Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker has decided to double down in her efforts to secure economic and social justice for Oakland residents by doubling the divisions in her office.
Parker announced the reorganization of her office on August 25. The office will be adding two new divisions, which will focus on providing advice and counsel to the Oakland Police Department and enhancing the legal services provided to the people of Oakland.
“This move highlights how important it is to our office to defend the rights of the people of Oakland and the city of Oakland,” said Alex Katz, the Oakland City Attorney’s chief of staff.
While the department will not be hiring new staff, Katz said, the new divisions were created to consolidate resources and allow the office to focus on prosecution that will have an effect on the community, such as preventing illegal dumping of garbage.
The Labor & Employment Division will assist the city on all labor and employment subjects, with an added emphasis on working with the Oakland Police Department (OPD). The division will provide counsel and advice to the department regarding the management of all police matters. This includes a special focus on developing and enforcing police department policies and improving the handling of discipline of police officers and OPD personnel cases.
The second group, the Affirmative Litigation, Innovation & Enforcement division, will work on community lawyering and code enforcement, in addition to enhancing general public safety.
Community lawyering—or the efforts of public interest lawyers who view their work as reflecting the needs and interests of a particular community—is represented by the Neighborhood Law Corps (NLC) program. Oakland’s program was awarded the Gold Award for Municipal Excellence from the National League of Cities in 2006 and has been a model for a similar program in Vallejo. Now, it will include two new units: A General Code Enforcement and Public Safety unit and a Community Lawyering and Civil Rights Enforcement unit.
The new unit for code enforcement and public safety will handle the enforcement of code compliance such as those prohibiting unsafe or unsanitary buildings and blighted properties. Additionally, it will now also oversee matters pertaining to the fire department and Oakland Emergency Services.
The community lawyering unit will operate similarly to the NLC, but with a focus on affirmative litigation, the intent to take issues to court.
John Russo, the former Oakland City Attorney, created the Neighborhood Law Corps in 2002 as a group that represents neighborhoods in Oakland trying to combat crime and poverty. The group is comprised of four attorneys, although one position is currently vacant. The attorneys serve as full-time advocates for designated neighborhoods throughout Oakland.
Community members and their Law Corps legal representative work together to solve chronic problems. In recent years, the NLC has worked on cases involving public nuisances such as illegal dumping and crimes related to dealing drugs. They have also worked on a liquor store “report card” outlining the criminal activity that certain stores in Oakland were attracting, which helped the city close multiple troublesome stores.
In 2015, the NLC filed a lawsuit against the owners of the Mills Motel, a business in East Oakland that had been allegedly operating as a hub for human and drug trafficking. The motel was forced to shut down for one year, the maximum amount of time California law allows.
Andy Nelson, the deputy director of policy initiatives at the East Bay Asian Youth Center, has worked with the NLC on cases like the one involving the Mills Motel. Nelson said the reorganization at the City Attorney’s Office is a step in the right direction.
“I think it could and should make a big impact for us,” Nelson said. “It would be helpful to have more engagement from the City Attorney’s Office in trying to fight these issues that we fight everyday.”
Despite not hiring additional staff, Katz said, starting the new divisions are important because it ensures his office will devote resources to employment and civil rights issues.
“Most importantly, the new divisions ensure dedicated resources to those areas,” Katz said. “For big cities like Oakland, it’s very important to dedicate the resources to ensure the needs are being met.”
To contact the Neighborhood Law Corps attorney for your area, call 510.238.6516 or email lawcorps@oaklandcityattorney. org.