The next district attorney

Buried in all the hoopla over mayoral succession is another key job — and more political intrigue

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Paul Henderson, David Onek, Jim Hammer, and Kathleen Feinstein have been mentioned for the D.A. spot

sarah@sfbg.com

By the time District Attorney Kamala Harris declared victory in the razor-close California attorney general race, two candidates had already filed to replace her. And their candidacies further complicate the delicate process of appointing a new district attorney when Harris gets sworn in Jan. 3 as the first woman and racial minority to become attorney general of California.

David Onek, a senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice and a former police commissioner, filed in July and has raised $130,000 and collected 1,000 signatures.

Paul Henderson, a veteran prosecutor whom Harris tapped in 2007 as her chief administrator, filed Nov. 22 when his boss' victory in the attorney general's race looked assured.

And now Alameda County Assistant D.A. Sharmin Bock, a human trafficking expert, is reportedly mulling a bid.

Mayor Gavin Newsom has said that if Harris resigns before him, he'll heed her recommendation for her successor. But whoever Newsom, or his successor, appoints will have a major advantage as the incumbent if he or she runs in November 2011.

Unlike the interim mayor, who will have to make unpopular cuts to balance the budget, the person who fills out Harris' term will have a strong presumption of holding onto the office.

So far Harris has been silent on the topic of a replacement to the post she held since 2003, when she defeated two-term incumbent District Attorney Terence Hallinan.

A possible reason for Harris' silence is that until recently San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein, the only daughter of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, was thought to be a front-runner for the post. This perception was based on the assumption that Sen. Feinstein wanted her daughter appointed, that Newsom would obey the senator's wishes, and that no one in Democratic circles would dare to challenge Judge Feinstein in November given her mother's political influence.

But it turns out that Feinstein, 53, whose peers unanimously elected her to succeed James J. McBride for a two-year term effective Jan. 1, 2011 as the Superior Court's presiding judge, couldn't legally accept an appointment anyway and would have to run in the November race.

And Superior Court spokeswoman Ann Donlan told the Guardian that Feinstein does not intend to give up her position as presiding judge. "Judge Feinstein has told court employees and her judicial colleagues that she has no intention of relinquishing her judicial duties in San Francisco," Donlan stated.

 

THE HEIR APPARENT

That leaves Henderson as Harris' presumptive heir; Onek, who is married to the daughter of Michael Dukakis, is a political force to be reckoned with; and former prosecutor Bill Fazio and police commissioner and former prosecutor Jim Hammer are possible appointments.

District Attorney's Office spokesperson Erica Derryck would say nothing on the record about the appointment other than that it's the mayor's decision to make. But former D.A. Office spokesperson Debbie Mesloh noted that Harris has outlined the qualities she is seeking.

"Kamala has mentioned publicly that she is looking for someone with integrity who understands how the office works and will take over in such a way that allows people to continue their work," Mesloh said. "That may sound like small potatoes, but it's a big deal given how many folks work in the D.A.'s Office."

Public Defender Jeff Adachi told us he finds it interesting that neither Harris nor Newsom has issued an endorsement in favor of anyone. "The silence is deafening," Adachi said, "But what's absolutely missing is a process to select a new district attorney. The D.A's job involves major responsibilities in terms of running and managing a large law office, so I think there should be some kind of process."

Comments

There is an outstanding candidate not mentioned here: Wade Chow, one of Harris's current Managing Attorneys.

He has been as loyal and dedicated to the office and to the city of San Francisco as they come, working hard for 14 years handling the toughest cases. If Mr. Chow is given proper consideration, city leaders and ultimately the voters will recognize that he's a hit on every one of the qualifications set forth in this article by Harris, Hallinan, Fazio, and Adachi.

And if diversity is a concern, why not an Asian-American District Attorney in a city that has been close to 1/3 Asian-American for many many years? To have a Chinese-American follow on the heels of an African-American would as District Attorney would reinforce the great diversity that San Francisco represents.

And if political viability is a factor, rest assured that Mr. Chow has supporters and advocates in high places. He can win convincingly in November especially once the people and voters of San Francisco get to know him better, learn his story and have a chance to appreciate all the years of hard work he's put in on their behalf.

