Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Judge May Disqualify Politically Connected Firm in Gang Injunction Case

By Robert Gammon
Wed, Jan 5, 2011 at 4:53 PM

An Alameda County judge indicated today that he plans to disqualify a prominent law firm in the Oakland gang injunction case because of its close ties to top city officials. In a tentative ruling, Judge Robert Freedman said he’s ready to side with Oakland City Attorney John Russo, who contends that the firm, Siegel and Yee, should not represent alleged gang members in the case because it has conflicts of interest. Councilwoman Jan Brunner is a member of the firm and the firm has represented Mayor Jean Quan in personal legal matters. In addition, Dan Siegel, one of the partners of the firm, served on Quan’s mayoral transition team.

Freedman also downplayed an attempt by Siegel and Yee attorneys Michael Siegel and Jose Luis Fuentes to create a nonprofit to represent the alleged gang members in order to alleviate the conflicts of interest concerns. Freedman noted that Fuentes and Michael Siegel, who is Dan Siegel’s son, still work for Siegel and Yee and said that the nonprofit appears to be just an “end run” around legal conflicts of interest rules. Freedman’s tentative ruling, however, is not final. The judge will issue a final decision after a 10 a.m. hearing this Friday in superior court.

Michael Siegel said that he and Fuentes will argue at the hearing that the judge and Russo have overlooked some key facts. Among them, he said, was their contention that Siegel and Yee’s ties to Brunner and Quan aren’t technically conflicts of interest because Russo didn’t seek permission from either the city council or the mayor before filing the gang injunction. The injunction targets forty alleged members of the violent Nortenos gang in the city’s Fruitvale District.

Michael Siegel also said he plans to argue that the judge can’t legally disqualify the new nonprofit that he and Fuentes created — Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice — without a fair hearing on the issue. “We think he has it wrong,” Siegel said of the judge’s tentative ruling.

City Attorney spokesman Alex Katz said Russo had no comment on the tentative ruling.

If Freedman affirms his ruling after Friday’s hearing, then alleged gang member Abel Manzo, an East Oakland barber who says he shouldn’t be on the city’s gang injunction list, will be without a lawyer and may have to defend himself. As the Express reported today in a cover story, “Legal Limbo,” a gang injunction defendant has no constitutional right to an attorney because the case is in civil — not criminal — court.

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