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CITY ATTORNEY BECOMING A PLAYER IN STATE POLITICS San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera makes no bones about his position on the gubernatorial election: No on the recall, yes on Bustamante. He’s spoken out on the issue before and highlighted it again last week when he co-hosted a $5,000-a-head fund-raiser for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante at a Russian Hill restaurant. The event, also co-hosted by state Sen. John Burton, D-San Francisco, and city Police Commissioner Angelo Quaranta, brought in about $90,000. “I don’t think a recall is in the interests of the citizens of the state of California,” the city attorney said. But if it succeeds, he said he wants to ensure there’s a Democrat in office looking out for working people. Some Democratic bigwigs say Herrera himself is on his way up in state politics, though Herrera downplays their comments. “He’s a very up-and-coming star for the Democratic Party,” said state party Chairman Art Torres. “He’s a rising star,” echoed Joseph Cotchett of Burlingame’s Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy. “I think you’ll see him as a future mayor and a statewide officeholder.” Asked if he had such ambitions, Herrera said, “Listen, I love the job that I’m doing right now. I love being city attorney, and that’s the job I’m focused on.” The city attorney noted he’s been involved in the state’s Democratic Party for many years and was a member of its finance committee in the early 1990s. And because local law prohibits him from getting involved in campaigns for city offices or measures, he added, “state and federal is the only place that I can play, or get involved in that stuff.” — Pam Smith A STAR OF THE CHOCOLATE BAR Michèle Corash has become the champion of chocolate makers. The Morrison & Foerster partner is fighting a suit that claims chocolate companies are selling confections with dangerous levels of lead and cadmium. A Los Angeles Superior Court jurist eliminated 1,122 chocolate products from the suit last week. A trial is set for October that will evaluate the safety of 48 other products, including M&M’s and Hershey’s candy bars. All the plaintiffs have on these products is the ability “to detect what anyone could detect in air, soil and water — the presence of a couple of ubiquitous minerals,” Corash said. The suit was brought by the American Environmental Safety Institute, a nonprofit group chaired by Deborah Sivas, who is also director of the Earthjustice Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School. The suit claims 21 manufacturers violated California’s Proposition 65 by failing to disclose that their chocolate contains lead and cadmium. Prop 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxics Enforcement Act passed by voters in 1986, requires that the state compile a list of all chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive problems. Corash is the go-to attorney for companies fighting litigation related to Prop 65. A former general counsel of the Environmental Protection Agency, Corash took three months off to campaign against the initiative and signed the ballot argument against it. Since its passage, more than 10,000 law suits have been filed, and Corash has been lead defense counsel in most of the major cases. In the chocolate battle, she has California Attorney General Bill Lockyer on her side. Two years ago he sent a letter to Corash and plaintiff’s lawyer Roger Carrick of The Carrick Law Group in Los Angeles saying that a civil action on the presence of level and cadmium in chocolate “lacked merit.” But Carrick said testing by his client shows that one Nestle cocoa drink contains the same amount of lead as one would get from “licking a three-square-inch area in a public housing project with leaded paint.” — Brenda Sandburg HELLER GOING AFTER EL SALVADOR ASSASSINATION FIGURE In the 23 years since El Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down while performing mass, no one has been prosecuted for the crime. Now attorneys from San Francisco’s Center for Justice & Accountability and Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe have teamed up to revisit the case. The attorneys filed a federal civil suit against a Modesto resident whom they allege helped plan and carry out the archbishop’s murder. According to the suit, Alvaro Rafael Saravia, a former captain in the El Salvadoran air force, was a key conspirator in the assassination plot, obtaining weapons and vehicles, and delivering payment to the assassins. While a United Nations commission has found that Saravia was actively involved in the murder, he hasn’t been prosecuted in El Salvador, in part as a result of the amnesty clause in the peace accords that ended El Salvador’s civil war. Saravia has been living in the United States since 1985 or 1986, according to the complaint. “His case today is the paradigmatic example of impunity,” says Nicholas van Aelstyn, a partner at Heller Ehrman’s San Francisco office. Van Aelstyn is serving as lead litigation counsel in the case, along with Heller Ehrman associate Russell Cohen. Heller Ehrman signed on to litigate the case pro bono after being approached by the center, which has been working on the case for the past year. The center’s executive director, Sandra Coliver, Litigation Director Joshua Sondheimer and staff attorney Matthew Eisenbrandt will continue to work as co-counsel. The attorneys are filing the suit on behalf of a relative of the archbishop under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victims Protection Act. The suit seeks monetary damages, to be determined at trial, because that’s what U.S. law allows, says Heller Ehrman’s van Aelstyn. “But the more important element of the case is the effort to bring some justice and to hold those responsible for this terrible crime accountable.” — Alexei Oreskovic

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