District Attorney candidate Suzy Loftus in a meeting with the Examiner editorial board on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Loftus leaves ‘sheriff’ out of job title on the ballot, peeving opponents

Rivals of district attorney candidate Suzy Loftus say the apparent frontrunner is playing games with her job title to distance herself from law enforcement.

Loftus currently works as an attorney for Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, but voters wouldn’t know that by reading the ballot or voter pamphlet.

The voting materials describe the former police commissioner as “Legal Counsel, City & County of San Francisco,” or simply as “Legal Counsel.”

These might seem like insignificant details in a race that heated up last week when Mayor London Breed named Loftus interim district attorney to replace George Gascon, who decided to leave office earlier than originally planned.

But for opponents of the leading candidate, they represent politically calculated attempts to distance herself from the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department and possibly mislead the public.

“This is a pattern of Suzy trying to hide the fact that she works for the sheriff,” said progressive candidate Chesa Boudin, a deputy public defender.

“Is it because of the fight club and other abuse scandals in the jail? Or is it because she wants to mislead progressives into thinking she isn’t part of the establishment,” he said. “Either way, San Francisco needs a DA who is honest.”

There’s nothing illegal about Loftus landing those titles on the ballot and in the voter pamphlet.

“Legal Counsel for the City and County of San Francisco is the title on Suzy’s business card,” said Lauren Feuerborn, campaign manager for Loftus. “We sought confirmation from The City’s Department of Elections prior to the ballot designation process.”

What’s more, political consultant Jim Ross doesn’t believe the titles will have much of an impact, if any, on voters and said they were rather “neutral.”

Ross said the descriptors could, however, be an indication of Loftus trying to appeal to a wide-range of voters.

“She’s made a decision that she doesn’t want that law-enforcement credential,” said Ross, whose firm is running an independant expenditure committee for candidate Leif Dautch. “I don’t think she’s particularly hiding it… I just think she wants to be as broad as possible.”

Dautch, a deputy attorney general for California, joined Boudin in his criticism of the titles.

Dautch said the title “Legal Counsel, City and County of San Francisco” was misleading and suggests that she holds a different position than she actually does.

“My first problem is ‘Legal Counsel, City and County of San Francisco’ is not a real position,” Dautch said. “And to the extent that it does exist, it’s [City Attorney] Dennis Herrera’s job.”

Nancy Tung, the most tough-on-crime candidate in the race, didn’t swing as hard as other opponents in the race. But she did acknowledge that being legal counsel for San Francisco is an “incomplete description” of who Loftus works for.

“It may not be 100 percent accurate because it leaves out an agency that is under a lot of scrutiny right now because of use-of-force issues and allegations of criminal misconduct by sheriff’s deputies,” Tung said.

“Legal Counsel” wasn’t Loftus’ first choice for her job title on the ballot.

She wanted to be called “Legal Counsel, City and County of San Francisco” like she is in the voter pamphlet, but the Department of Elections blocked her from mentioning The City, according to emails between her campaign and the Department of Elections.

Elections Director John Arntz told the campaign that under state law, “your proposed ballot designation would mislead the voters and would be improper.”

“The candidate’s business card provided with the nomination documents indicates that she is the ‘Assistant Chief Legal Counsel’ for a specific department within city government rather than for the City and County of San Francisco in its entirety,” Arntz said.

But Arntz told the San Francisco Examiner that the same regulations do not apply to the voter pamphlet. As a result, Loftus was allowed to use the fuller description in the pamphlet.

This isn’t the first time her job title has been called into question.

On a flyer for a September debate hosted by the San Francisco Travel Association, Loftus is described as “General Counsel, City and County of San Francisco.”

In a draft advertisement for the Bar Association of San Francisco debate that same month, emails show she went from being called a “former prosecutor” to “Legal Counsel, City and County of San Francisco.” They finally landed on calling her “Legal Counsel, San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, City and County of San Francisco.”

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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