The new attorney handling the prosecution of Mayor London Breed’s brother assured a judge Monday that any conflict of interest linked to newly appointed District Attorney Brooke Jenkins had been dealt with by walling her off from the case.
Breed’s brother, Napoleon Brown, was convicted of murder, carjacking and robbery in a crime spree that ended in his girlfriend’s death after she was hit by a car on Golden Gate Bridge in 2000. Convicted in 2005 and sentenced to 44 years behind bars, Brown was granted a sentencing review earlier this year before Breed named Jenkins as DA after voters recalled her predecessor Chesa Boudin.
Shortly after Jenkins’ appointment in early July, her office asked the California Attorney General to take over the case. When the AG declined, saying the DA’s office had already done enough to wall off Jenkins, her prosecutors said they will continue to seek outside counsel. Until then, Jenkins’ office remains on the case.
“I need to know if you are the final arbiter on this case … or is there someone you have to talk to?” Judge Brendan Conroy asked in court Monday.
“I am the final arbiter in this case,” Assistant District Attorney Ana Gonzalez replied, noting that all the physical files in the case have been locked in a secure location and that their electronic counterparts have been siloed away from Jenkins.
Still, Gonzalez said she expects that no matter how strong the firewall, the defense and others paying attention to the matter may perceive some level of conflict if she argues against Brown’s request for a new sentence.
“I do understand that the public will assume that I am biased depending on how this case turns out,” Gonzalez acknowledged.
Monday’s appearance was Gonzalez’s first, and a judge granted her request to postpone the matter to another date to give her time to fully prepare for the case. The previous attorney handling the prosecution, Arcelia Hurtado, was fired soon after Jenkins took office.
Brown appears in court wearing orange jail-issue sweats. He tried to make a statement to the court about the length of time he has already served, but the judge interrupted him, saying that such a comment should wait until his attorney is present and not appearing virtually.
Defense attorney Marc J. Zilversmit, who represents Brown and tuned into the hearing on Zoom, said he still had issues with potential conflicts of interest. While Zilversmit said he has no evidence of impropriety, he worried about the case being tainted by the politics of Breed appointing Jenkins.
“I don’t want to be in the position where we’ve got a DA trying to be harsh on my client based on a desire to appear independent for an upcoming election,” Zilversmit told The Standard in an interview after the hearing.
Despite assurances made by Gonzalez, Judge Conroy posed additional questions about the AG rationale for declining to take on the case.
“I need to know what the AG was told and why they came to those conclusions,” Conroy said.
A July 22 letter from the AG explaining why it said that existing firewalls preventing Jenkins from influencing the cases is enough to keep proceedings 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.”
Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org