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The City Attorney

The legal team challenging Prop 8, Aug. 4, 2010.
The team challenging California’s Prop 8 at an Aug. 4, 2010 news conference: (L to R) attorneys Therese M. Stewart, David Boies, Ted Olson, Dennis Herrera; and co-plaintiff Paul Katami.

Biography of Dennis Herrera

The first Latino ever elected as San Francisco City Attorney, Dennis Herrera leads an office that has spearheaded cases of national importance on civil rights, affordable healthcare and environmental protection while remaining a tough and effective advocate for San Francisco’s neighborhoods, working families and underprivileged.

Originally from New York, Herrera earned his bachelor’s degree from Villanova University in Pennsylvania and his juris doctor from the George Washington University School of Law in Washington, D.C.

After moving to San Francisco in 1988, Herrera became actively engaged with neighborhood issues and local politics, joining community organizations and local Democratic clubs, and working on several campaigns.  In 1990, he was appointed to the Waterfront Plan Advisory Board and later served on the Finance Committee for the California Democratic Party. Herrera was also heavily involved in the 1992 Clinton-Gore presidential campaign.

When President Clinton took office in 1993, he appointed Herrera to the U.S. Maritime Administration.  He returned home to San Francisco in 1996, after accepting a partnership with a maritime law firm.

Herrera quickly resumed his involvement in local government when then-Mayor Willie Brown appointed Herrera to the San Francisco Transportation Commission, and later to the San Francisco Police Commission.  He was voted the President of the Police Commission after just one year of service.

In 2001, Herrera ran for City Attorney on a pledge to defend the integrity of public institutions, to expand neighborhood protection efforts, and to enhance local government’s accountability to its residents and taxpayers.  He was elected in a December 2001 runoff election with 52 percent of the vote.  Herrera has continued to follow through on his campaign commitments, while also pursuing public interest litigation cases that have helped earn the office a reputation as one of the most “talented city law departments in the nation.”

In his role as San Francisco’s advocate, Herrera filed the first ever government lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of state marriage laws that discriminate against gay and lesbian couples, and his office was centrally involved in the nearly decade-long battle that successfully won marriage equality in California.

Most recently, Herrera filed a federal lawsuit against President Donald Trump and his administration for his executive order directing enforcement action against sanctuary cities and threatening to withhold federal funding from these cities. The suit claims that the order is unconstitutional and exceeds the president’s power.

On major consumer protection cases, Herrera and his team have brought marketplace scofflaws to justice, winning millions in restitution for victims and taxpayers, protecting honest competitors who play by the rules, and securing injunctions to end unlawful practices.  Herrera has consistently taken an activist approach to his City Attorney’s role: not only serving city government clients, but using the power of law to make a difference in the lives of the people his office serves.

Herrera and his wife, Anne, live in San Francisco’s historic Dogpatch neighborhood, with their son, Declan.

