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.
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.
The Assembly today passed a Bay Area lawmaker’s bill that would provide more resources to find and confiscate guns belonging to convicted felons and the mentally ill.
SB 819 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, passed on a 48-23 vote; the state Senate had approved it June 1 on a 22-16 vote, so it now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.
SB 819 – sponsored by state Attorney General Kamala Harris – would let the state Justice Department use money from the $19 Dealer Record of Sale fee that’s collected on each firearm sale to enforce the existing Armed Prohibited Persons System program. APPS, launched in 2007, identifies prohibited persons so law enforcement can go collect the illegally possessed weapons.
The state Justice Department’s Bureau of Firearms has identified more than 18,000 Californians who illegally own tens of thousands of firearms, a list that grows by 15 to 20 per day. But state and local officials say they lack the resources to confiscate this enormous backlog of weapons, much less keep up with new additions to the list.
Leno calls that “a troubling blind spot in our current enforcement of firearms laws.”
“Thousands of gun owners who once obtained their weapons legally still possess firearms despite subsequent issues, including criminal activities, that disqualify them from owning weapons,” he said in a news release today. “Innocent lives have been lost because we allow guns to be in the hands of known criminals, gang members and people who have serious mental illnesses. SB 819 helps remedy this troubling threat to public safety.”
To be clear: It’s not raising any more money for the state, just authorizing another purpose for which the DROS fee money can be used. The Justice Department has estimated it wouyld draw about $1 million per year from the DROS fund for this; the fund currently holds about $5.5 million.
The California Association of Firearms Retailers has argued that the DROS fee is supposed to pay for the costs of a criminal and mental background check to determine a buyer’s eligibility to lawfully own a firearm, and so redirecting some of it to another, more general purpose effectively turns it into a tax.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris – who already had joined friend-of-the-court briefs defending the constitutionality of last year’s federal healthcare reform law in the 6th, 4th and 11th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal – has now done so again in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
“Health care reform saves lives, and that is why I am determined to protect this law,” Harris said in her news release today, noting that the filing comes one week after the 6th Circuit became the first federal appeals court to uphold the law’s constitutionality.
Harris and nine other attorneys general argue in the new brief that the Constitution grants Congress broad powers to regulate interstate commerce, and that the decision to buy health insurance has a significant impact on interstate commerce because it allows the formation of risk pools, lowers health care costs nationally and reduces the cost of uncompensated care.
“The law strikes an appropriate, constitutional balance between federal and state authority over the health care system by creating federal requirements, backed by federal funding, to expand access to affordable coverage, while conferring considerable latitude to allow states to decide how best to design a system of federally-supported coverage that works well for their citizens,” the brief argues.
Joining California in this brief are Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, New York, Oregon and Vermont.
Larry Wallace will oversee the department’s $238 million budget, 437 special agents, 281 criminalists, and 693 non-sworn personnel. He most recently served as deputy chief of the bureau of investigations for the San Francisco District Attorney‘s office – Harris’ former domain – and also served for 10 years as a special agent with the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement in San Francisco. He began his law enforcement career serving from 1987 to 1994 with the Berkeley Police Department, where he was named Officer of the Year and awarded the Medal of Valor.
Harris also named Christopher Cunnie, a retired undersheriff of San Francisco, as a special advisor for labor and law enforcement. Cunnie for 17 years was a San Francisco Police Department patrol officer and from 1996 through 2004 served as president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association. Between that job and the undersheriff’s office, Cunnie was chief of investigations for the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and director of the San Francisco Emergency Communications Department.
In other appointments today, Harris named Wayne Quint, Jr., who retired from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department as a sergeant after 29 years of service, as Wallace’s assistant for external affairs. Quint for the past 12 years has served as president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs; he also was the longest-serving president in the history of the California Coalition of Law Enforcement Associations, which represents more than 40 public safety organizations and 80,000 peace officers statewide. The CCLEA, under Quint’s leadership, endorsed Harris’ Republican opponent, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, in last year’s election.
Jerry Szymanski, who spent 37 years with the Los Angeles Police Department and retired as a commander, will serve as Wallace’s assistant for evidence-based law enforcement. Szymanski led LAPD’s Narcotics, Commercial Crimes and Burglary-Auto Theft divisions, also served as second-in-command to deliver police services in the San Fernando Valley. He played a key role in LAPD’s implement measuring crime data and law enforcement results with COMPSTAT, an accountability process.
And Suzy Loftus, a prosecutor who specialized in domestic violence, elder abuse and firearms cases in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and served on Harris’ executive staff there, is now a special assistant attorney general working on criminal law issues and public safety policy, as well as the office’s primary liaison to local, state and federal law enforcement offices.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris today announced she’s creating a Mortgage Fraud Strike Force staffed by state Department of Justice attorneys and investigators charged with the duty of “protecting innocent homeowners and bringing to justice those who defraud them,” according to her news release.
“Californians in search of the American dream all too often found a protracted personal and legal nightmare. Families are losing their homes, while those who perpetrated crimes and frauds against them walk free,” Harris said. “We will work to safeguard the homeowner at every step of the process – from origination of a loan to its securitization, and we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those who take advantage of trusting California families. We are setting a high bar for other states and we insist that homeowners be protected, respected, and informed.”
Harris’ news release says the strike force will work out of state Justice Department offices in San Francisco, Fresno, Los Angeles and Sacramento, with 25 attorneys and investigators broken into three teams. A consumer enforcement team will target scams in the consumer arena, including predatory lending, unfair business practices in originating loans, deceptive marketing, and loan modification and foreclosure consultant scams. A criminal enforcement team will prosecute criminal frauds associated with the epidemic of mortgage scams, including fraudulent investment and money laundering schemes related to mortgage lending or foreclosure relief. And corporate fraud team will target misconduct involving investments and securities tied to subprime mortgages, as well as false or fraudulent claims made to the state with respect to these securities.
