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San Francisco prosecutors say they will pursue their investigation of former Planning Commission President Hector Chinchilla even though he will not be re-appointed to the panel. “There is an intense investigation,” District Attorney Terence Hallinan said last week. Hallinan said the probe will determine whether Chinchilla, an attorney, violated the city’s ethics code or the state’s conflict-of-interest statutes for accepting a consulting fee from a developer seeking a permit. Robert Kehr, the former chair of the State Bar’s Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct, said a lawyer in Chinchilla’s position might also face disciplinary proceedings. “Lawyers are required to be honest in all their activities,” said Kehr, of Los Angeles’ Kehr, Schiff & Crane. Chinchilla is in hot water over accepting a $20,000 fee from a developer who wanted to convert the old Apollo Theater into a drug store. Chinchilla denies he did anything wrong because he says he recused himself from the Planning Commission vote on the project. The issue came to light in the San Francisco Chronicle when the developer complained because his project did not get a permit. Mayor Willie Brown, who appointed Chinchilla to the Planning Commission in 1996, said last week that he would not reappoint Chinchilla to his post. But Chinchilla may face other problems. Although prosecutors are unsure where their probe will take them, the Bar’s Kehr pointed to state Business & Profession Code � 6106, part of the State Bar Act, as a broad rule of conduct for attorneys. “The commission of any act involving moral turpitude, dishonesty or corruption, whether the act is committed in the course of his relations as an attorney or otherwise, and whether the act is a felony or misdemeanor or not, constitutes cause for disbarment or suspension,” the rule says. A copy of the fee agreement between Chinchilla’s Millennium Group law firm and developer Lawrence Lee, which was obtained by The Recorder, spells out what was expected of Chinchilla and the payment schedule he was to receive. Among Chinchilla’s duties were to “resolve the political issues that will be involved in obtaining the site permit for the proposed project.” He was also to “attend project team meetings to monitor the progress of the project.” And he was to, “if necessary assist client to form the right team of consultants to expedite” the process. For this, Chinchilla was to be paid in three installments, according to the agreement. The first was a $10,000 payment upon signing the retainer. The next $5,000 was to be paid on the setting of a hearing date before the planning commission, and the last $5,000 was “due no later than the hearing date.” Although the money was paid to Chinchilla, the Planning Commission failed to approve the permit, according to attorney Sal Balistreri, who represents developers Lawrence Lee and his father, Pius Lee, in the district attorney’s investigation. “We’ve had a discussion with the DA’s office,” he said. “They told everything they knew and, in my estimation, they have nothing to worry about.” He said the father and son may also consult with a civil lawyer to pursue a suit against Chinchilla or his law group. Chinchilla did not return calls to his office seeking comment. Before setting up his Millennium Group a little more than a year ago, Chinchilla was a partner at Oakland’s Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May. He focused on legal malpractice, insurance and commercial litigation. He is also a former member of the San Francisco Residential Rent Stabilization Board and is past-president of the San Francisco La Raza Lawyers Association. On his Web site, www.migrp.com, Chinchilla offers potential clients “no-nonsense land use consulting services.” “Avoid the wasteful and painful entitlement process,” he says. “Millennium Group will get you off on the right foot with the right team.” Prosecutors says they are also investigating Chinchilla’s role in a hotel project at Fifth and Howard streets that won Planning Commission approval in June. A complaint filed with the city’s Ethics Commission alleged that Chinchilla worked as a consultant on the project, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. He denied the accusation. His former law firm, Crosby, Heafey, handled the permit process for the developer. Katherine Hart Sebastiani, the lead attorney for Crosby, Heafey in the matter, did not return calls to her office seeking comment. Kehr, of the State Bar said the Bar’s professional responsibility committee, issued an advisory or hypothetical opinion, No. 1981-63, which may be applicable in Chinchilla’s case. The opinion dealt with whether the law firm of a city council member could represent tort plaintiffs in actions against the city when the city has given informed consent. The conclusion is that the city council member could not represent the plaintiffs. “At least with respect to attorneys who are also public officials, the legal profession’s interest in maintaining public confidence in lawyers and the judicial system is sufficient to render representation of the type proposed here unethical,” the opinion held. “An attorney must exercise the highest degree of care to avoid giving the public the impression that he or she has improperly used the influence of public office,” it concluded.

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