Matt Gonzalez, second-in-command at the Public Defender’s Office, has gone on unpaid leave amid questions about whether he may be improperly representing a private firm in a civil suit against The City, a claim he denied Wednesday.
The lawsuit, filed by The City in 2003, involves an alleged kickback scheme by a former city employee offering multi-million-dollar contracts to two companies, one of which is represented by Gonzalez’s former firm. That company later countersued for breach of contract, and the case went to trial last week.
Gonzalez said he made it clear when he rejoined the Public Defender’s Office last year that this client, whom he had represented for years, was one he might revisit. He said he will receive no payment or monetary judgment.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Gonzalez told him he would simply be advising other attorneys, but he ended up delivering opening statements and examining witnesses.
Gonzalez said he used vacation days for the trial, but when it became clear he would take on a bigger role, he asked to go on unpaid leave Monday “just to try to make it cleaner.”
“It’s not incompatible in terms of legal ethics,” the former supervisor and mayoral candidate said.
Adachi said he was surprised to hear of Gonzalez’s expanded role, but was withholding judgment.
“It’s something that I would have wanted to know, obviously,” he said. “I first want to talk to him to find out exactly what happened.”
Adachi agreed there was no legal conflict. The issue will be whether Gonzalez violated office policy and could be disciplined.
The ethics policy of the agency, which represents indigent residents on criminal cases, is for employees not to represent clients outside their official capacity. But Adachi can allow exceptions to the policy.
“He has the right to decide if he can waive the rule,” Gonzalez said. “Obviously, that would be my position.”