Local Leaders Series: City Attorney Dennis Herrera
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This month our local leaders series is partnering with the American Constitution Society to bring you City Attorney Dennis Herrera, the first Latino elected to City Attorney in San Francisco history. He will be in conversation with District Court Judge Vince Chhabria!
About City Attorney Dennis Herrera:
The first Latino ever elected as San Francisco City Attorney, Dennis Herrera leads an office that has spearheaded cases of national importance on civil rights, affordable healthcare and environmental protection while remaining a tough and effective advocate for San Francisco’s neighborhoods, working families and underprivileged.
Originally from New York, Herrera earned his bachelor’s degree from Villanova University in Pennsylvania and his juris doctor from the George Washington University School of Law in Washington, D.C.
After moving to San Francisco in 1988, Herrera became actively engaged with neighborhood issues and local politics, joining community organizations and local Democratic clubs, and working on several campaigns. In 1990, he was appointed to the Waterfront Plan Advisory Board and later served on the Finance Committee for the California Democratic Party. Herrera was also heavily involved in the 1992 Clinton-Gore presidential campaign.
When President Clinton took office in 1993, he appointed Herrera to the U.S. Maritime Administration. He returned home to San Francisco in 1996, after accepting a partnership with a maritime law firm.
Herrera quickly resumed his involvement in local government when then-Mayor Willie Brown appointed Herrera to the San Francisco Transportation Commission, and later to the San Francisco Police Commission. He was voted the President of the Police Commission after just one year of service.
In 2001, Herrera ran for City Attorney on a pledge to defend the integrity of public institutions, to expand neighborhood protection efforts, and to enhance local government’s accountability to its residents and taxpayers. He was elected in a December 2001 runoff election with 52 percent of the vote. Herrera has continued to follow through on his campaign commitments, while also pursuing public interest litigation cases that have helped earn the office a reputation as one of the most “talented city law departments in the nation.”
In his role as San Francisco’s advocate, Herrera filed the first ever government lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of state marriage laws that discriminate against gay and lesbian couples, and his office was centrally involved in the nearly decade-long battle that successfully won marriage equality in California.
Most recently, Herrera filed a federal lawsuit against President Donald Trump and his administration for his executive order directing enforcement action against sanctuary cities and threatening to withhold federal funding from these cities. The suit claims that the order is unconstitutional and exceeds the president’s power.
On major consumer protection cases, Herrera and his team have brought marketplace scofflaws to justice, winning millions in restitution for victims and taxpayers, protecting honest competitors who play by the rules, and securing injunctions to end unlawful practices. Herrera has consistently taken an activist approach to his City Attorney’s role: not only serving city government clients, but using the power of law to make a difference in the lives of the people his office serves.
Herrera and his wife, Anne, live in San Francisco’s historic Dogpatch neighborhood, with their son, Declan.
About Judge Chhabria:
Vince Chhabria is a federal district judge in the Northern District of California, based in San Francisco.
He was nominated by Barack Obama in July 2013 and confirmed by the Senate in March 2014. Before taking the bench, Judge Chhabria spent nine years working for City Attorney Dennis Herrera. He served as Chief of Appellate Litigation, as well as a deputy on the Government Litigation Team. He successfully defended a challenge to San Francisco’s universal health care program, and was part of Herrera’s team that successfully challenged California’s ban on same‐sex marriage. He also defended the City in: a First Amendment challenge to an ordinance requiring cell phone retailers to warn customers about possible health risks from rf energy exposure from cell phones; an Establishment Clause challenge to a resolution passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors criticizing Vatican statements and policies regarding adoption by same‐sex couples; separate First Amendment and Equal Protection challenges to an ordinance banning tobacco sales in drug stores; a state law preemption challenge to an ordinance requiring landlords to pay relocation assistance to evicted tenants; and a Due Process challenge to the City's red light camera program.
Chhabria was also a member of Herrera’s Affirmative Litigation Task Force. In that capacity he served as lead counsel in several matters involving the failure of businesses to pay employees the minimum wages and benefits required by San Francisco law.
Before he was hired by Herrera in 2004, Chhabria worked in the San Francisco office of Covington & Burling, where he focused primarily on criminal defense litigation. Chhabria served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer during the 2001‐2002 term.
Before that, he clerked for James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit and Charles Breyer on the Northern District of California. Chhabria attended law school at Berkeley from 1995‐1998. Before that, he spent three years working as a Legislative Assistant to Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey in Washington, D.C. He received his undergraduate degree in Politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1991.
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