwalking” operation on the U.S.-Mexico border.

But more than 100 Democrats left the House floor to boycott the vote, including several Bay Area lawmakers: Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“I cannot and will not participate in this hyper-partisan and purely political vote today to hold Attorney General in contempt of Congress,” Lee said in a news release.

“Contempt power should be used sparingly, carefully and only in the most egregious situations. The Attorney General has gone above and beyond in his response to request for information on “Fast and Furious”, an unfortunate operation that began under the Bush Administration and, in fact, was terminated by Attorney General Holder,” she said. “This contempt vote is unprecedented, unwarranted and entirely unnecessary. Gandhi once said that ‘Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good.’ That is why I am standing with so many of my colleagues in refusing to participate in this shameful Republican political stunt.”

Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Mike Thompson, D-Napa remained on the floor to cast votes against the resolution.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called for the vote with this statement:

John Boehner“It’s important for the American people to know how we got here and to know the facts of this case. The Congress asked the Department of Justice for the facts related to Fast and Furious and the events that led to the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. The Department of Justice did not provide the facts and the information that we requested. Instead, the information came from people outside the Department, people who wanted to do the right thing. In addition to not providing the information, the Administration admitted to misleading Congress, actually retracting a letter it had sent 10 months earlier.

“I think all the Members understand this is a very serious matter. The Terry family wants to know how this happened and they have every right to have their answers. The House needs to know how this happened, and it is our constitutional duty to find out. So the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee issued a lawful and narrowly tailored subpoena. We’ve been patient, giving the Justice Department every opportunity to comply, so that we can get to the bottom of this for the Terry family. We’ve shown more than enough good faith, but the White House has chosen to invoke executive privilege. That leaves us no other options. The only recourse left for the House is to continue seeking the truth and to hold Attorney General in contempt of Congress.

“Now I don’t take this matter lightly, and I frankly hoped it would never come to this. The House’s focus is on jobs and on the economy. But no Justice Department is above the law and no Justice Department is above the Constitution, which each of us has sworn an oath to uphold. So I ask the Members of this body to come together and to support this resolution so that we can seek the answers that the Terry family and the American people deserve.”

After the vote, Holder issued a statement which is presented in its entirety after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, June 28th, 2012
Under: Anna Eshoo, Attorney General, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jerry McNerney, John Boehner, John Garamendi, Law enforcement, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, Pete Stark, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 17 Comments »

Kamala Harris touts pact for online-dating safety

Online daters, take heart – California Attorney General Kamala Harris has your backs.

Harris announced Tuesday that three of the nation’s leading online dating providers agreed to issue a joint statement of business principles to help protect people seeking their soul mates from instead falling victim to identity theft, financial scams and sexual predators.

Her agreement with Santa Monica-based eHarmony, Dallas-based Match.com and Beverly Hills-based Spark Networks – which operates websites such as JDate and ChristianMingle – states that the companies will protect their members by using online safety tools, including checking subscribers against national sex offender registries and by providing a rapid abuse-reporting system for members. They’ll also keep proactively educating their members about safe online practices, providing tips such as fraud-prevention guidance and how to safely meet people offline.

“I commend these companies for committing to these important consumer protections,” Harris said in a news release. “Consumers should be able to use websites without the fear of being scammed or targeted. It is a priority for this office to ensure consumers are protected online, and companies who are creating in the Internet space have a continued opportunity to innovate and thrive.”

She said providers will continue their efforts to screen members for financial or physical safety threats, including looking for fake profiles and checking sex offender registries to prevent registered sex offenders from using their fee-based services. Anyone identified as a registered sex offender won’t be allowed to use these services.

“In the interest of protecting and educating users, I strongly encourage all online dating companies to adopt the same principles as these industry leaders,” she said.

Harris last year created an eCrime Unit to prosecute identity theft, data intrusions and other tech-involved crimes. She’ll assign a liaison from that unit to deal with reports of suspected criminal activity provided by the three online dating providers and other providers who adopt these principles.

