OAKLAND -- Mayor Jean Quan denied Tuesday sharing any confidential city information with an attorney and friend who has been advising her, saying City Attorney John Russo's suggestion that she may be spilling secrets was "frankly, insulting."
Quan said she's been caught in the middle of a fight between Russo, who has proposed a controversial gang injunction targeting the Nortenos in the Fruitvale district, and her friend Dan Siegel, a prominent opponent of the injunction who has volunteered to advise her as she takes charge of the city.
Siegel has refused to discuss in any detail what advice he's given or may give the mayor, saying those conversations are protected by the privilege of attorney-client confidentiality.
That claim is false, Russo argued in a letter he sent to Quan, other city leaders and local media on Friday.
Under the city charter, Russo said, the city attorney is the mayor's only permissible attorney, so any information Quan shares with Siegel -- or anyone other than Russo and those in his office -- is not protected and can be subpoenaed, threatening the city's standing in a host of legal scenarios.
Siegel, for his part, said Monday he believes the confidentiality privilege would kick in even in casual conversation, if a person asked him for legal advice and he gave it.
"John implying I'd breach confidentiality is, frankly, insulting," Quan said Tuesday. "I'm definitely not talking about confidential city issues with Dan Siegel or anybody else."
Quan has also said she is not seeking Siegel's advice on the injunction issue, recognizing that there is a conflict because two lawyers at Siegel's firm are actively fighting the city in the injunction lawsuit.
On the injunction, Quan said, "I haven't gotten an opinion yet. I'm trying to listen to both sides first."
While Quan supported Russo's previous injunction -- which took effect in June and targets 15 members of a North Oakland street gang and about 100 square blocks -- she said the community has raised important questions about the scope of the Fruitvale injunction currently being considered, as it names 40 people and would include a much larger area.
The mayor is the boss of the chief of police, and can give orders about how to use department personnel. Beyond that, asked what her authority is or could be over the injunctions, Quan said, "I don't honestly know. But if I can only ask (Russo), that's problematic."
Russo said Quan is welcome to get advice from anyone she wants, but taking on another attorney, especially one connected to a fight against the city, is breaking the City Charter and creates a conflict of interest.
"We have a city attorney who is elected and so sometimes has his own political agenda," Quan said. "I'm caught in the middle, and I'm sorry about that."
Russo did not bring his concerns to Quan privately before alerting the media -- Russo's letter argued that Siegel being quoted in the media claiming the mayor as his client made the public counterargument necessary. But Quan said his choice was a breach of trust, which will make confiding in him as the city's only attorney difficult in the future.
"We're all going to have to be careful," she said, "and keep our cards held close to the vest, especially on controversial issues."
A community group opposing the injunctions has planned a protest for 3 p.m. Wednesday at the plaza outside City Hall, 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. To view the injunction documents Russo began filing in October, go to www.oaklandcityattorney.org.
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.