There were foreclosure filings against 546,669 California homes in 2010; an estimated 2 million California homes will enter the foreclosure process from 2009 through 2012. The state Justice Department reports it has received thousands of complaints related to foreclosure scams, mortgage fraud, and mortgage servicing practices in the past year.
“The fingerprints of illegal activity are all over the foreclosure crisis,” said Paul Leonard, director of the Center for Responsible Lending’s California office. “The Attorney General’s effort marries the need to punish bad actors for the practices that brought our economy to the brink with the need to eliminate the scam artists who have since attempted to profit from it. Given the economic damage wreaked by foreclosures in California, this initiative is very welcome news.”
Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson will no longer permit his staff to aide the attorney general’s investigation of a recently reinstated prosecutor, Michael Gressett, charged with the rape of a colleague.
In his campaign last year for Contra Costa County district attorney, Mark Peterson railed at how the office investigated disturbing rape allegations against Michael Gressett, a veteran prosecutor whom he supervised in the sex crimes unit. As top dog, Peterson said he would have backed off and let another agency handle it.
Now he has.
“I sent the Attorney General’s Office a letter on Jan. 21 informing them I recused our office in terms of any investigation or involvement in the prosecution,” he said. “Obviously, anybody in our office is free to talk to either side in the case. If somebody is asked to give a statement, they can choose to if they wish. If they’re subpoenaed to testify, I’d expect them to respond truthfully and fully.”
Gressett, 54, returned to the county payroll this week, due back pay and benefits, after an arbitrator ruled Monday that the county failed to justify his July 2009 firing over the rape allegation and five other causes. The arbitrator, Norman Brand, agreed with Gressett that his firing was “tainted by political animosity.”
Harman, R-Huntington Beach, issued a news release a few hours after Harris announced that she and eight other Democratic attorneys general were filing a friend of the court brief with the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals:
“The time for California to involve itself in the legal proceedings surrounding Obamacare has long passed and it is now a matter for the U.S. Supreme Court. Certainly filing a brief in support of a program universally disliked by voters and estimated to cost Californians billions of additional tax dollars at a time when we are facing multi-billion dollar deficits and record unemployment sends a mixed message.
“The Attorney General’s time and resources would be better spent focusing on the most pressing issues facing Californians – promoting private sector jobs and stimulating the economy. Spearheading efforts to put a lid on frivolous lawsuits and regulations that threaten our small businesses would be of more benefit to the average Californian than supporting a program that is certain to add hundreds of billions of dollars to our tax burden.
“California is currently facing a $28 billion dollar deficit. Our taxes are among the highest in the nation. The federal health plan stands to only exacerbate these problems. As details have emerged about the federal law, national opposition to it has grown to such a point that the new Congress is actively trying to repeal and replace it.
“I would urge the Attorney General to use her department’s resources to tackle California’s immediate concerns.”
Harman finished a distant third in last June’s GOP primary to relatively more moderate Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, who had not ruled out joining a lawsuit challenging the law; he said he would do so if directed by the new governor and Legislature. Cooley then lost November’s general election to Harris by less than one percentage point.
Last night on KQED’s “This Week in Northern California,” Lisa talked about the new citizens’ redistricting commission; I talked about the prison overcrowding case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court; and the Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos talked about Kamala Harris clinching the election for state Attorney General:
Republican nominee and Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley has conceded the race for state attorney general to Democratic nominee and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris.
“While the margin is extremely narrow and ballots are still being counted, my campaign believes that we cannot make up the current gap in the vote count for Attorney General. Therefore, I am formally conceding the race and congratulate Ms. Harris on becoming California’s next Attorney General.
“We started this campaign late but we won an exceptionally tough Republican primary by a decisive margin. In the general election, we emerged as California’s top Republican vote getter and carried 39 out of the state’s 58 counties. We also cut by more than half the margin of loss by the GOP ticket in heavily Democratic Los Angeles County. It was gratifying to have received the votes of over 4 million Californians.
“It is unfortunate that someone who is a non-partisan non-politician could not overcome the increasingly partisan tendencies of the state, even for an office that by its nature necessitates a non-partisan approach.
“I take great pride in the fact that I received the endorsement of every law enforcement organization in this race as well as that of every major daily newspaper in California but one. I was particularly gratified to receive the support of so many fellow district attorneys. While my campaign team tells me that endorsements do not necessarily win elections – and the results confirm that – it still means a great deal to me on a personal level.
“I thank my supporters and my campaign team for all they did and the sacrifices they made during this past year. We had many old friends – and made many new ones across the state – who stepped up to help our campaign. My campaign team did an exceptional job guiding someone who had never previously thought of running for statewide office through two very difficult elections.
“I will complete my third term and finish my career as a professional prosecutor in the office where it began over 37 years ago. I take great satisfaction in being able to still work with the tremendous professionals who do such an outstanding job in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office. I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Los Angeles County as District Attorney with the same commitment and enthusiasm I have always demonstrated.
“The campaign was a fascinating and very positive experience. I advocated for the issues in which I believed in and proposed reforms California needs during these difficult times. I will continue to do the same as District Attorney for the County of Los Angeles.”
“District Attorney Harris thanks District Attorney Cooley for a spirited campaign and looks forward to working together on the critical public safety challenges facing California,” Harris campaign manager Brian Brokaw said in an e-mailed statement. “The counties continue to tabulate votes, and District Attorney Harris believes it is only appropriate to wait until all the votes are counted before making a public declaration. She will be holding a press conference on Tuesday, November 30, the deadline for counties to report final counts to the Secretary of State.”