About 40 million Americans used an online dating service and spent more than $1 billion on online dating website memberships in 2011, Harris said; of couples married in the last three years, one in six met through an online dating service and one in five people have dated someone they met through an online dating site.

The CEOs of all three companies reiterated their commitments to member safety in Harris’ news release, and said they’re proud to work with her to set an example for the industry.

Posted on Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
Under: Attorney General, Kamala Harris | No Comments »

For-profit medical pot? No prob, law’s author says

A former South Bay lawmaker who authored the state’s medical marijuana framework says state officials have misunderstood, or perhaps twisted for their own ends, a crucial section of that law dealing with whether dispensaries can operate on a for-profit basis.

It’s been the state’s contention for years that for-profit dispensaries aren’t allowed. But former state Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, issued an open letter earlier his month saying that’s not at all what his SB 420 of 2003 said. Here’s the operative part of that letter:

John VasconcellosIt was certainly true that one side wanted to outlaw any profit-making, while the other side did not and would not. So right there and then – in order not to lose our coherence as a working team hoping for a broadly supported result and to hold our coalition together – we took the openly deliberated, fully appreciated compromise way out: We catered to neither side on this issue. Instead the Task Force crafted the language that appears in Health and Safety Code section 1 1362.765(a) as follows: “…. nor shall anything in this section authorize any individual or group to cultivate or distribute marijuana for profit.”

It was so carefully crafted that neither side could claim victory. In effect that issue was entirely left to whatever otherwise is the status of that issue in California law.

Although certain members of our Task Force did advocate for a prohibition on profit-making, that position was firmly rejected by the Task Force in favor of the above compromise language.

The language we fashioned means nothing more – nor less – than what it explicitly says. Nothing in that section prohibits profit. Nothing in that section explicitly authorizes profit, either. But I must point out that nobody is required to obtain an “authorization” from the Legislature to make a profit in California.

In fact, it would have been utterly incongruous for us constituting that A.G.’s Task Force, to have come up with such a ban on profit, which could not readily be interpreted or found to be explicitly or implicitly in support of implementing Proposition 215′s intention to allow patients to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes.

In short, the language in question, which was painstakingly crafted as a result of careful give-and- take from all sides, simply restates a self-evident fact about what is not in that section, but the language does not in any respect purport to prohibit profit – if that had been the intent, the language would have so stated clearly. It obviously does no such thing.

This made my head hurt a little, so I called Oakland attorney Robert Raich, who has argued a medical marijuana case to the U.S. Supreme Court and was part of the task force that drafted SB 420. He broke it down for me: This language was a sop to the cops.

“We needed to throw a bone to them to make them happy so they wouldn’t completely oppose it and walk away from the table altogether,” he said. “But you don’t really need authorization from the Legislature to make a profit. … The fact that it says it doesn’t authorize profit doesn’t mean it prohibits it.”

Raich said he explained it to one of his Oaksterdam University students thusly: The student can say he doesn’t authorize his girlfriend to use his car, and if the girlfriend then drives it, she has run afoul of his lack of authorization. But if the student says he doesn’t authorize Raich to drive Raich’s car, there’s no real effect because the student never had authority over Raich’s car to begin with.

Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office declined to comment on Vasconcellos’ letter.

But, having covered California’s medical marijuana policy since 1997, I’m guessing the state isn’t impressed. I think its lawyers would note all marijuana cultivation and distribution was illegal before voters approved certain narrow exceptions in Proposition 215 of 1996, the Compassionate Use Act; that ballot measure certainly didn’t create a right to profitable sales. Vasconcellos’ 2003 law also didn’t alter that status quo: The section dealing with collective/cooperative cultivation is silent on it, and the section Vasconcellos cites, dealing with primary caregivers, made it clear the Legislature wasn’t authorizing such sales.

So I’d be willing to bet that if someone presents Vasconcellos’ letter in court, the state would argue that such a radical departure from existing law isn’t something the Legislature would have left to implication or conjecture. But I also think the state would argue that Vasconcellos’ letter doesn’t fit within the rules that courts use for determining legislative history and intent, and so is moot anyway.

