Board bids farewell to Givner, their ‘fantastic lawyer’ and ‘a profoundly excellent human being’

Deputy City Attorney Jon Givner (center), flanked by Board of Supervisors members and staff, at his final meeting.

They praised his kindness, his cool demeanor under fire, and his baseball skills.

He was even celebrated in song.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday bid farewell – but not goodbye – to Deputy City Attorney Jon Givner, their beloved and trusted legal counsel since August 2012.

Givner has been promoted to Team Leader for the City Attorney’s Government Team, a role he will assume in January. The Government Team handles advice and legislative work for elected officials and most City departments. It also handles the defense of City laws when they face legal challenges.

Givner is taking over that group after its longtime leader, legal lion Buck Delventhal, passed away in October after nearly 50 years of service in the City Attorney’s Office. Deputy City Attorney Anne Pearson will succeed Givner as General Counsel for the 11-member Board of Supervisors.

Givner is not going too far though.

Rather than ranging between the offices of supervisors and Board Clerk Angela Calvillo on City Hall’s second floor, Givner will move up to the third floor. Still, his departure from his corner chair in the board chamber was a moment of bittersweet reflection for supervisors.

Board President Norman Yee praised Givner’s “calm, collected, and all-knowing legal counsel,” saying:There is no way to thank you enough.”

More than one supervisor remarked on the difficulty of being the board’s lawyer.

“You have a very complicated client. Technically there are 11 of us, but in reality there are 44 of us,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said, referring to the three aides each supervisor has. “We are not very disciplined, so you probably would get calls from all three of my aides, usually on the same exact topic, and that is exacerbated by the rest of us and their aides.”

We are “profoundly grateful for the counsel that you have given us, whether we were asking you about how to conquer poverty, how to clean our streets, how to make child care universal – which were all easy tasks that came with very easy legal advice,” Peskin deadpanned.

‘I Don’t Know How You’ve Done It.’

Supervisor Hillary Ronen marveled at Givner’s calm demeanor and unflappable professionalism while navigating the competing interests on the board.

“We are 11 characters of the highest order, with strange personalities, constant demands, half the time scheming against each other or scheming against the Mayor’s Office,” Ronen said. “You have been privy to it all, and yet somehow … have never betrayed anyone’s confidence. … How you managed to do that and keep that all straight and demand such respect from so many different people with such a wide range of politics is just extraordinary. I honestly don’t know how you’ve done it.”

Ronen added: “I don’t know anyone else who can.”

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman has known Givner since they were at Berkeley Law together.

“Jon Givner, aside from being a fantastic lawyer, is a profoundly excellent human being,” Mandelman said. “When we were back in law school we had great hopes and ambitions for what the practice of law would be, and that the very best and brightest in law schools would go into public service and would go into nonprofit. And Jon Givner, in your case that has absolutely happened. … I’ll miss you, but I’m glad that you’re still going to be around in the City.”

Supervisor Catherine Stefani also lamented the board’s loss, but noted: “If anyone is going to fill Buck’s shoes, I can’t imagine anybody better than you.”

“You’re only on the third floor,” Stefani said, “so you must come visit.”

It was not the only invitation extended that day.

‘A Hell of a Baseball Player’

“City Hall can sometimes be a very lonely place. You just don’t know who to trust,” said Supervisor Sandra Fewer, her voice welling with emotion. “But I just want to say that I always felt that I could trust you. I think you’ve seen a lot, but you know a lot. You have always been so generous and gracious and kind.”

Fewer continued: “Jon, I want to invite you to come back. Come back to my office and hang out with us. Come back and eat a donut, because I actually feel like we’re real friends.”

Likely to the consternation of her colleagues, Fewer also appeared to allude to the City Attorney’s Office softball team’s two victories over the Board of Supervisors this fall. Givner is an outfielder on the City Attorney team.

“I actually think you are such a hell of a baseball player,” Fewer said.

Supervisor Matt Haney lauded Givner’s willingness to work through thorny legal issues to produce legislative results.

“It’s funny. I heard a theme here, people saying, ‘How did you deal with all of our difficult ways, and approaches, and everything?’” Haney said. “And it sounded like a lot of us felt like, well, we must have just been his favorite. … But what makes it even more extraordinary is that you were the same way with everybody. The professionalism. The hard work. Picking up the phone when you’re [on vacation]. Thank you for doing it this way.”

Givner expressed his gratitude.

“I have loved this job,” he said. “It has been endlessly interesting, tremendously challenging, and very enriching. I believe that this board does great things, and amazing things happen in this room. Sometimes ridiculous things happen in this room. And it has been a privilege to be part of all of it.”

In classic Givner fashion, he used the moment not to bask in the accolades, but to praise the hard work of others, including Board Clerk “AC – Always Cool” Angela Calvillo and her staff, and his colleagues in the City Attorney’s Office.

He thanked City Attorney Dennis Herrera “for trusting me in this position.”

“My office is full of brilliant, hard-working, committed attorneys who do all of the work to advance your policy agenda while I sit in this room,” Givner told the supervisors. “I am grateful for today and the things you’ve said, but it really reflects on the work of everyone in my office who are working on the actual legislation and advice for you. Three people in particular I just want to call out and thank, who have really guided me and been an essential part of my professional life while I’ve been working for the board: Buck Delventhal, whose influence on me I didn’t fully realize until very recently; Jesse Smith, who is the smartest lawyer I know, and has been a friend and mentor to me; and Andrew Shen, who is just the best, most generous and patient co-worker and sounding board. If I wasn’t sitting next to him for the last 7 1/2 years I’m sure I would have gotten many more things wrong, delivered advice more poorly, and would not be hearing the things that you’re saying today.”

You know you’ve really made it in the world of San Francisco public policy when Walter Paulson, the singing man of the Board of Supervisors, sings about you during the public comment period.

And so it was with Givner.

Paulson took to the microphone later in the meeting with a little number for “Jon over here.” To the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” he sang:

“Will old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?

We’d like to all thank you now, and thank you for your time.”

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