OAKLAND -- The law firm representing defendants in the city's proposed Fruitvale gang injunctions will likely be allowed to stay on the case, despite one employee being a city council member and another advising the mayor, a judge said Thursday.
The proposed injunction names 40 people the city attorney says are known members of the Nortenos, a gang police say is responsible for half the violent crime in Oakland's Fruitvale district. The firm fighting the case is Siegel & Yee, which Alameda Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman said Thursday seems to have shown due caution in addressing potential conflicts of interest in the case.
The firm employs City Councilmember Jane Brunner (North Oakland), around whom the firm says it established a "firewall," keeping her cut off from talk of or information about the case, since she would be "serving two masters" as both a city leader and attorney for the firm. Brunner has also promised to recuse herself from any city council votes having to do with the injunctions.
Tricia Hynes, an attorney with the Meyers Nave law firm contracted by City Attorney John Russo's office to work on the case for the injunctions, said that even if Brunner doesn't vote on injunction issues, she can still exert control over Russo by voting on budget issues.
Freedman appeared unmoved by that argument, questioning if Brunner had any demonstrable, direct ability to compel the city attorney one way or another.
Brunner, for her part, confirmed that she will recuse herself from any injunction votes -- including any injunction-specific budget items Russo proposes -- but as a member of the city's finance committee she will definitely be looking at the city attorney's budget.
Also at issue, is Dan Siegel, who is a partner in the firm and a friend and legal adviser to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. Siegel has been quiet on the injunctions issue this year, but before that he was an outspoken opponent, attending multiple protests and calling the injunction "a vehicle for harassment."
Quan has said she's aware of the possible conflict and, as a result, has not asked Siegel for any advice on the matter. Officials at Siegel & Yee also said that a wall of silence, like the one around Brunner, has been built around Siegel himself.
Though Freedman did not issue an order Thursday, attorneys for the defendants named in the injunction called the day a crucial victory.
"I guess they're going to let us raise a little more hell," said Michael Siegel, Dan Siegel's son and an attorney at the same firm. He, together with fellow Siegel & Yee attorney Jose-Luis Fuentes and independent Bay Area attorneys Dennis Cunningham, Yolanda Huang and Jeff Wozniak, will be representing more than 20 of the 40 defendants in the injunction.
Prosecutors were disappointed with the decision.
"We don't think it's fair to the public to have a firm on the case with an employee who is a lively advocate and active decision maker on the Council," police counsel and deputy city attorney Rocio Fierro said
"This was the most important issue at stake today," Michael Siegel said, "that the defendants in this quasi-criminal case get the opportunity for real representation."
However, Freedman denied the defense motion to have the state appoint attorneys to the defendants, saying there is no existing case or law that gives him the authority to make such an order. One of the chief complaints made by injunction opponents has been that the lawsuit can result in jail time, but doesn't offer the same protection of a court-ordered attorney that a criminal case would offer.
Freedman also denied the defense motion to move the case back from Feb. 16 to begin presenting evidence, though he set a Feb. 14 "case management conference."
If the case is brought to court on the Feb. 16, Michael Siegel said, "It's going to be extremely difficult, but we'll be ready."
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.