|32nd Attorney General of California|
January 3, 2011
|Preceded by||Jerry Brown|
|District Attorney of San Francisco|
January 8, 2004 – January 3, 2011
|Preceded by||Terence Hallinan|
|Succeeded by||George Gascón|
|Born||Kamala Devi Harris
October 20, 1964
Oakland, California, United States
|Spouse(s)||Douglas Emhoff (m. 2014)|
|Alma mater||Howard University
University of California, Hastings
Harris graduated from Howard University and University of California, Hastings College of the Law. She worked as a Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County, California, from 1990 to 1998. She served as Managing Attorney of the Career Criminal Unit in the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, from 1998 to 2000, and as Chief of the Community and Neighborhood Division in the office of San Francisco City Attorney, from 2000 to 2003. In 2003, she was elected District Attorney of San Francisco, defeating incumbent Terence Hallinan. She was re-elected in 2007 and served from 2004 to 2011.
Harris was elected California's Attorney General in 2010 and was re-elected in 2014. Harris is the first female, the first African-American, and the first Asian-American attorney general in California. She won the primary election for the United States Senate seat in California. In the November 2016 election, she will face the runner-up, fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez, to determine who will replace outgoing Democratic senator Barbara Boxer in the 2016 election.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Political career
- 3 Issues
- 3.1 Gun control
- 3.2 Housing
- 3.3 Death penalty
- 3.4 Violent crimes, felons, incarceration and conviction rate
- 3.5 Hate crimes and civil rights
- 3.6 Education
- 3.7 Environment
- 3.8 Financial crimes
- 3.9 Police department laboratory and disclosure failures
- 3.10 Daniel Larsen case
- 3.11 Prosecutorial misconduct
- 3.12 Prison conditions and sentencing reform
- 3.13 Bureau of Children's Justice
- 4 Personal life
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Early life and education
Harris was born in Oakland, California. She is the daughter of an Indian mother, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a breast cancer specialist, who immigrated from Chennai, India, in 1960 and a Jamaican American father, a Stanford University economics professor, Donald Harris. In 1958, her mother emigrated from India at age 19 to attend the University of California, Berkeley. She has one younger sister, Maya, who is now married to Tony West, a former Associate Attorney General of the United States. Kamala's parents divorced when she was young.
Her mother had primary custody of the two girls, who were raised in Berkeley, California; Oakland; and Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where their mother took a position doing research at the Jewish General Hospital and teaching at McGill University. Harris' mother died in 2009. In Berkeley, the family lived in a black neighborhood and the girls sang in a Baptist choir. Her mother took the girls to visit India every other year.
After graduating from Westmount High School, Harris attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she joined the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and received her Juris Doctor (J.D.) from University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1989. Harris failed the California bar exam her first time, later observing, "it's not a measure of your capacity." She was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1990.
Harris served as a Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County, California, from 1990 to 1998. Harris says she sought a career in law enforcement because she wanted to be "at the table where decisions are made." 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. Recognized by The Los Angeles Daily Journal as one of the top 100 lawyers in California, she served on the board of the California District Attorney's Association and was Vice President of the National District Attorneys Association.
After the Fajitagate scandal, Harris defeated two-term incumbent Terence Hallinan in the 2003 election to become District Attorney of the City and County of San Francisco.
In April 2004, San Francisco Police Department Officer Isaac Espinoza was shot and killed in the line of duty. Three days later D.A. Harris announced she would not seek the death penalty, infuriating the San Francisco Police Officers Association. During Officer Espinoza’s funeral at St. Mary’s Cathedral U.S. Senator and former San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein rose to the pulpit and called on Harris, who was sitting in the front pew, to secure the death penalty, prompting a standing ovation from the 2,000 uniformed police officers in attendance. Harris still refused. Officer Esponoza’s killer was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison.
As D.A., Harris started a program that gives first-time drug dealers the chance to earn a high-school diploma and find employment. Over eight years the program has produced fewer than 300 graduates, but it achieves a very low recidivism rate. She was re-elected when she ran unopposed, in 2007.
She was called a frontrunner in her campaign being nominated to be California Attorney General in 2010, and on June 8, 2010, she received the Democratic nomination for California Attorney General.
In 2009, Harris wrote Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor's Plan to Make Us Safer, where she looks at criminal justice from an economic perspective and attempts to reduce temptation and access for criminals. The book goes through a series of "myths" surrounding the criminal justice system and presents proposals to reduce and prevent crime.
She has been outspoken on the need for innovation in public safety, particularly with respect to reducing the recidivism rate in San Francisco. One such program, "Back on Track" was signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as a model program for the state. Initially, there were issues with removing illegal immigrants from the program such as an incident involving Alexander Izaguirre, who was later arrested for assault. Named a state model by Schwarzenegger, the program was revised to address that concern.
