Claim alleging City Attorney scam rejected by independent public counsel 

Joanne Hoeper
  • Mike Koozmin/the S.F. Examiner
  • Joanne Hoeper, a former chief trial deputy for the City Attorney's Office, says she was fired for exposing corruption.

A claim by a former chief trial deputy in the San Francisco City Attorney's Office that alleged corruption in The City's dealings with plumbing companies was rejected today by independent public counsel.

The Santa Clara County Counsel's Office reviewed the July 1 claim on behalf of the San Francisco City Attorney's Office. Because the claim implicated city attorney employees, it would have been a conflict of interest for the City Attorney's Office to review the complaint itself.

Joanne Hoeper, an attorney who worked for the city attorney for two decades before her employment was terminated in January, alleged in her claim that two employees in the city attorney's Claims Bureau had approved thousands of claims against The City for unnecessary sewer repairs on private property. Hoeper claimed the scam cost San Francisco taxpayers upwards of $10 million, and her claim sought her reinstatement at the City Attorney's Office, as well as unspecified monetary damages.

When Hoeper filed her claim earlier this month, city attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey called her statements "baseless allegations of wrongdoing from a disgruntled former employee."

Hoeper did not immediately return a request for comment. Her attorney, Stephen Murphy, said he planned to file a lawsuit regarding Hoeper's claim.

The Santa Clara County Counsel's Office dismissed aspects of Hoeper's claim that related to events she alleged occurred prior to Jan. 1, because claims regarding events older than six months are time-barred under state law. The counsel's office also rejected the remaining claims regarding events after Jan. 1.

Murphy said, "They spent little over a week on this claim, so they could not have looked into the claims made by my client. They're hiding behind a bogus procedural rule."

Murphy claimed that Hoeper's claims are not time-barred because she was terminated in January. The events that she alleges occurred prior to Jan. 1 are the motivation for her termination, Murphy said, and therefore should be considered.

In a statement, Dorsey called Hoeper's actions vindictive and said the former staffer "clearly has some axes to grind" against her former coworkers.

"We're pleased but not surprised that this meritless claim was rejected," Dorsey said. "As a former deputy city attorney, Ms. Hoeper was almost certainly aware that most of her baseless allegations were time-barred. That she chose to make them anyway -- in a PR-driven pleading that likely shields her from defamation actions -- I think demonstrates the vindictiveness underlying her claim."

Dorsey continued, "City Attorney [Dennis] Herrera owes a duty to those taxpayers, to all his current employees, and to all city attorneys who will follow him, to create no precedent or incentive for any disgruntled lawyer to betray the public trust by making reckless and unsupported charges of serious crimes in a bid to shake down taxpayers. We hope Ms. Hoeper is satisfied that she has made her point, and that she refrains from wasting more public resources by continuing her bid for monetary damages."

Until the lawsuit is filed, Murphy said, "We're still hoping that there will be some real independent investigation of these sewer claims. The City Attorney has a practice of denying claims, except sewer claims for some reason. We want to know why."

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