At the end of the day, especially with a transition period until the voters get to decide, who better to serve as chief prosecutor than someone from within who has the most experience with the toughest cases? It would send a great message to the younger prosecutors in the office that years of service counts for a lot. And, perhaps most important, the people of San Francisco would be in the most experienced hands until the voters get to choose in November.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 22, 2010 @ 10:54 am

I've met Mr. Henderson and found him to be a strong advocate for justice. Looks like Kamala has found a worthy successor in Paul Henderson.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 22, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

I've met Mr. Henderson and found him to be a strong advocate for justice. It looks like Kamala has found a worthy successor in Paul Henderson.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 22, 2010 @ 2:25 pm

Who the heck is Wade Chow? One of her managing attorney's? Are you kidding me? Sounds like the only one who has even heard of him is Wade Chow himself. I'll bet he's the one who posted the comment.

Paul Henderson deserves it, and should get it. He has the respect of the front line troops, is well liked, highly intelligent, knows his way around the Hall of Justice and could win in November. His values are similar to Kamala Harris and he would continue the reform she began. Most importantly, Henderson has integrity.

Wade who?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 22, 2010 @ 3:11 pm

I can guarantee that the original comment was not posted by Mr. Chow. And likewise I believe that the "Who?" comment was not from by Mr. Henderson. I believe that both men have integrity, and that neither would do that. Mr. Henderson seems like a good man and a fine candidate. I am simply suggesting that Mr. Chow is as well.

Also, there was no kidding intended: Wade Chow is in fact one of a number of Managing Attorneys in Harris's office, in charge of a particular enforcement Unit in the Criminal Division, and we can infer that both Mr. Henderson and Mr. Chow have integrity because Kamala Harris has given both of them weighty responsibilities. I think Harris has shown good judgment in giving both Henderson and Chow important posts in her office.

As for the question, "Who the heck is Wade Chow?": it's a fair question. That said, I don't believe that Mr. Chow should be penalized or criticized for not being a household name. Folks outside the criminal enforcement community may not have heard of Mr. Chow because he's spent most of his career as one of those "front line troops" prosecuting cases in San Francisco.

So, who is Wade Chow? Wade Chow has been a prosecutor in the San Francisco District Attorney's office for 14 straight years. He's handled a lot of tough cases, including prosecutions against defendants who have done things to children that would make your skin crawl. He's a Yale Law School grad, where I believe he did some work as a part of a team with Professor Harold Koh (currently Hillary Clinton's Legal Advisor in the State Department) advocating for Haitian refugees. He's a good person and a veteran prosecutor.

This takes nothing away from Paul Henderson. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Henderson, but he strikes me as a good, honorable man as well. If Mr. Chow doesn't get the nod, then I'd probably support Mr. Henderson over someone from outside the office, since I do believe that frontline experience is indeed quite valuable.

I thought this was a good article, and both Mr. Henderson and Mr. Chow seem like the most qualified candidates in terms of experience with the office. I was just commenting on the fact that Wade Chow was not mentioned over some of the others besides Paul Henderson.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 22, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

Henderson's record speaks for itself.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 22, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

i suspect the bay guardian would agree with you and maybe that's why they left out chow. i would speculate that chow is somewhere between "moderate" and "progressive" by sf labels, which is probably not quite progressive enough for sfbg. that would be "very liberal" almost anywhere else in the country but perhaps still a tad too close to gavin's universe, which the bay guardian doesn't seem to embrace based on the coverage in this issue. but maybe the guardian honestly did not know about chow.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2010 @ 10:51 pm

Henderson's a totally dishonest joker who plays politics by glad-handing, & is terrible on legal issues. The man lies regularly on the radio & in public meetings, & has no respect for justice.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 22, 2010 @ 6:44 pm

Pfeiffer is the current #2 after Harris. He actually runs the office and is a very smart man. We need a Jewish DA in SF!!

Posted by Professor9 on Dec. 23, 2010 @ 6:08 am

Paul Henderson is all personality, no substance.

He has never tried a felony case.

He has no support within the D.A.'s office.

He has no name recognition.

But his downfall, whether he gets the appointment or not, is going to be his inability to raise money.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 23, 2010 @ 6:45 am

All five points are not true. How much $ has Wade raised?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 24, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

i am ready and willing to give money to chow's campaign and also happy to agree with you that all those 5 points are untrue. i have heard chow himself speak kindly of henderson and I thought it was sincere.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2010 @ 11:28 pm

Professor9, your comment about needing a Jewish DA is idiotic --- identity politics at its most childish.