Attorney General of California
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. 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. In her campaign for California Attorney General, Harris received the endorsements of United Farm Workers cofounder Dolores Huerta, United Educators of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Firefighters Local 798. She also received the endorsement of Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles. 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. On January 3, 2011, Harris became the first female African American and Indian American attorney general in California.
At the 2012 Democratic National Convention Harris gave a prime-time speech attacking Mitt Romney. During the second Obama administration, Harris was mentioned as a possible nominee for a seat on the United States Supreme Court if a seat on that court became vacant. In February 2016, The New York Times identified her as a potential US Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. In 2013, Obama had to apologize for calling Harris “the best-looking attorney-general” in America.
Harris announced her intention to run for re-election in February 2014 and filed paperwork to run on February 12. According to the office of California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Harris had raised the money for her campaign during the previous year in 2013. On August 13, 2014, she announced her endorsement of Betty Yee for California State Controller, called her one of the state's "most knowledgeable and responsible money managers," and said she was proud to endorse her. Yee, in return, sang Harris praises and called her a "outstanding elected leader." Harris also endorsed Bonnie Dumanis and Sandra Fluke. Harris herself was endorsed by The Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Daily News, and The Los Angeles Times.
On November 4, 2014, Harris was re-elected against Republican Ronald Gold.
In September 2014, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced his intention to step down, Harris was speculated as being a potential candidate as the next US Attorney General. Harris addressed the speculation in a statement, days after Holder's resignation, declining an intent to take the office and asserted she was staying in her position as Attorney General of California. Two months later, in November 2014, President Barack Obama nominated Loretta Lynch to succeed Holder. On November 10, Harris issued a statement regarding the nomination that approved of Obama's decision, praised Lynch, and reaffirmed her choice to remain working with the California Department of Justice.
United States Senate candidate
After the announcement by Democratic United States Senator Barbara Boxer that she intends to retire from the United States Senate at the end of her term in 2017 after which she would have been California's junior senator for 24 years, Harris was the first candidate to declare her intention of running for Boxer's Senate seat. Media outlets reported that Harris would run for Senate on the same day that Gavin Newsom, California's lieutenant governor and a close political ally of Harris, announced he would not seek to succeed Boxer. She officially announced the launch of her campaign on January 13, 2015.
After holding a flurry of fundraisers in both California and Washington, D.C., Harris was reported to have raised $2.5 million for her campaign. Toward the end of September, Harris's campaign was known to have $3.3 million on hand. By October 2015, Harris had raised $6 million for her campaign, according to a copy of her finance report submitted by the Harris campaign to the Los Angeles Times on October 15. In December, the National Journal released a story describing Harris' use of funds on hotels, the laying off of campaign staff and the inordinate totals, which had contributed to her money on hand being closer to Sanchez's, who had $1.6 million.
Harris was a frontrunner from the beginning of her campaign. In January 2015, only weeks after Harris had announced her campaign, a survey by Public Policy Polling displayed Harris leading by 41% to former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's 16%, who was seen as a potential candidate. In May, a Field Poll was released, showing that although 58% of likely voters did not have a favored candidate, Harris was most preferred out of the field, with 19%. October saw the release of a Field Poll with Harris at 30%, fellow Democratic candidate Loretta Sanchez in second place at 17%, the former having increased her support by 11% since the Field Poll in May despite being noted by The Sacramento Bee as not being active in campaigning since appearing at the California Democratic Party's convention.
In late February 2016, the California Democratic Party voted to endorse Harris, who received 78% of the vote, 18% more than the 60% needed to secure the endorsement. Harris also participated in debates with the other major candidates for the seat, her front-runner status causing her to be at the center of discussion. Governor Jerry Brown endorsed Harris on May 23. Harris came in first place on primary election day, June 7, with 40% of the votes, entering runoff with fellow Democratic candidate Loretta Sanchez.  On July 19, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Harris.
In the June, 2016 primary election, with results detailed at the county level, Kamala Harris won 48 of 58 counties. Kamala Harris won seven counties with more than 50% of the vote: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma. The highest percentage was San Francisco, with 70.4% of the vote. 
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. Harris also supported San Francisco’s proposition H, which would have prohibited most firearms within city limits.
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. Other parts of the funding would go to state housing counseling services and legal help for struggling homeowners and forgiving the debt of over 23,000 homeowners who agreed to sell their homes for less than the mortgage loan.
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 practices of "dual-tracking" and 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. 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. 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.
Harris is opposed to the death penalty but has said that she would review each case individually. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
Harris has expressed the belief that life without possibility of parole is a better, and more cost-effective, punishment. According to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the death penalty conservatively costs $137 million per year. If the system were changed to life without possibility of parole, the annual costs would be approximately $12 million per year. Harris noted that the resulting surplus could put 1,000 more police officers into service in San Francisco alone.
