The next district attorney - Page 2

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

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

Adachi said the most important qualification is an understanding of how the D.A.'s Office operates and the respect of line staff. "That's where trial experience comes in. You want someone with experience of homicide trials and serious cases. You're overseeing a staff of trial attorneys, investigators, and their support staff — who are all litigators."

Adachi warns that having a caretaker in that office for 11 months would create havoc. "The best choice would be someone who would allow for a smooth transition and have the qualifications and interest in running for office," he said.

Sup. David Chiu, who became the first Chinese-American Board of Supervisors president in January 2008 and previously worked as a criminal prosecutor in the D.A.'s Office, has often been mentioned as a candidate. He told the Guardian that he enjoyed his time as a prosecutor but wants to stay put, for now.

"Kamala Harris did a good job in terms of her prosecutorial approach, and I understand she is anxious to make sure her legacy is not repealed," Chiu said. "I'm happy to serve wherever to further the public interest, and the board is in a fragile and unstable place."



Former D.A. Terence Hallinan, who served two terms as a supervisor before being elected D.A., thinks it's a big advantage to come from the board. "I knew how to use the budget process to get what I needed," he said. "I held the key to that door."

But a city insider who asked to remain anonymous said that if Chiu is thinking D.A., he'd be setting his sights too low. "The brass ring is right there for Chiu as mayor," the source said.

According to the city charter, the D.A. must be a San Francisco resident who has been licensed to practice law in all California courts for at least five years. Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who qualified for the bar in 2000, has been mentioned in some circles. But Elsbernd told us that the rumors that Newsom would appoint him as D.A. and Newsom's Chief of Staff Steve Kawa as D7 supervisor are baseless.

"They are just saying that because I'm an attorney," said Elsbernd, who worked as a law clerk with Nielsen, Merksamer, Parinello, Mueller, & Naylor and with the D.A.'s Office prior to his August 2004 appointment to the board by Newsom and his November 2004 election.

So now the money remains on Newsom to appoint Henderson, who is a gay African American. "It's important to take the diversity of the city into account," our City Hall source said. "And Henderson can do the job. He's extremely capable; the lawyer types like him; he reaches out to all groups and political factions; and his appointment would be a signal to the Democratic Party that whoever appoints him takes diversity seriously."

Hallinan said he thinks Henderson will get the nod. "I think Kamala wants to keep a hand in that office," Hallinan said. "And Paul is a nice guy, very competent, a good administrator — though not real experienced at trying cases."

The D.A. doesn't have time to try cases because there are administrative matters to deal with every day, Hallinan noted. "But trial experience is good because, although the job is administrative, you are selecting who should try what case," he said. "So unless you have experience, it's hard to judge what resources you have to be devoted."

Fazio, who lost to Hallinan in the D.A.'s race in the 1990s, says he wants Henderson to get the appointment. "Henderson has been a loyal deputy. Onek has never been in a courtroom, and he doesn't even work in San Francisco," Fazio said.