Lawyer advising DA in scandal is political donor 

A well-known private defense attorney whose “unimpeachable judgment and independence” will assist District Attorney Kamala Harris with a brewing scandal and has contributed thousands of dollars, and public support, to Harris’ political aspirations.

On Friday, Harris announced that John Keker, the founding partner of a San Francisco law firm who rose to prominence as the chief prosecutor of Oliver North, would be assisting the District Attorney’s Office free of charge after prosecutors failed to follow basic legal protocols, putting convictions of hundreds of criminals at risk.

The office has come under scrutiny because, by law, prosecutors are required to provide any information that could be used to disqualify the testimony of an expert witness, such as criminal history or internal disciplinary actions. But the Police Department has never provided information about its own employees to prosecutors, and the prosecutors failed to ask for the basic information, jeopardizing convictions.

But the issue recently came to light in the fallout of the police drug-testing lab shutdown amid allegations that lab technician Deborah Madden took cocaine from evidence samples. Madden had a criminal past that was never divulged to defense attorneys. The scandal has already led to more than 600 drug cases being tossed.

Harris quickly drafted a policy to fix the problem in the future, but has been working behind the scenes to grasp the scope of the issue, which could lead to the dismissal of hundreds more cases that go beyond drug crimes.

In April 2009, Keker and his wife, Christina, both gave Harris maximum donations of $6,500 for her campaign for attorney general. And it wasn’t the first time the Kekers have contributed to Harris’ political aspirations.

She also received support, financial and otherwise, when Keker was president of The City’s Police Commission and Harris was running for district attorney. Keker and his wife contributed maximum donations as early as 2002.

Employees at Keker’s law firm, Keker and Van Nest, also contributed heavily to Harris’ campaign. At least 13 employees contributed $6,285, according to the latest filing with the California secretary of state. Law firm partner John Streeter contributed $2,150.

Streeter and Keker defended Harris in 2004 after she chose not to seek the death penalty for David Hill, who would eventually be convicted of second-degree murder of police Officer Isaac Espinoza.

Keker was unavailable for comment Wednesday. Harris campaign spokesman Brian Brokaw reiterated Keker’s credentials as one of the most respected legal minds in the country.

“For anyone to question his independence is ridiculous and insulting,” Brokaw said Wednesday.

District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Erica Derryck said Keker “has been on every side of police-misconduct issues and that’s what makes him uniquely qualified to advise us.”

bbegin@sfexaminer.com


Key contributions

District Attorney Kamala Harris appointed a large contributor, John Keker, as a special adviser after admitting her office failed to follow basic legal protocol.

$1,000 Keker’s contribution to Harris’ district attorney campaign, Dec. 1, 2002

$1,000 Keker’s contribution to Harris’ re-election campaign, Nov. 6, 2006

$13,000 Keker’s, and wife’s, contribution to Harris’ attorney general campaign, April 6, 2009

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Brent Begin

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