Why Did San Francisco's New District Attorney Fire Seven Prosecutors?

On Friday, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin fired seven attorneys within his office. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

Just two days into his tenure as San Francisco's District Attorney, Chesa Boudin fired at least seven prosecuting attorneys. Boudin said the actions were necessary to carry out the progressive policies he campaigned on.

“I had to make difficult staffing decisions [Friday] in order to put in place a management team that will help me accomplish the work I committed to do for San Francisco," Boudin said in a statement.

It’s not unusual for a newly elected district attorney to restructure the management team, said Lara Bazelon, a law professor at the University of San Francisco. The attorneys are at-will employees, which means they can be fired without reason.

Bazelon was a member of Boudin’s policy team during his campaign.

"It's common to fire people who are in management at the top level who are not going to be enthusiastic about the new agenda," Bazelon explained.

Bazelon gave the example of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, another progressive prosecutor who campaigned on criminal justice reform. Krasner fired 31 members of his staff in 2018, three days after he was sworn in.

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The attorneys, who were given the news at one-on-one meetings or over the phone with Boudin on Friday, are Kara Lacey, a felony trial lawyer, Ana Gonzalez, managing attorney in the office’s Gang Unit, Linda Allen and Todd Barrett, managing attorneys in the General Felonies Unit, Michael Swart, managing attorney of the office’s Homicide Unit and Tom Ostly, a trial attorney in the Crime Strategies Unit, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

KQED has learned a seventh attorney — Craig Menchin in the Writs and Appeals Unit — was also fired, according to a person directly familiar with the matter. The district attorney's office employs over 200 staff members, according to the department's website.

"To be fired in this way was devastating for me," said one of the attorneys who was let go. The attorney spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation from the Boudin administration, and that it could impact future job opportunities.

"It's hard to guess Mr. Boudin's reasoning," the attorney said. "I think the impact on morale is going to be devastating."

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Boudin ran on an anti-incarceration platform — including the creation of a Wrongful Conviction Unit and an Innocence Commission — a vision that may have conflicted with the priorities of the fired attorneys.

But the attorney who was fired said they were “absolutely willing” to follow Boudin's new policy directives.

"For someone who ran on a platform of second chances, I know I never got a first," the attorney said.

Bazelon believes some of the attorneys who were fired had "problematic" histories.

She mentioned the example of attorney Linda Allen, who convicted Jamal Truelove for a 2007 murder only to see the case overturned. In 2014, the California Court of Appeals reversed Trulove's conviction after finding fault with Allen's assertions in the case.

Last year, San Francisco paid $13.1 million to Trulove after an Oakland jury found that two police officers on the case fabricated evidence and failed to disclose exculpatory material.

"I think [Allen] should have been let go years ago," Bazelon said.

The Municipal Attorneys Association, the bargaining group that represents the seven fired attorneys, said in a statement that Boudin’s actions should be reversed.

“Rash decision-making such as this will not help build trust in an office that is already suffering from years of recruitment and retention problems," the statement said.

According to the Chronicle, at least some of the fired attorneys plan on pursuing legal action. The attorney who spoke on the condition of anonymity declined to comment on whether they would do so.

This story has been updated.

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