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Now that Mayor Gavin Newsom has admitted to having a sexual affair with a former aide, who also happens to be the wife of his (now former) re-election campaign manager, one obvious question is whether Newsom has opened up himself � and the city � to a sexual harassment suit. Newsom offered no answer at a brief news conference Thursday, where he apologized for the affair that reportedly led to his campaign manager’s resignation on Wednesday. City Attorney Dennis Herrera wouldn’t speculate Thursday on the potential legal fallout, either. But if the mayor were to get hit with a lawsuit, then Herrera would have a dilemma on his plate: whether to defend Newsom, or force the mayor to hire his own attorney. Based on comments Herrera made Thursday, the mayor might want to start hitting the phone lines. “As city attorney, I have a single client and that is the City and County of San Francisco. I have no obligation to defend individual officials who are acting outside the course and scope of their duties,” Herrera said. Shortly after Newsom confirmed his past relationship with Ruby Rippey-Tourk, identified by the San Francisco Chronicle as the mayor’s former appointments secretary, Newsom spokesman Eric Jaye said the mayor has not hired a lawyer, and Jaye doesn’t expect he will. “It’s not a legal case,” Jaye said. But if a legal case were to develop, Jaye suggested that Herrera should defend the mayor. “Dennis Herrera, according to the city charter, represents Gavin Newsom. He’s not a prosecutor,” said Jaye, though he later added that he is not a lawyer and claims no expertise regarding San Francisco’s charter. “To the extent that he has any duties [in this case], his duty is to the mayor.” Herrera strongly disagreed. “It is my job to defend the interests of the city in legal matters, and that is a responsibility I will continue to fulfill independently and aggressively,” he said.
‘As city attorney, I have a single client and that is the City and County of San Francisco. I have no obligation to defend individual officials who are acting outside the course and scope of their duties.’

DENNIS HERRERA S.F. city attorney


A Newsom campaign release issued Wednesday said Alex Tourk, his re-election campaign manager, was resigning for “personal reasons,” but made no mention of the affair. A spokesman for Alex Tourk’s lawyer Steven Kay, a partner at Kay & Merkle, said Kay would not comment on the situation. At this point, it’s unclear if Newsom’s affair would fall under an exception in San Francisco’s sexual harassment policy (.pdf), which says “consensual romantic relationships between a supervisor or manager and a subordinate do not constitute sexual harassment per se and are not prohibited by this policy.” But, depending on the circumstances, that doesn’t necessarily mean Newsom is off the hook. “Anytime there’s an employment relationship that changes and you’ve injected into it some sort of sexual relationship, there’s always the possibility of some kind of a [legal] case,” said Arthur Hartinger, who chairs the labor and employment group at Meyers, Nave, Riback, Silver & Wilson, an Oakland-based law firm that serves public agencies. Though Newsom hasn’t approached him for representation just yet, Hartinger said he would always counsel someone to get legal advice if the threat of legal action exists. “Everybody needs lawyers,” he said.

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