I know both Onek and Henderson rather well, and I am completely torn between them. But I am NOT going to make my decision on who to vote for based on what god-image they worship, their skin shade, where his or her great-grandparents came from, or who they choose to have sex with.

Posted by Common Sense, SF on Dec. 23, 2010 @ 9:49 am

Wade Chow is a classic dark horse candidate.

City insiders know him, cops and robbers know him, and he's got friends and former classmates in very high places throughout the state and country. But as far as San Francisco's general populace goes, Chow has been happy to let others have the limelight so long as they as a team can do the people's work effectively.

There's nothing wrong with that, in my opinion.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 23, 2010 @ 10:03 am

Wade Chow is my first choice for SF's next D.A. as well. He is extremely intelligent, thoughtful and ethical, not to mention an excellent (and very seasoned) trial attorney. These characteristics, along with Wade Chow's hard work and dedication as a prosecutor for the San Francisco District Attorney's Office for the past 14 years, speak volumes to me as a San Francisco voter. He certainly knows his way around the Hall of Justice, too. Wade Chow has the knowledge and experience to lead the D.A.'s office forward as Kamala Harris' successor.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 23, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

Wade Chow has spent most of his career toiling away in the darker places that the public doesn't see so that San Franciscans can be safer in their homes. Yes, nothing wrong with that.

Posted by West Sider on Dec. 23, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

I've heard of "Park Chow" and just plain "Chow", both personal favorites of mine, but "Wade Chow"?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 23, 2010 @ 10:18 pm

i've heard of "park chow" and just plain "chow", both personal favorites of mine, but "wade chow"?

Posted by Sleepless on Dec. 23, 2010 @ 10:25 pm

Wade Chow is real ... and he's spectacular!

Seriously, he's a seasoned prosecutor, yet he also seems well aware and reflective of the human lives affected both directly and indirectly by the cases he brings. I think he'd do a great job at coming up with creative ways to devote resources to crime prevention and to the specific challenges of repeat offenders. The city needs someone who will bring and prevail in the toughest cases against the truly heinous & violent bad guys, while still being thoughtful and creative about how to minimize the likelihood of repeat offenses, especially among the less- or non-violent variety.

Posted by T Hatcher on Dec. 24, 2010 @ 9:12 am

Most people at the SFDA's office support Paul Henderson for the appointment. This is a no brainer. I can also tell you that the idea that Wade wants the job is silly. Do you realy he should get the job just because David Chu was best man at Wade's wedding? Grow up people.

Go Paul!

Posted by Guest on Dec. 24, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

What does Wade Chow's wedding have to do with the District Attorney appointment? I think we can all agree that the selection should be made on what they've done, not who they know.

The appointment should NOT be made based on who David Onek is married to.

The appointment should NOT be made based on who Paul Henderson knows, or how often he's been on TV.

The appointment should NOT be made based on who was at Wade Chow's wedding, or who he is friends with in Washington.

All of the above candidates are smart and have demonstrated thoughtfulness about issues in criminal enforcement and crime prevention, so if we ignore the "who do they know" and agree that they're all solid on "what do they know," then we can focus strictly on experience, right? (i.e., "what cases have they done")

Which of the above has the deepest prosecution experience? And if a candidate with less experience or no experience is selected, please just do the simple courtesy of telling us why. I think that's reasonable to hope for, particularly for junior prosecutors who want to know what they should be doing if they want to keep getting promoted.

As for who most of the DA's office supports, I personally have no clue. But frankly, I don't understand how anyone other than Kamala Harris could possibly know who the majority or plurality of her office supports, unless that individual not named Kamala Harris has polled each person in the entire office privately, in which case I can't imagine anyone in the office would feel comfortable giving a fully honest answer given that it's probably a breach of unwritten protocol for any junior prosecutor to openly campaign for someone when Kamala Harris herself hasn't made an announcement, and apart from that, why would any junior prosecutor risk alienating either Henderson or Chow if they could end up being wrong about what Kamala Harris wants to do? But like I said, I have no clue, and I've never worked in the office, so take my skepticism for whatever it's worth.

I'll just have 1 vote come November, but let me just say:

Peace, Happy Holidays, and good luck to Chow, Henderson, Onek, and all the candidates.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 24, 2010 @ 6:18 pm

I have met both Mr. Hernderson and Mr. Chow, and find both to be fine prosecutors. However, I can also say that Wade Chow is no joke as a viable candidate for San Francisco District Attorney. He has handled all manner of serious and violent felonies in his 14 year tenure as an ADA for the San Francisco DA's Office. He has served on the gang task force and other assignments where you need bright, capable trial lawywers.

