Kamala Harris

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Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris Official Attorney General Photo.jpg
32nd Attorney General of California
Incumbent
Assumed office
January 3, 2011
Governor Jerry Brown
Preceded by Jerry Brown
District Attorney of San Francisco
In office
January 1, 2004 – January 3, 2011
Preceded by Terence Hallinan
Succeeded by George Gascón
Personal details
Born Kamala Devi Harris
(1964-10-20) October 20, 1964 (age 49)
Oakland, California, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Howard University
University of California, Hastings
Website Government website

Kamala Devi Harris (/ˈkɑːmələ/;[1] born October 20, 1964) is an American attorney. She is the 32nd and current Attorney General of California following the 2010 California state elections.[2][3] Harris has worked as an author and a politician and served as District Attorney of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011. First elected in 2003, defeating incumbent district attorney Terence Hallinan, she was re-elected in 2007. Harris is the first female[4] African-American[5][6][7][8][9] and Asian American attorney general in California.[10][11]

Early life and education[edit]

Harris was born in Oakland, California. She is the daughter of an Indian mother, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan—a breast cancer specialist who emigrated from Chennai, India, to the United States in 1960[12]—and a Jamaican American father, Stanford University economics professor Donald Harris.[13] She has one younger sister, Maya, who is now married to Tony West, the Acting Associate Attorney General of the United States.[14] The Harris sisters grew up in a household that combined Hindu and Baptist teachings.[15] They were raised in Berkeley, Oakland, and Montreal, where their mother took a position doing research at the Jewish General Hospital and teaching at McGill University.[16]

Harris attended Howard University in Washington, D.C.,[17] where she was initiated into Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and received her Juris Doctor (J.D.) from University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1989.[18] She was admitted to the California bar in 1990.

Career[edit]

Harris celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Harris served as a Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County, California, from 1990 to 1998. After 1998, she became Managing Attorney of the Career Criminal Unit in the San Francisco District Attorney's Office. In 2000, San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne recruited Harris to join her office, where she was Chief of the Community and Neighborhood Division, which oversees civil code enforcement matters.[19] Recognized by The Los Angeles Daily Journal as one of the top 100 lawyers in California, Harris serves on the board of the California District Attorney's Association and is Vice President of the National District Attorneys Association.[4]

In 2003 Harris was elected District Attorney of San Francisco by defeating two term incumbent Terence Hallinan and was reelected when she ran unopposed in 2007.[20]

She was called a front-runner in her campaign being nominated to be California Attorney General in 2010,[21] and on June 8, 2010, she received the Democratic nomination for California Attorney General.[22]

In 2009, Harris wrote Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor's Plan to Make Us Safer.[23] Harris looks at criminal justice from an economic perspective, attempting to reduce temptation and access for criminals.[24] The book goes through a series of "myths" surrounding the criminal justice system, and presents proposals to reduce and prevent crime.[24]

She has been outspoken on the need for innovation in public safety, particularly with respect to reducing the recidivism rate in San Francisco.[25] One such program, "Back on Track" was signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as a model program for the state.[26] Initially, there were issues with removing illegal immigrants from the program, including an incident involving Alexander Izaguirre, who was later arrested for assault.[27] However, before the program was named a state model by Governor Schwarzenegger,[28] it was revised to address this concern.

In 2012, she sent a letter[29] to 100 mobile app developers asking them to comply with California law with respect to privacy issues. If any developer of an application that could be used by a Californian does not display a privacy policy statement when their application is installed they are breaking California law and could be fined $2,500 for every download. This law affects any developer anywhere in the world if their app is used by a Californian.[30]

Harris has been mentioned as a possible nominee for a seat on the United States Supreme Court, should a seat on that court become vacant during the second Obama administration.[31]

2010 race for California Attorney General[edit]

Kamala Harris speaking at a US Department of Justice event.

