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San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera laid off seven lawyers in July to cope with budget cuts and did it quietly to minimize anxiety and damage to morale. “This is a hard thing for this office,” said Matt Dorsey, a city attorney spokesman. “It’s something that Dennis had a hard time doing.” The attorneys were asked to clean out their desks immediately, and Herrera opted not to hold an office-wide meeting to discuss the layoffs. The Recorder obtained the information after making a formal request July 24 under the California Public Records Act. Herrera’s office had previously declined to make public any information about the layoffs. The city attorney’s approach to the layoffs left at least one of the lawyers who lost their jobs with a bitter feeling. “They did it in such a cold, heartless way,” said Karen Carrera, who had been a deputy city attorney for seven years before she was laid off July 10. The other attorneys were let go July 11, a day she had not been scheduled to work, Carrera said. The layoffs were a result of the office’s share of citywide budget cuts. Signed by Mayor Willie Brown on Thursday, the $4.8 billion city budget for the 2003-04 fiscal year beginning July 1 trims the city attorney’s budget by $2.1 million, to $46.1 million, city officials said. Herrera gave the laid-off attorneys double the required 30 days severance, according to an e-mail by Deputy City Attorney Amy Ackerman that summarizes “the gist” of Herrera’s comments on the layoffs at a senior staff meeting July 16. Carrera, who was in the child and family services unit, said the construction, labor, workers compensation and litigation teams each lost one lawyer. The environmental team, which had only three lawyers before the cuts, lost two of them, she said. Herrera e-mailed his employees in February to warn them that layoffs and furloughs might be necessary. “I am hopeful that a program of voluntary furloughs by attorneys will allow us to minimize the need for layoffs,” the e-mail said. But the city attorney couldn’t make furloughs mandatory because of a union contract, and he ultimately deemed voluntary furloughs an infeasible solution, Ackerman’s e-mail says. Ackerman also said each lawyer in the office would have had to take an estimated three weeks off without pay to absorb the cuts. Herrera “felt [three-week furloughs] would make the office unable to function and would be too severe of a financial hit for everyone,” and decided layoffs were “the only alternative,” Ackerman’s e-mail said. Attorneys had already taken what amounted to a 7.5 percent slash to their salaries when they agreed to a new union contract that has them contributing more to their pensions. At the July 16 meeting, Herrera also responded to a question about “why there were layoffs at the same time new people are being hired,” Ackerman’s e-mail says. The city attorney replied that he’d been fighting for new hires for a year, and they were already factored into the budget, noting some new hires were to make up for past losses, while others were to fill “specialized needs.” Herrera had been asking team leaders for input about the layoffs since about mid-June, and he phoned some of them prior to the layoffs to let them know their groups wouldn’t be affected “in an attempt to alleviate deputies’ stress,” Ackerman’s e-mail said. Carrera, who has since landed as a partner in the Marin office of Talamantes & Villegas, said she was stunned by the layoffs. “They just had everybody go clean out their desk immediately,” she said, acknowledging that she’s still “sad and hurt and bitter” over the experience. She said she thinks politics, office and otherwise, might have played a role in who was picked to stay and go. She noted that her supervisor, Kimiko Burton — the former San Francisco public defender and daughter of state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton — had been hired relatively recently, taking the position early in the year. Carrera said Herrera told her that the layoff wasn’t personal and that her recent move to a part-time schedule after she’d had her second child wasn’t a factor in the decision. Both Herrera and District Attorney Terence Hallinan avoided the even deeper staff cuts they’d projected in recent months. As of late May, the city attorney’s office had approximately 190 lawyers and 135 support staff. Salaries, fringe benefits and other personnel-related expenditures made up about 84 percent of the office’s operating budget last fiscal year, according to a three-year strategic plan Herrera submitted to the mayor in February. In June, Herrera told the Board of Supervisor’s budget committee that cutting an anticipated $2.2 million from the city attorney’s budget would force him to lay off 17 attorneys, according to documents from his office. His office “managed to capture some other savings that limited the number of layoffs to seven attorneys,” says another July 16 e-mail, from Deputy City Attorney Theresa Mueller, to a handful of staff. The district attorney’s office fared better than expected, though it didn’t escape layoffs or cuts to its $32.6 million budget altogether. The DA laid off one member of his support staff in July, and he plans to let another one go in October as he had previously announced, said Teresa Serata, chief financial officer for the DA. The office will be left with 115 attorneys and 140 staff. But the San Francisco supervisors decided not to move the DA’s welfare fraud unit to the Department of Human Services as the mayor first recommended. So the district attorney will get to keep four investigators and an assistant investigator — who had been marked for lay offs — along with four investigators and two assistant investigators who had been slated to move to the other department, Serata said. The board’s decision restored $937,000 of the $2.9 million in cuts the mayor had recommended, she added. Neither Herrera nor Hallinan are ruling out the possibilities of more layoffs later in the fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2004. Serata said the DA could still lose as much as $300,000 in state grant money, but a more precise number may not be clear until October. She added that she’s not sure whether such cuts would necessitate more layoffs. For Herrera’s part, “he believes he is done with layoffs for this fiscal year,” but if there are major changes in budget projections later in the year, that may change, Ackerman’s e-mail says. Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s staff will swell with a budget increase rare among city departments this year. He plans to hire 18 new employees by the end of the fiscal year, including six attorneys, because the city’s giving his $13.4 million budget a $2.6 million boost, he said. That will bring his staff roster to 88 attorneys and 48 non-attorneys.

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