Posted on Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
Under: Attorney General, Kamala Harris, marijuana | 3 Comments »

DeSaulnier seeks criminal probe of Caltrans

An East Bay lawmaker asked Attorney General Kamala Harris today to open an criminal investigation into accusations of falsified inspections of the new span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge now under construction.

State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, wants Harris to probe Caltrans’ Foundation Inspection Branch, which was the targeted in a committee hearing he chaired last week following a Sacramento Bee investigation that raised the allegations.

“The committee believes that failure to conduct reliable inspection tests on the foundations of bridges, freeway ramps, retaining walls, and other structures may erode the public’s confidence in Caltrans’ management of the state highway and bridge program,” DeSaulnier wrote in his letter to Harris. “State government cannot be a safe haven for employees who shirk their public safety duties and who steal state property for private purposes. To this end, I am requesting that your office investigate the allegations of professional and managerial improprieties in the Foundation Inspection Branch of Caltrans for any criminality.”

Specifically, DeSaulnier wants Harris to look into Caltrans employees’ alleged theft of state materials and use of state equipment as well as the use of employees on state time to transport the materials to a construction site on private property; alleged falsification of inspection data; Caltrans managers’ failure to fire anyone for these alleged offenses; Caltrans’ workers possible intimidation of the Foundation Inspection Branch’s manager; and the possibility that allegedly bogus inspection data was meant to benefit one or more contractors.

UPDATE @ 5:41 P.M.: Spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill says Harris’ office has received DeSaulnier’s letter and is reviewing the request.

Posted on Tuesday, November 29th, 2011
Under: Attorney General, California State Senate, Kamala Harris, Mark DeSaulnier, Transportation | 3 Comments »

Kamala Harris reacts to feds’ marijuana blitz

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has now issued a brief statement about the recently announced federal crackdown on California’s medical marijuana dispensaries:

“Californians overwhelmingly support the compassionate use of medical marijuana for the ill. We should all be troubled, however, by the proliferation of gangs and criminal enterprises that seek to exploit this law by illegally cultivating and trafficking marijuana. While there are definite ambiguities in state law that must be resolved either by the state legislature or the courts, an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California. I urge the federal authorities in the state to adhere to the United States Department of Justice’s stated policy and focus their enforcement efforts on ‘significant traffickers of illegal drugs.”

Of course, that’s exactly what the feds say they’re doing, anyway.

Posted on Friday, October 21st, 2011
Under: Attorney General, Kamala Harris, marijuana | 14 Comments »

ATF: No guns for medical marijuana users

Almost lost in the hubbub of this week’s IRS and Justice Department crackdowns on California’s medical marijuana dispensaries was another revelation of federal action: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is telling gun sellers it’s illegal for medical marijuana patients to own firearms.

The Sept. 21 letter from ATF Assistant Director Arthur Herbert states, “ Any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, is prohibited by Federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”

A lot of advocates – be they advocates of medical marijuana or the Second Amendment – are boiling mad.

“ATF’s blatant discrimination against Americans whose use marijuana legally under state law is outrageous,” Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann said Thursday. “It’s not just that ATF is riding roughshod over the rights of citizens who use marijuana legally with a doctors’ recommendation and thumbing its nose at laws enacted by sixteen states. It’s that there’s absolutely no evidence whatsoever that use of marijuana – whether for medical purposes or otherwise – is linked to reckless use of guns. … There should be zero tolerance for this sort of discrimination by the federal government.”

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who serve one of the 16 states with medical marijuana laws, each wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney Eric Holder earlier this week to protest the policy.

“We’re reviewing the matter,” Lynda Gledhill, spokeswoman for California Attorney General Kamala Harris, said Friday; the office of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said the same thing. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and the National Rifle Association didn’t immediately respond to inquiries today.

Posted on Friday, October 7th, 2011
Under: Attorney General, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, gun control, Kamala Harris, marijuana, U.S. Senate | 8 Comments »