Friday, May 20, 2011

Oakland Council Should Worry About the Deficit, Not the Mayor’s Advisor

By Robert Gammon
Fri, May 20, 2011 at 12:09 PM

The Oakland City Council is facing some very difficult decisions as it attempts to close a $58 million budget deficit in the next month, and yet the panel seems more obsessed these days with Mayor Jean Quan’s unpaid legal advisor — Dan Siegel — than with doing its job. The Chron reports that the council voted in a closed-door session on Tuesday to demand that Siegel stop representing the city on legal matters. But the council’s overheated concern appears to be much ado about nothing, because Siegel’s role as Quan’s advisor isn’t causing any imminent harm to the city and the council’s claims about his actions are unfounded.

Dan Siegel
  • Dan Siegel
Quan asked Siegel to respond to a few public records requests made to her office, and asked him to sit in on a meeting concerning the Oakland Police Department’s consent decree with a federal judge. The council apparently is freaked out over Siegel’s attendance at the April 12 meeting, and claims that it somehow violates attorney-client privilege.

But on closer examination, the allegation appears to be absurd on its face, because there can be no attorney-client privilege at a meeting that involves non-city employees, such as a federal judge and defense attorneys representing drug suspects who were abused by OPD.

As any first-year law student knows, attorney-client privilege only extends to the attorney and his or her client, and so when people outside that relationship are privy to the information being discussed, it’s no longer privileged information under the law. As a result, any meeting involving non-city employees, like a federal judge and defense attorneys, cannot contain “privileged” information. In short, it would have been impossible for Siegel to have violated attorney-client privilege because none could have existed at the April 12 meeting. The whole thing is laughable, when you think about it.

For those who are new to this debate, Quan turned to Siegel to be her unpaid legal advisor not long after she was elected mayor, because of her longstanding distrust of outgoing City Attorney John Russo. Russo, not surprisingly, immediately cried foul. Yet Jerry Brown sought to do the same thing when he was mayor, because there’s nothing illegal — or untoward — about a mayor seeking outside legal advice. Yes, it might be a blow to the city attorney’s ego, but it’s not really a big deal. Nor is there anything wrong with a mayor’s advisor attending a meeting with numerous other non-city employees.

So why is the Oakland City Council overreacting to all of this? Could it be that it would rather focus on silly, manufactured controversies, than actually doing the difficult work of balancing the budget — which is its main function? It certainly looks that way.

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