Skip to main content
Politics & Policy

Judge rules David Campos can’t call himself a ‘civil rights attorney’ in state Assembly runoff

David Campos, a candidate in the hotly contested race to represent San Francisco’s eastern half in the state Assembly, can no longer list his occupation as a “civil rights attorney” or “criminal justice attorney,” a judge ruled Tuesday.

Judge Shelleyanne Chang, of Sacramento County Superior Court, said the description is “misleading voters.” Instead, Campos will need to designate himself as “criminal justice administrator” in the weeks to come before the Assembly District 17 runoff election with Supervisor Matt Haney.

After the ruling, a Haney campaign official said that Campos, who is on leave as chief of staff to District Attorney Chesa Boudin, has been deceptive in the way he has noted his occupation.

“It is sad that Campos feels the need to hide his true occupation from voters, because he sees it as a political liability,” spokesperson Elizabeth Power said in a statement.

Campos originally listed “civil rights attorney” as his occupation for the ballot. Haney challenged the designation in a letter late last year to the California Secretary of State, arguing that the role of a DA’s chief of staff is to oversee operations and administration, not practice law.

After the Secretary of State chose not to reject Campos’ designation, Haney filed a lawsuit against that office in late February.

Despite the judge’s ruling Tuesday, Campos said the lawsuit shows that Haney is out of touch with AD 17 voters.

“We’re fine with the designation,” Campos said in a phone interview. “I think it’s quite telling that Matt Haney is taking the step of suing the first African American secretary of state to make the point that working for criminal justice is not civil rights work.”

Campos and Haney have waged a contentious fight in the months after David Chiu relinquished his seat in the state Assembly to take an appointment as San Francisco’s city attorney. Haney and Campos finished first and second, respectively, in a Feb. 15 special election and will square off in an April 19 runoff to see who will fill the seat through the rest of this year.

In June and November, a general election primary and runoff will be held to see who will hold the AD 17 seat in 2023 and 2024.

Campos and DA Boudin both submitted declarations in support of the “civil rights attorney” ballot designation. Boudin’s letter cited Campos’ “long history of working in the area of Civil Rights,” including his work to desegregate schools and end police misconduct. Campos’ letter said that while he does not currently prosecute cases, he does engage in civil rights work such as “helping oversee the work of the office’s Innocence Commision whose goal is to prevent and correct wrongful convictions.”

On Tuesday, Judge Chang declined to hear further testimony from both candidates’ attorneys and made her decision within 15 minutes. 

“The court finds that it is highly unlikely that the tasks that Mr. Campos and Mr. Boudin have outlined in their declarations is their principal occupation, versus overseeing the prosecution and making policy decisions involving those accused of a crime or enforcing the criminal laws,” she said.