On November 12, 2008, Harris announced her candidacy for California Attorney General. She was immediately seen as the front runner and was endorsed by such prominent Californians as Senator Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the Democratic Party primary she faced Chris Kelly, former Chief Privacy Officer of Facebook; Assemblyman Alberto Torrico; Assemblyman and former military prosecutor Ted Lieu; Assemblyman Pedro Nava; Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles; and Mike Schmier.[32] In the June 8, 2010, primary, she was nominated with 33.6% of the vote and her closest competitors, Torrico and Kelly, had 15.6% and 15.5% respectively.[32] In the general election, she faced Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley. On election night, November 2, 2010, Cooley prematurely declared victory, but many ballots remained uncounted. On November 24, as the count advanced, Harris was leading by more than 55,000 votes, and Cooley conceded.[33][34] On January 3, 2011, Harris became the first female[4] African-American[5][6] and Indian American attorney general in California.[10][11]

Endorsements[edit]

In her campaign for California Attorney General, Harris received the endorsements of United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, United Educators of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Firefighters Local 798.[35] She also received the endorsement of Antonio Villaraigosa, the Mayor of Los Angeles.[6]

Issues[edit]

Gun control[edit]

Harris has been a vocal proponent for gun control her entire career. While serving as District Attorney in Alameda County Harris recruited other District Attorneys and filed an amicus brief in District of Columbia v. Heller, arguing that the Second Amendment does not protect an individual's right to own firearms.[36] Harris also supported San Francisco’s proposition H, which would have prohibited most firearms within city limits.[37]

Housing[edit]

When Harris took office, California was still reeling from the effects of the subprime mortgage crisis. Harris participated in the National Mortgage Settlement against five banks, Ally, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citi Bank, and Chase. She originally walked off the talks because she believed the deal was too lenient. She later rejoined the talks, securing $12 billion of debt reduction for the state's homeowners and $26 billion overall.[38] Other parts of the funding would go to funding state housing counseling services and legal help for struggling homeowners and forgiving the debt of over 23,000 homeowners who agree to sell their homes for less than the mortgage loan.[39]

Later, she introduced the California Homeowner's Bill of Rights in the California State Legislature, a package of several bills that would give homeowners more "options when fighting to keep their home". It would ban the practice of "dual-tracking", robosigning, and provide homeowners with a single point of contact at their lending institution. It would also give the California Attorney General more power to investigate and prosecute financial fraud and to convene special grand juries to prosecute multi-county crimes, instead of prosecuting a single crime county-by-county.[40] The CA Homeowner Bill of Rights went into effect on January 1, 2013, and prohibits dual-tracking (processing a modification and foreclosure at the same time) and requires banks and servicers to provide homeowners with a single point of contact.[41] The Sacramento Bee reported on one of the first cases of a homeowner using the bill to stop Bank of America from foreclosing on his home.[42]

Death penalty[edit]

Harris is opposed to the death penalty but has said that she would review each case individually.[43] Her position was tested in April 2004, when SFPD Officer Isaac Espinoza was murdered in the Bayview district. Harris announced that she would not seek the death penalty for the man accused of his killing. The decision evoked protests from the San Francisco Police Officers Association, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and others. Those who supported the decision not to seek the death penalty included San Francisco Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Sophie Maxwell, in whose district the murder occurred.[44] The jury found the convicted killer, David Hill, guilty of second-degree murder although the prosecutor, Harry Dorfman, had sought a first-degree murder conviction.[45] The defense had argued that Hill thought Espinoza was a member of a rival gang and that the murder was not premeditated. Hill was given the maximum sentence for the conviction, life without the possibility of parole.[45]

Harris's position against the death penalty was tested again in the case of Edwin Ramos, an illegal immigrant and alleged MS-13 gang member who was accused of murdering Tony Bologna and his sons Michael and Matthew.[27] On September 10, 2009, Harris announced she would seek life in prison without the possibility of parole rather than the death penalty in the Ramos case.[46]

Harris has expressed the belief that life without possibility of parole is a better, and more cost-effective, punishment.[47] According to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the death penalty conservatively costs $137 million per year.[48] If the system were changed to life without possibility of parole, the annual costs would be approximately $12 million per year.[48] Harris noted that the resulting surplus could put 1,000 more police officers into service in San Francisco alone.[47]

Violent crimes, felons, incarceration rate, and conviction rate[edit]

