The California Attorney General’s Office declined to take over two controversial cases in which San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins raised concerns about potential conflicts of interests.
Hours after taking office as San Francisco’s District Attorney on July 8, Brooke Jenkins’ office sought to have two cases transferred to another jurisdiction because of a potential conflict she feared would tarnish her public image.
The AG responded to Jenkins’ request a couple weeks later on July 22, saying that existing firewalls preventing her from influencing the cases in question are enough to keep proceedings in both fair and impartial.
“Your office has … taken appropriate measures to establish an ethical wall around DA Jenkins, which remains in place and eliminates any ethical concerns about the cases,” the letter said. “There is no evidence that the ethical walls have failed or been breached. As such, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office is the appropriate prosecutorial agency to handle both cases on behalf of the residents of the city and county of San Francisco.”
Jenkins’ office has maintained its commitment to keeping a firm wall between her and decisions in both cases.
“My stance has not changed and I will continue to have no involvement in either case to avoid any appearance whatsoever of a conflict,” Jenkins said. “I am exploring whether other local agencies may be an option. Regardless, these cases will be handled according to the law and with integrity.”
But defense attorneys in both cases remain skeptical about the attorney general’s rationale, pointing out that it does not appear the AG addressed the issues at hand in one case and have yet to be told how the firewalls will be put into place for the Brown prosecution.
Breed’s brother, Brown, was convicted of murder, carjacking and robbery in a series of incidents resulting in his girlfriend’s death after she was pushed out of a car on Golden Gate Bridge in 2000. Brown was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to 44 years behind bars. Earlier this year a judge granted him a sentence review, which is set to take place on Aug. 15.
The AG’s letter said that regardless of the appointment process (she was handpicked by Breed), Jenkins and her office are ethically bound to ensure it handles all cases fairly and without bias.
“There has been nothing to suggest that she is not fulfilling that ethical duty,” the AG’s letter read. “Nevertheless, out of an abundance of caution, and under your guidance, DA Jenkins has been walled off from Mr. Brown’s case to avoid any public perception of a conflict of interest.”
Marc J. Zilversmit, who represents Brown, said that until Tuesday he had been in the dark about whether the case would be kicked over to another jurisdiction.
Zilversmit said no one has told him who the DA’s office assigned to replace the fired prosecutor—Arcelia Hurtado—who was handling the case or what measures they will take to wall off Jenkins.
“So it’s too early for me to say whether they can successfully eliminate the apparent conflict,” Zilversmit said. “I’m willing to be persuaded that the new DA assigned to the case can handle the matter with the same ethical care that Arcelia Hurtado was exercising.”
The second case mentioned in the letter involves Sincere Pomar and Stevie Mitchell, both of whom have been charged with murdering Mallory on July 5, 2020.
In the Mallory case, the AG said Jenkins was firewalled from the case when she was a prosecutor in July 2020, and upon her ascension to office was again walled off from the case.
“You also provided a detailed accounting of those walling off procedures to the court, and provided discovery of those procedures to defense counsel,” the AG’s letter continued.
But Pam Herzig, who represents Mitchell, contends that there remains enough of a conflict of interest that the district attorney’s office should not prosecute the case. The larger issue, according to Herzig, was that Jenkins publicly spoke about the case as she campaigned for the ultimately successful recall of her former boss, District Attorney Chesa Boudin
The letter doesn’t describe accurately the issues of the conflict of interest, Herzig contends, adding that it specifically did not mention Jenkins’ repeated statements about the case.
“Her opinions as to charging decisions and appropriate punishment are in the public record,” Herzig said. “It is impossible to see how ‘walling’ her off from the case resolves that conflict, as her deputies have been made aware of her position. The letter does not address that in any way.”
Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org