True, Wade has not been politically active in San Francisco poltics, which is exactly why I give him a nod over Mr. Henderson. Wade is not in this for political or individual glory. He would be a great DA for San Francisco because he would take the politics out of the DA's office and work to make sure that the DA's office fufills it's primary duty: To seek justice, and to protect the citizens of the City of San Francisco and the State of California.

Wade knows the ins and outs of criminal prosecution and does it in a fair, honorable, and ETHICAL manner. Wade would be a great asset for the People of San Francisco should he decide to run or seek the appointment. There are a number of high profile individuals ready to endorse Wade should he decide to run.

Posted by CAProsecutor on Dec. 24, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

We are fortunate as a City to have a number of very strong candidates for this position. To me, the tie-breaker is strong and successful prosecution experience, for an extended period, and involving the toughest cases. This is imperative both for public confidence in the DA, and for the leadership of the professionals and staff in the office. Wade Chow's experience and record stands alone and, in my mind, make him the clear favorite for the job, someone who can build on the great work done by Kamala and - just as importantly _ win in November!

Posted by Guest on Dec. 24, 2010 @ 7:46 pm

All of these individual Wade Chow comments are starting to remind me of junk emails or spam. Sorry, but I have to call 'em like I see 'em.

I don't know this guy at all, but it seems that there are some folks on this website who are shinning his wood a little too aggressively, if you know what I mean.

I hate to break it to you, but I doubt that Newsom is going to be convinced to pick this guy just because his name is popping up a lot on The Guardian's comment page.

Posted by Common Sense SF on Dec. 27, 2010 @ 9:36 am

Common Sense, as someone who's posted here a couple of times, I find your points reasonable and appreciated. (I also liked what you said about keeping race, religion, and sexual preference out of it.) And yes, I don't expect Newsom to be swayed by comments in an SFBG online piece. I am very much a political nobody, but even I am not that naive.

Instead, at least for me, I commented because I really think Chow's a terrific person, and it's a shame if he gets passed over just because he's not an aggressive self-promoter. For me, what I wrote was from the heart. If nobody ever reads it, then it wouldn't change what I'd say.

Have you ever known anyone who you thought is really smart and good at what they do, yet who might get passed over for a promotion because he or she is not a natural self-promoter or otherwise more aggressive about "playing the game"? I feel like I know a lot of people like that, and maybe it's because I am drawn to folks who are kinda more modest and down-to-earth. I'm more likely to seek out the guy at happy hour who is just telling funny stories about what his pet just did than the guy who is talking about all the important people he's having dinner with next week. Even if they're both of equal "stature."

And, admittedly, I probably get a little more fired up when an article is written about contenders that fails to mention the one guy who's the most reluctant self-promoter, or when people criticize a guy like that for being a nobody. Especially when I know that factually, the "nobody" is way more experienced than the somebodies.

Political nobodies like me don't have a network microphone or national news blog to express ourselves. Now and then we just say what we think in a comment section or a letter to the editor.

I think Chow will be fine either way. If he gets the appointment, I'll be thrilled, and I think he'll do great. If he doesn't, I honestly believe that you won't have heard the last of him. Not at all because of anything I write here or anywhere else, but because he really is extremely good at what he does, and sooner or later, he'll get noticed.

Maybe my perspective is antiquated in a world where referring to oneself in the third-person is becoming increasingly common, but so it goes.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2010 @ 10:44 am

Ok, I'll apologize at the outset if this comes off as spam or too shiny, but I kinda really do want to share this story. It's from a friend of Chow's, so I wasn't there, which means you can discount my credibility accordingly. Actually, I'm not sure Chow even knows about this since he wasn't privy to the actual conversation, and I don't know if my friend has ever mentioned it to him.

At Yale Law School, they have a mock trial event called "Barrister's Union." A third-year in charge one year was working with some students learning the ropes, including my friend. At one point, he turned to my friend and said something like: Watch Wade. That's how you're supposed to do it.

The person in charge happened to be the son of a former Treasury Secretary. He might not even remember saying it, and as far as I know they're not close or in touch. But the key here is that a Somebody who is the son of another Somebody recognized very early on that this supposed Nobody had game. Among a field of law students who in theory should be a bright bunch. (Though, Yale does sometimes have the rep of being more of a fluffy ivory tower than as a place for real lawyers I suppose.)

