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Assistant District Attorney James Hammer is out and a veteran Solano County prosecutor will take over the helm of the San Francisco homicide team under an office shake-up announced Thursday by DA Kamala Harris. Hammer resigned several weeks ago but agreed to stay on through a transition period, said District Attorney spokeswoman Debbie Mesloh. Valerie McGuire, who has tried at least 20 homicide cases, will start April 19, according to a DA press release. Hammer, a supporter of former DA Terence Hallinan, gained notoriety as the chief prosecutor on the 2002 dog mauling prosecution of Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoeller. His departure is the most significant change in Harris’ latest office shuffle. Harris won a three-way race to unseat eight-year incumbent Hallinan last fall and, since taking office in January, has been working to entirely revamp the office. Hammer declined to comment Thursday. “I’ve been requested to refer all inquiries to the press office,” he said. “I thank Jim Hammer for his service to San Francisco, and wish him the best in his future endeavors,” Harris said in a statement. According to a DA press release, other hires include: San Francisco Superior Court research attorney T.J. Wallace, who graduated from Hastings College of the Law and previously served as an adjunct professor there; and former San Francisco assistant DA Gerald Norman, now executive director of the San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic, who will return to the DA’s office in June to serve as managing attorney of the career criminal unit. San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Marc Katz is also headed to work for Harris, according to Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart. Mesloh would not confirm that hiring. McGuire, a native San Franciscan, was a prosecutor in the Sacramento DA’s office before she joined the Solano County district attorney’s office in 1997, according to the San Francisco and Solano County DA’s offices. She’s handled a variety of murder cases as a line prosecutor on Solano’s three-person homicide team, said retired Solano County Chief Deputy DA Douglas Keener, McGuire’s former supervisor. Among her cases, McGuire won a first-degree murder conviction against Dennis McGraw, brother of baseball player Tug McGraw and uncle of country music star Tim McGraw, in December 2002, according to the Vacaville Reporter. Keener describes McGuire as competent and low-key. “She’s going to be a really good fit for that office,” said Keener, who worked as an investigator in the San Francisco DA’s office for about five years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “She’s done it all.” McGuire wraps up her current job April 16, said Linda Kathryn Coffer, chief deputy of the Solano County DA’s office. McGuire did not return a call seeking comment. Bringing in a prosecutor from outside the office to lead the homicide unit isn’t a bad idea, as long as the new hire is skilled, said criminal defense lawyer Bill Fazio, Harris’ other opponent in the DA race. “If I were in the office I wouldn’t be offended by it. I think she has a right to bring in her own people,” Fazio said. Hammer joined the office in 1998 and took the helm of the homicide team in 2001. He had expressed interest in running for district attorney in the past, but said he would never run against his former boss, Hallinan. Hammer said in an interview Tuesday that he was exploring “several opportunities,” including running for the Board of Supervisors’ seat now occupied by Matt Gonzalez, who’s announced he doesn’t intend to run for re-election in November. “If I did leave, this would be a natural time to leave with the new administration,” Hammer said. “I’ve been presented several opportunities, and I’m going to make my own choice about what I do next.” Stewart, of the city attorney’s office, called Katz, a former Keker & Van Nest associate now on Dennis Herrera’s trial team, “a young superstar” who’s handled both “common cases” such as police defense, as well as more complex cases involving corruption. “Marc has depth that will be hard to replace,” she said, speculating that he may have been looking for an opportunity to expand his trial skills to include criminal cases. Katz declined to comment. Among a long list of lawyers and judges who gave money to Harris’ campaign, Katz gave $100, the same amount he contributed to Susan Leal’s unsuccessful mayoral campaign, according to campaign finance records. A couple of local lawyers said they’d recently spotted Harris’ No. 2, Russell Giuntini, at Caffe Roma across the street from the Hall of Justice, talking with what appeared to be job candidates. “I know that they’ve been meeting with a lot of new faces at Caffe Roma,” said Public Defender Jeff Adachi, though he conceded what he saw may just have been people meeting for coffee. Former San Francisco Assistant DA Al Giannini, now a prosecutor in the San Mateo district attorney’s office, noted the rumors circulating last week and speculated Harris was trying to draw a distinction between her office and that of her predecessor. “Kamala’s playing it very close to the vest, as is her wont,” he said. “In Terence’s reign, nothing was a secret.”

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