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Can going after a member of Westmob or Big Block in civil court help curb gang violence? It’s the latest anti-gang tactic in San Francisco. On Monday, City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced that his office, with the help of the latest prosecutor to leave the U.S. attorney’s office, is going to start seeking civil gang injunctions for seemingly small-fry conduct, like loitering and blocking traffic. The crime-fighting rationale? Once an injunction is granted, the city attorney or district attorney can go after violators for civil penalties or even jail time, the city attorney’s office says. Morris Tabak, deputy chief of investigations for the police department, said he asked the city attorney to examine the strategy earlier this year, noting that injunctions may also help keep known gang members out of areas prone to violence. “We have seen the need to have civil gang injunctions in San Francisco for quite some time,” Tabak said. “We just wanted to add that into our arsenal.” Herrera himself notes that the same approach has been used in Southern California for about two decades, including by the Los Angeles city attorney’s office. “Whether it be a deterrent effect, or incarcerating people, or civilly penalizing people, or disrupting [gangs], they’re all byproducts of what has proven to be a useful tool,” he said. He declined to say which gangs, in particular, his office hoped to combat here. Gathering evidence that a gang member represents a public nuisance can take months; Herrera’s office expects to seek its first civil gang injunction in summer. Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne-Christine Massullo is leaving the U.S. attorney’s Northern District office for City Hall just after the new year. She will head a neighborhood safety division that will encompass the city attorney’s existing code enforcement work, as well as the new focus on gang injunctions. “You’ll see a fair amount of cross-pollination between the code team and the folks that are going to be doing the gang work,” Herrera said, “because a lot of the issues are similar.” Also in January, Herrera said, he plans to bring another deputy city attorney on board to fill a current vacancy, and that person will also be assigned to the gang work. Massullo, now an assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting securities fraud, came upon the job when someone called her and asked if they could give Herrera her name. “It was really just something out of the blue.” Though she hasn’t prosecuted gangs, she thinks her mixed civil and criminal experience are particularly suited for balancing government power and constitutional rights. “You have to have the civil side to appreciate where the bumps in the road are going to be,” she said. Massullo has spent the past 16 years in the Northern District U.S. attorney’s office. After about a decade handling civil cases, she shifted to the criminal division, where she specialized in white-collar prosecutions and securities fraud trials. Since then, Massullo has become known in the federal building for effectively and efficiently trying complex cases. “She’s exceptionally bright, well prepared, thorough and has an excellent presence with the jury,” said San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Lee, a former Northern District prosecutor. “She’s a fantastic attorney, and it’s a great loss to the office and a wonderful coup for the city attorney’s office.” Northern District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker agreed, and said he enjoyed presiding over Massullo’s cases because of her effectiveness in the courtroom and willingness to cooperate both with opposing counsel and judges’ desire to move cases forward quickly. “She’s a classy lawyer. She’s not just a competent lawyer,” Walker said. “Things are done with style. She makes the practice of law look easy.” Massullo’s departure is the latest in a recent string of defections from U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan’s office. In mid-November, white-collar section chief Miles Ehrlich announced that he was departing for private practice. Since then, the former civil division chief, Jocelyn Burton, has left the office. And on Nov. 25, Ryan notified Northern District personnel via e-mail that Cynthia Caporizzo, the office’s top administrative lawyer, was leaving. Caporizzo did not return calls seeking comment, and Ryan spokesman Luke Macaulay said the office wouldn’t comment on individual departures. “They’re moving on due to professional or personal reasons, and we wish them the very best,” he said. Not that the U.S. attorney’s office has heard the last of Massullo. Herrera’s office says it will work with Ryan’s office, and that Massullo will foster the partnership. Some deputy city attorneys will be cross-designated as special assistant U.S. attorneys under the plan. “Obviously, they have a wealth of information that will be useful to us,” Herrera said.

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