But, I do hope that someday I will get to tell this story somewhere else besides a comment section, and that if Somebody reads it, he'll smile knowing to himself that he was one of the first to see it coming.

Posted by Political Nobody on Dec. 27, 2010 @ 11:36 am

My fellow San Franciscans, can we all at least agree that the next DA should come from within the Office, whoever that may be, rather than an outsider?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 27, 2010 @ 11:42 pm

"My fellow San Franciscans, can we all at least agree that the next DA should come from within the Office, whoever that may be, rather than an outsider?"

--Well, that's for the voters to decide in 2011. I'm not sure if voters are automatically going to give a thumbs down to Onek (or possibly Fazio) just because they aren't fortunate enought to have a cubicle at 850 Bryant. Nevertheless, on-the-job training does matter. But it isn't a deal killer.

As for Wade Chow, if he is appointed, I hope he knows how to make the rounds in local Democratic circles. (Onek and Henderson are already making Democratic-club inroads, BIG TIME.) I'm not saying that that is a requirement to getting elected (the November elections are proof of that). But endorsements are still almost as important as being able to raise big money.

Posted by Common Sense SF on Dec. 28, 2010 @ 9:14 am

Sharon Woo, Wade's boss, is more qualified than Wade.

Posted by Daemployee on Dec. 28, 2010 @ 10:11 am

"Well, that's for the voters to decide in 2011. I'm not sure if voters are automatically going to give a thumbs down to Onek (or possibly Fazio) just because they aren't fortunate enought to have a cubicle at 850 Bryant. Nevertheless, on-the-job training does matter. But it isn't a deal killer."

I agree with this. I should clarify: by "next" DA I meant the appointed interim DA, with the Nov election determining the "next-next" DA. :) I think that particularly at a critical juncture when the budget's likely to become a lot tighter and we're going to have a lot of new supervisors and a new mayor, the office would be better served by during the interim period by someone elevated from within so that they'll have stronger relationships with front line prosecutors and a better grasp of general personnel, how things work, etc.

That said, if Henderson or Chow is appointed, and then in November a candidate from outside the office like Onek or Fazio (both of whom seem solid) makes a better case to the voters, then he or she will have earned the mandate. It's not to say that an outsider couldn't do a good job as an interim appointee, just that the uncertainties would be greater both in terms of what might change and how the office might function. It's a good office, so I'm sure people will rally around whoever is appointed, but I just like the idea, as a taxpayer, of giving them one of their own to rally around.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2010 @ 10:33 am

Effective law enforcement has nothing to do with arresting and prosecuting law-breakers. Believing otherwise is a sign of a classist mentality.

Don't forget: people who assault, rape, and murder need hugs, too. They only commit such crimes because of hard economic times.

That's why the rate for serious crimes has fallen in many big American cities during the current economic recession.

Oops, bad example. But you get the point I'm trying to make:

Nobody is responsible for anything! We're all victims of society!

Former D.A. Terence Hallinan understood this point. That's why he billed himself as "America's most progressive D.A."

Some people complained that he couldn't walk across the room in a straight line. But what did that matter, when he believed it was ideologically incorrect to prosecute law-breakers? It all came to the same thing, right?

Let's get an interim D.A. who will revive the spirit of Terence Hallinan and make the Six Guys Club at the supes, especially David Campos, happy.

Who better to fill that role than Starchild?

Starchild, the progressive alternative in this race!

Posted by Arthur Evans on Dec. 28, 2010 @ 3:30 pm

My name is Racquitta Taylor my son's name is Roderick Donelson and he was killed on 12.2.10 in San Francisco on Visitacion St at 12:03 pm. I am a mother who is very upset with the SFPD Homomicide. I have giving them the name of the young man who killed my son and the facebook page where they are laughing about my son's killing and still they are walking the streets freely . I hope the next District of San Francisco will makes the SFPD sit up and see that there are people out there who don't caring if they kill people ,becauce they know that San Francisco will let them get away with it. Thank you. From a very upset mother.

Posted by Guest Racquitta Taylor on Jan. 02, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

Really a nice article and good info as well.
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Posted by Earl Nunes on Mar. 23, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

I think sharmin bock should have been appointed

Posted by Guest on Oct. 07, 2011 @ 5:51 pm