While Harris was San Francisco District Attorney, the overall felony conviction rose from rate from 52% in 2003 to 67% in 2006, the highest in a decade, there was an 85% conviction rate for homicides, and convictions of drug dealers increased from 56% in 2003 to 74% in 2006.[49] While these statistics represent only trial convictions, she has also closed many cases via plea bargains. When she took office, she took a special interest in clearing some of the murder caseload from the previous administration. Harris claimed that the records were less than optimal from the previous administration, and worked to get convictions on what she could. That meant that out of the 73 homicide cases backlogged, 32 cases took deals for lesser charges such as manslaughter or took pleas to other crimes such as assault or burglary while the murder charges were dismissed.[50]

However, critics argue that San Francisco sends fewer people to jail per arrest than other counties throughout the state. The San Francisco DA's incarceration rates are among the lowest in the entire state of California—fully 10 times lower than in San Diego County, for example. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "roughly 4 of every 100 arrests result in prison terms in San Francisco, compared with 12.8 out of 100 in Alameda County, 14.4 of 100 in Sacramento County, 21 of 100 in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, 26.6 of 100 in Fresno County, 38.7 of 100 in Los Angeles County and 41 of 100 in San Diego County."[51] Police also note that lenient sentencing from San Francisco judges also plays a role in this.[51]

While officers within the SFPD have credited Harris with tightening loopholes in bail and drug programs that defendants have exploited in the past, they have also accused her of being too deliberate in her prosecution of murder suspects.[52] Additionally, in 2009 San Francisco prosecutors won a lower percentage of their felony jury trials than their counterparts at district attorneys' offices covering the 10 largest cities in California, according to data on case outcomes compiled by officials at the San Francisco Superior Court as well as by other county courts and prosecutors. (Officials in Sacramento, the sixth-largest city in California, did not provide data.) Harris' at-trial felony conviction rate that year was 76 percent, down 12 points from the previous year. By contrast, the most recent recorded statewide average was 83 percent, according to statistics from the California Judicial Council.[53] In a small sample, a report computed that the conviction rate for felony trials in San Francisco County in the first three months of 2010 was just 53%.[53] San Francisco has historically had one of the lowest conviction rates in the state; the county is known for a defendant friendly jury pool.[54][55]

Hate crimes and civil rights[edit]

Harris created a special Hate Crimes Unit as San Francisco District Attorney. She focused on hate crimes against LGBT children and teens in schools. She convened a national conference to confront the "gay-transgender panic defense", which has been used to justify violent hate crimes.[56] Harris supports same-sex marriage in California and opposed both Proposition 22 and Proposition 8.[57]

In 2004, The National Urban League honored Harris as a "Woman of Power" and she received the Thurgood Marshall Award from the National Black Prosecutors Association in 2005. In her campaign for California Attorney General, she received the endorsements of numerous groups, including the abortion rights EMILY's List, California Legislative Black Caucus, Asian American Action Fund, Black Women Organized for Political Action, Mexican American Bar Association, South Asians for Opportunity, and the National Women's Political Caucus.[35]

Harris has been vocal in the immigration debate, supporting San Francisco's immigration policy of not inquiring about immigration status in the process of a criminal investigation.[58] Harris argues that it is important that immigrants be able to talk with law enforcement without fear.[59]

Education[edit]

In interviews with Matt Lauer on The Today Show and local KGO-TV, Harris argued for treating "habitual and chronic truancy" among children in elementary school as a crime committed by the parents of truant children. She argues that there is a direct connection between habitual truancy in elementary school and crime later in life.[60][61] She has received the endorsement of the California Federation of Teachers.[35]

Environment[edit]

During her time as San Francisco District Attorney, Harris created the Environmental Justice Unit in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office[62] and has prosecuted several industries and individuals for pollution, most notably U-Haul, Alameda Publishing Corporation, and the Cosco Busan oil spill. She has also advocated for strong enforcement of environmental protection laws.[63]

Financial crimes[edit]

Harris has prosecuted numerous financial crimes throughout her career, particularly those affecting elders, those involving use of high-technology, and identity theft.[64] She has indicated that as attorney general she would crack down on predatory lending and other financial crimes.[65]