Violent crimes, felons, incarceration and conviction rate
While Harris was the San Francisco District Attorney, the overall felony conviction rate rose 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. 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.
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 ten 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." Police also note that lenient sentencing from San Francisco judges also plays a role in this.
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. Additionally, in 2009 San Francisco prosecutors won a lower percentage of their felony jury trials than their counterparts at district attorneys' offices covering the ten 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's at-trial felony conviction rate that year was 76%, down 12 points from the previous year. By contrast, the most recent recorded statewide average was 83%, according to statistics from the California Judicial Council. 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%. San Francisco has historically had one of the lowest conviction rates in the state; the county is known for a defendant friendly jury pool.
In 2012, Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo ruled that San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris' office violated defendants' rights by hiding damaging information about a police crime lab technician and was indifferent to demands that it account for its failings.
Hate crimes and civil rights
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. Harris supports same-sex marriage in California and opposed both Proposition 22 and Proposition 8.
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.
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. Harris argues that it is important that immigrants be able to talk with law enforcement without fear.
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. She has received the endorsement of the California Federation of Teachers.
During her time as San Francisco District Attorney, Harris created the Environmental Justice Unit in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office 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.
Harris has prosecuted numerous financial crimes throughout her career, particularly those affecting elders, those involving use of high-technology, and identity theft. She has indicated that as attorney general she would crack down on predatory lending and other financial crimes.
Police department laboratory and disclosure failures
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. The police department later widened the investigation into their crime lab to include cases that were already prosecuted.
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. 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". 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.
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 US Supreme Court ruling.
Daniel Larsen case
On August 24, 2012, the Los Angeles Times published an editorial calling on Harris to release Daniel Larsen from prison. 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 2009 and ordered released. Evidence in favor of Larsen included that of a former chief of police and the actual owner of the knife; Larsen's original lawyer, who failed to call a single witness, has since been disbarred. Larsen remained in prison because Harris's office objected to his release on the grounds that he missed the deadline to file his writ of habeas corpus. The California Innocence Project, which had taken up Larsen's case, 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. In March 2013, Larsen was released on bond with the case on appeal by order of Attorney General Harris "on technical grounds". In September 2013, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the ruling and on January 27, 2014, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office dismissed the charge.
In 2015, Harris defended convictions obtained by county prosecutors who had inserted a false confession into an interrogation transcript, committed perjury, and withheld evidence. Federal appeals court Judge Alex Kozinski threw out the convictions, telling Harris’s lawyers, “Talk to the attorney general and make sure she understands the gravity of the situation.”
In March 2015 a California superior courts judge ordered Harris to take over a criminal case after Orange County, California District Attorney Tony Rackauckas was revealed to have illegally employed jailhouse informants and concealed evidence. Harris refused, appealing the order and defending Ruckauckas.
Harris appealed the dismissal of an indictment when it was discovered a Kern County, California prosecutor perjured in submitting a falsified confession as court evidence. Harris asserted that prosecutorial perjury was not sufficient to demonstrate prosecutorial misconduct. In the case, Harris argued that only abject physical brutality would warrant a finding of prosecutorial misconduct and the dismissal of an indictment, and that perjury was not sufficient.
Prison conditions and sentencing reform
After the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Plata (2011) declared California’s prisons so overcrowded they inflicted cruel and unusual punishment, Harris fought federal court supervision, explaining “I have a client, and I don’t get to choose my client”.
Harris refused to take any position on criminal sentencing-reform initiatives California Proposition 36, 2012 and California Proposition 47 (2014), arguing it would be improper because her office prepares the ballot booklets. Former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp considered her explanation “baloney.”
Bureau of Children's Justice
Harris on February 12, 2015 announced that she will start a new agency called the Bureau of Children's Justice. The bureau will work on issues such as foster care, the juvenile justice system, school truancy and childhood trauma. Harris appointed special assistant attorney general Jill Habig to head the agency.
While she was an Alameda County Deputy District Attorney in the 1990s, she dated Willie Brown, the Speaker of the California State Assembly. There was speculation the two would marry, but Brown broke up with her shortly after he was elected Mayor of San Francisco.
On April 7, 2014, Harris announced that she was engaged to be married to California attorney Douglas Emhoff, the partner-in-charge at Venable LLP's Los Angeles office. They married on August 22, 2014 in Santa Barbara, California.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kamala Harris.|
- Office of the Attorney General
- Campaign website
- San Francisco District Attorney
- Kamala Harris at Project Vote Smart
- Works by or about Kamala D. Harris in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Howard University Archive
- "U.S. Senate Debate". Cal State, Los Angeles: Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs. October 5, 2016.
|District Attorney of San Francisco
|Attorney General of California