Steinberg staffers will represent immigrant kids

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s staff counsel will help provide free legal services to undocumented, unaccompanied children arriving in California from Central America.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, announced Wednesday that his policy director, Anthony Williams, and his senior policy consultant, Margie Estrada, will take part in the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Legal Assistance Project, in conjunction with the American Immigration Lawyers Association Southern California Chapter.

“These children face a daunting immigration process in a foreign legal system without any legal representation. A kid is a kid, and should be shown compassion regardless of where they were born,” Steinberg said in a news release. “I’m exceptionally grateful to my team and all other volunteering attorneys for taking unpaid time away from their families to ensure that these children receive fair and due process.”

Steinberg noted that many if not most of these children don’t speak English or understand the U.S. legal system, yet some have been requested to appear in courts, sometimes in other states, with less than 48 hours of notice. Those who fail to appear risk deportation orders and a swift return to the violent regions from which they originally fled, he said.

Heather Poole, chair of AILA’s Southern California Chapter, wrote to an immigration court that the timeline reduces the children’s chance to find legal counsel and so compromises their due-process rights.

“These unaccompanied children are in desperate need of competent immigration representation to ensure that every child’s case is thoroughly vetted before an immigration judge before a swift removal takes place to a potentially dangerous place where their safety will be at risk,” she wrote. “Due to political pressure and directives, the immigration courts are now prioritizing these cases on the court’s docket, which has led to fast hearings and some with little notice for many children who remain unrepresented by counsel, having no funds or connections. It is important, more than ever, that we have volunteers from the legal community participate in this humanitarian crisis to ensure that justice is served.”

Steinberg earlier this month led other lawmakers on a fact-finding visit to El Salvador and Guatemala, where they met with national leaders to discuss the gang, drug and other conditions that have led to more than 57,000 minors arriving at the U.S. border since October 2013.


No taxpayer-funded lawyers for Ross Mirkarimi

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera today rejected embattled Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s request that taxpayers foot the bill for lawyers he hired to defend himself against an attempt to boot him from office for official misconduct – having bruised his wife in an argument.

Mirkarimi sent a letter to Herrera dated May 15 but received just this Tuesday citing a San Francisco Charter section dealing with elected officers’ and department heads’ right to engage outside counsel in instances when the city attorney’s office has a conflict of interests.

The city attorney’s office has erected a “screen” to separate lawyers representing Mayor Ed Lee from those advising the Ethics Commission or Board of Supervisors in Mirkarimi’s misconduct hearing, the sheriff wrote, but has not carved out anyone to represent him.

“Moreover, the actions of your office thus far in these proceedings demonstrate that neither you nor anyone in your office could ethically represent me,” Mirkarimi wrote. “Without cataloging every action you have taken, suffice it to say you chose to represent the Mayor in derogation of your equally compelling legal duty to represent me.”

Not so, Herrera responded today in a letter to Mirkarimi’s lawyers.

The charter section Mirkarimi cited doesn’t apply here, in that it doesn’t require the city to provide personal representation to suspended city officers, Herrera wrote; rather, it makes clear that the city attorney’s client is the city and county, not individual elected officials. “There is simply no basis for your client’s demand for City funded representation.”

“Contrary to your client’s implication, this proceeding is not a private dispute between the Mayor and the Sheriff,” he wrote, citing a Superior Court’s recent ruling. “As the court recognized, the City Attorney’s Office represents the Mayor’s Office in the pending official misconduct proceedings, just as we continue to represent and advise the Sheriff’s Office regarding City business. This office has no conflict of interest here.”

“(T)he City does not pay for private counsel to represent employees charged with misconduct,” he concluded. “Your client’s position as an elected official is no different and does not entitle him to that personal benefit at taxpayer expense.”

Mayor Ed Lee suspended Mirkarimi, 50, after he pleaded guilty to false imprisonment related to a New Year’s Eve altercation that left a bruise on the arm of his wife, Venezuelan former telenovela star Eliana Lopez. If the Ethics Commission upholds the charges, it would take a vote of nine of 11 city and county supervisors to toss him from office.


AG Harris launches mortgage fraud strike force

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.

Kamala Harris“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 rolled out the new initiative in Los Angeles this afternoon, accompanied by LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Center for Responsible Lending.

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.”

Homeowners who believe they’ve been scammed can file complaints through the Attorney General’s website.


Who’s funding whom for insurance commissioner?

Dave JonesThe campaign of Dave Jones, Sacramento Assemblyman and Democratic nominee for state insurance commissioner, today accused the insurance industry of stepping up its funding of his opponent, Republican nominee and Clovis Assemblyman Mike Villines.

Jones’ campaign issued a news release noting the JobsPAC put another $1,051,956 this week into an independent-expenditure campaign opposing Jones and backing Villines.

Actually, I think it’s exactly half that mount. JobsPAC’s disclosures in the Secretary of State’s database show an initial report of $525,958.50 in IE spending against Jones, and then an amended report of the exact same amount in IE spending for Villines, so I suspect that’s the real number. (You can see the initial and amended filings here.) Still not chump change, though.

(UPDATE @ 4:20 P.M.: Parke Skelton, Jones’ campaign consultant, insists the $1,051,956 figure is accurate, and that JobsPAC split it out 50 percent for Villines and 50 percent against Jones. He also says his ad time buyer confirmed almost $1.19 million in total independent expenditure ad buys by JobsPAC so far – in the LA, Sacramento, San Diego and Stockton markets – and he says the difference is probably that between gross and net costs.)

And either way, that’s atop $280,100 from JobsPAC last week, and a $2 million ad buy by the California Chamber of Commerce (which co-chairs JobsPAC) on Villines’ behalf three weeks ago.

Jones’ campaign notes the insurance companies have poured almost $1.3 million into JobsPAC since late September, including:

  • Health Net – $100,000 on Oct. 12
  • Allstate – $250,000 on Oct. 7
  • Anthem Blue Cross – $100,000 on Oct. 7
  • Liberty Mutual – $125,000 on Oct. 7
  • Mercury Insurance CEO George Joseph – $300,000 on Oct. 7
  • Farmers Employees & Agents PAC – $100,000 on Oct. 6
  • Mercury Insurance CEO George Joseph – $225,000 on Sept. 27
  • Progressive – $90,000 on Sept. 27
  • “This is obviously a ruse,” Jones’ consultant Parke Skelton said in the release. “JobsPAC is being used to hide the fact that insurance companies are trying to buy the office of Insurance Commissioner – they want to regulate themselves.”

    But Villines campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Gibbons says the campaign neither has coordinated with JobsPAC nor has any knowledge of their activities or contributors.

    Mike Villines“Dave Jones, on the other hand, has knowingly solicited campaign funds from a range of special interests whose issues and revenues are directly affected by the Department of Insurance,” she said, citing reports of fundraisers with lawyers and others connected to the insurance industry. “He has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from attorneys representing clients before the Commissioner of Insurance, and similarly has taken hundreds of thousands from health care interests he directly affected as Chair of the Assembly Health Committee and who he now wants to bring into the regulatory orbit of the Department of Insurance. Over his political career, Jones has raised over $1 million from attorneys and law firms alone.”

    Jones also has support from independent expenditure committees funded mostly by public employee unions and trade unions, which also have contributed directly to his campaign, Gibbons continued, accusing him of carrying the unions’ water by supporting a single-payer healthcare system.