Major Profiles of Herrera and His Office

Authored by Dennis Herrera

Published Op-eds

  • “Controversy in San Francisco highlights importance of Pope Francis, synod on family” by Dennis Herrera, National Catholic Reporter, March 6, 2015
  • “On Democracy: An unjust ruling on term limits needs appeal” by Dennis Herrera, San Francisco Chronicle, July 28, 2010 http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/An-unjust-ruling-on-term-limits-needs-appeal-3179816.php
  • Herrera responds to Guardian story on police cases by Dennis Herrera, originally published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. The job of the City Attorney is to defend the City in all civil litigation. That isn’t about protecting bad conduct, Herrera argues. It’s about protecting our tax dollars, and the many good and worthy things they make possible. (April 15, 2009)
  • High stakes of stimulus spending demands critical accountability by Dennis Herrera, originally published in the San Francisco Examiner, March 30, 2009. What’s at stake in the $787 billion federal economic stimulus package President Obama signed into law is whether government can be a force for progress. That’s the motivation behind the City Attorney’s Stimulus Spending Task Force (March 30, 2009)
  • The Public Sector Case for Marriage Equality by Dennis Herrera, originally published in the California Journal of Politics and Policy, UCBerkeley: Five years after San Francisco became the first government in history to sue to invalidate marriage laws that discriminate against gay and lesbian couples, a remarkable public sector consensus — representing more than 17.2 million Californians — has emerged against Proposition 8. (March 2, 2009)
  • Defending a vibrant and independent judiciary by Dennis Herrera, originally published in the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Bulletin: With the 2008 presidential campaign underway, it is up to the legal community to defend the independence of our judiciary from political attacks on so-called “activist judges.” Such cynical attacks undermine the legitimacy of a co-equal branch of government. (July 2007)
  • Enfeebling the judiciary by Dennis Herrera, originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle: When politicians attack “activist judges,” it’s a bully tactic intended to enfeeble a co-equal branch of government. A vibrant, independent judiciary must fulfill its obligation to enforce a Constitution that protects us all – and resist being cowed by the executive or legislative branches. (Jan. 25, 2007)
  • ‘Quality of life’ is a progressive value by Dennis Herrera, originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle: In recent years, “quality of life” has come to be viewed as a set of issues strictly related to homelessness. But that overstates the detriment of a single problem and understates the multitude of other ways we can effectively improve our societal well being. “Quality of life” is a progressive value that shouldn’t be so narrowly defined. (Sept. 18, 2006)
  • Protect the bay — and a neighborhood by Dennis Herrera, originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle: At a critical moment for environmental protection in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Regional Water Quality Control Board should reject a staff-proposed permit that would allow Mirant Corporation’s Potrero Power Plant to continue polluting San Francisco Bay until 2011. (May 10, 2006)
  • Save the Dam by Dennis Herrera, originally published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: Why plans to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir for the purpose of restoring the granite valley to what it was nearly a century ago are not only misguided, they are a serious threat to the very real imperatives of environmental justice right here in San Francisco. (Aug. 17, 2005)
  • The ‘New’ New Federalism by Dennis Herrera, originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle: How expanding spheres of local responsibility envisioned by Ronald Reagan’s New Federalism gave rise to a generation of progressive public-sector legal activists — and why Reagan’s GOP heirs should let it flourish. (Jan. 3, 2005)
  • Republicans’ Attacks on Probity of Federal Judiciary Are Un-American by Dennis Herrera, originally published in The Daily Journal: Politically-motivated attacks on the so-called “activist judiciary” are seeking to undermine the legitimacy of a co-equal branch of government. (Nov. 22, 2004)
  • Bailout Makes the Case for Public Power by Dennis Herrera, originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle: Far from the wild-eyed, socialistic power-grab routinely portrayed by PG&E’s well-funded political campaigns over the years, public power is a civic principle firmly enshrined in San Francisco’s City Charter. (Dec. 19, 2003)
  • The Other PUC Battle by Dennis Herrera, originally published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: It may lack the headlines of our local PUC with the controversial appointments made by then-acting Mayor Chris Daly, but the PG&E bankruptcy bailout before the state PUC deserves to be the biggest show in town. (Nov. 19, 2003)
  • Insurers must comply with Prop. 103 by John Russo, Dennis Herrera & Rocky Delgadillo, originally published in the Alameda Times-Star, Oakland Tribune and Daily Journals: The city attorneys of Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles take on unfair and discriminatory auto insurance industry practices that amount to little more than “ZIP Code profiling” (July 5, 2003)
  • You’ve Gotta Give Them Hope by Dennis Herrera, originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle: In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, Harvey Milk’s signature campaign line says as much about a remarkable leader as it does about an extraordinary city. (June 27, 2003)
  • Don’t Let the NRA Gun Down Civil Justice by Dennis Herrera, originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle: Despite the stated intent of the NRA’s gun liability ban, excluding gun victims from civil redress isn’t “protection of lawful commerce” — it’s political payback at the expense of public health and safety. (May 9, 2003)
  • Taking Water Pollution By Storm by Dennis Herrera, originally published in Windows on the Waterfront: San Francisco has its own winter woes with pollution from storm water runoff — but few common purposes could be more important than a cleaner environment and a healthier regional ecosystem for all of us. (Feb.-Mar. 2003)
  • Why Shaq is Not Funny by Dennis Herrera, originally published in the San Francisco Examiner: What’s the difference between from trash talk and an ethnic slur? One is acceptable in the spirit of competition, the other is antithetical to it — like Shaquille O’Neal’s mockery of Houston Rockets’ center Yao Ming, a Chinese national. (Jan. 16, 2003)
  • “PG&E’s Not Insolvent—It’s Just Greedy” by Nettie Hoge and Dennis Herrera, originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle: The public has an enormous stake in the hydroelectric system that has been developed with its money, and the system shouldn’t be stolen by PG&E in its quest for windfall profits. (Jan. 25, 2002)