Police department laboratory and disclosure failures[edit]

San Francisco Police Department drug lab technician Deborah Madden admitted to taking amounts of cocaine from evidence samples in the police department's crime lab. The testing unit of the police department lab was shut down on March 9, 2010. Since then, hundreds of drug cases have either been dismissed or discharged due to evidentiary requirements. While Harris's office was aware of troubling issues at the police department's drug lab months before the issue became public, the entire scope of the issues did not become clear until Madden was exposed for removing drug samples.[66] The police department later widened the investigation into their crime lab to include cases that were already prosecuted.[67]

On May 4, 2010, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a number of felony convictions were in jeopardy when it was revealed that the prosecuting attorneys did not disclose criminal backgrounds for relevant San Francisco police officers before testifying.[68] On May 20, 2010, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo ruled that prosecutors had violated defendants' rights by failing to disclose damaging information about the police drug lab technician. The judge concluded that prosecutors had failed to fulfill their constitutional duty to tell defense attorneys about problems surrounding Deborah Madden, the now-retired technician at the heart of the cocaine-skimming scandal that led police to shut down the drug analysis section of their crime lab. Harris's office has been unable to vouch for the reliability of Madden's work and has dismissed more than 600 drug cases since the scandal became public in February. Madden testified at trials before leaving the lab in December. Under a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Brady v. Maryland, district attorneys are obligated to provide defense attorneys with information in their possession about prosecution witnesses that could be used to challenge their credibility.

Massullo wrote that top drug prosecutor Assistant District Attorney Sharon Woo's November 19 memo about Madden to Russ Giuntini, Chief Assistant District Attorney, and Jeffrey Ross, head of the criminal division, showed that prosecutors "at the highest levels of the district attorney's office knew that Madden was not a dependable witness at trial and that there were serious concerns regarding the crime lab".[69] The failure by Harris's office "to produce information actually in its possession regarding Madden and the crime lab is a violation of the defendants' constitutional rights," Massullo wrote. The Judge said that the prosecutors had the "duty to implement some type of procedure to secure and produce information relevant to Madden's criminal history." But Massullo said her repeated requests that prosecutors explain why they did not have such procedures were met with "a level of indifference." However, Judge Massullo refused to dismiss any cases, saying that all cases must be considered individually.[70]

On May 26, 2010, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a San Francisco coroner's supervising toxicologist, Ann Marie Gordon, vouched for blood-test results in drunken-driving cases for two years before prosecutors told defense attorneys that a Washington state court had labeled her as a "perpetrator of fraud" while running that state's toxicology lab. San Francisco prosecutors began telling defense attorneys about Gordon's past after the Chronicle reported earlier in May 2010 that scores of police officers had criminal arrests or misconduct cases that were never called to defendants' attention before trials. Prosecutors are obligated to provide potentially exculpatory information about their witnesses to the defense under the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.[71]

Daniel Larsen case[edit]

On August 24, 2012, the Los Angeles Times published an editorial calling on Harris to release Daniel Larsen from prison.[72] Larsen, who was sentenced to 28 years to life under California's three strikes laws for possession of a concealed weapon in 1999, was declared actually innocent by a federal judge in 2010 and ordered released, but has remained in prison because Harris's office has objected to his release on the grounds that he missed the deadline to file his writ of habeas corpus. The California Innocence Project, which has taken up Larsen's case, has said this amounts to a paperwork technicality. The Times editorial stated that if Harris was not willing to release Larsen, Governor Jerry Brown should pardon him.

Personal[edit]

While she was an Alameda County Deputy District Attorney in the 1990s, she dated Willie Brown, the powerful Speaker of the California State Assembly. There was speculation the two would marry, but Brown broke up with her shortly after being elected Mayor of San Francisco.[73]

On April 7, 2014, Harris announced that she was engaged to be married to California attorney Douglas Emhoff, the partner-in-charge at Venable LLC.[74]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Terence Hallinan
District Attorney of San Francisco
2004–2011
Succeeded by
George Gascón
Preceded by
Jerry Brown
Attorney General of California
2011–present
Incumbent