Notable Speeches

  • “Latino Power”: Keynote Address to the La Raza Lawyers of Sacramento (PDF) Prepared Remarks for City Attorney Dennis Herrera: La Raza Lawyers of Sacramento 2005 Swearing-In Ceremony & Lunch Banquet, Radisson Hotel, Sacramento, California (June 22, 2005)
  • “Your Obsolescence: 2005 Commencement Address to Golden Gate University Law School Graduates” (PDF) Prepared remarks for City Attorney Dennis Herrera: commencement address to graduating law students of Golden Gate University School of Law, at the Nob Hill Masonic Center, 1111 California Street in San Francisco, California (May 13, 2005)
  • “Accepting the American Jewish Committee’s 2004 Judge Learned Hand Human Relations Award,” Prepared Remarks for City Attorney Dennis Herrera to the American Jewish Committee, at St. Francis Hotel, Colonial Room 335 Powell Street, Union Square San Francisco, California (January 27, 2005)
  • “Blowing the Whistle on E-RATE Fraud (PDF) Prepared Testimony for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, 2123 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington D.C. 20515 (July 22, 2004)
  • Commencement Address to Political Science Graduates of San Francisco State University’s Class of 2004 (PDF) Prepared Remarks for City Attorney Dennis Herrera to the SFSU Political Science Department’s Honors and Awards Ceremony and Reception, at the University Club, San Francisco State University (May 28, 2004)
  • Sunshine Training Introduction (PDF) Prepared Remarks of City Attorney Dennis Herrera, City Attorney’s Annual Sunshine Training, Herbst Theater, San Francisco (May 3, 2004)
  • “Public Prosecution: Using §17200 to Police The Marketplace” (PDF) Prepared Remarks for City Attorney Dennis Herrera to the California Bar’s Antitrust & Unfair Competition Section Program on §17200, Omni San Francisco Hotel, San Francisco (May 7, 2004)
  • “Together, We Really Can” (PDF) Prepared Remarks of City Attorney Dennis Herrera at the SFSOS Luncheon, GAP Headquarters, Ground Floor, 2 Folsom Street, San Francisco (April 15, 2004)
  • “Fighting Elder Abuse” (PDF) Prepared Remarks of City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Joint Press Conference on Elder Abuse, San Francisco City Hall East Entrance (Feb. 11, 2003)
  • “We’ve Gotta Give Them Hope” (PDF) Prepared Remarks of City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Human Rights Campaign Federal Club, Bucheon Gallery, San Francisco (Dec. 9, 2002)
  • “Remembering Robert Barnes” (PDF) Prepared Remarks of City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Robert Barnes Memorial Service, North Light Court, San Francisco City Hall (Aug. 26, 2002)
  • “First Inaugural Address” (PDF) Prepared Remarks of City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Inauguration of the City Attorney, Board of Supervisors Chambers, San Francisco City Hall (Jan. 8, 2002)