A superior court judge dealt a setback to two members of the Oakland Police Commission on Tuesday by ruling that they have no legal basis for blocking the city process that is resulting in their replacement on the commission.
Last month, Police Commission Chair Tyfahra Milele and commissioner David Jordan filed a lawsuit against the city of Oakland and attorney Jim Chanin in an attempt to stop the city from replacing them when their terms expire in October.
Milele and Jordan accused Chanin of having “profound legal and financial conflicts of interests” that led him to oppose their reappointments. Chanin chairs the city’s selection panel that is tasked with picking nominees for the Police Commission and forwarding them to the City Council, which makes the final decision about who to appoint. In July, the selection panel unanimously rejected Milele and Jordan’s applications. The City Council is expected to vote on the matter at an upcoming meeting.
In addition to seeking a restraining order to prevent the city from replacing them, Milele and Jordan’s lawsuit sought to remove Chanin from the selection panel.
Superior Court Judge Jenna Whitman weighed in today at a hearing in a downtown courtroom, denying the commissioners’ request for an injunction and describing Milele and Jordan’s claims as “weak” and “tenuous.”
Whitman acknowledged the current “political conflict” in Oakland over the future of the Police Commission, but said the commissioners and their attorney, Ann Kariuki, hadn’t provided enough evidence to show that any laws have been broken by Chanin, the rest of the selection panel, or anyone with the city of Oakland.
Whitman said one of the central allegations made by Milele and Jordan—that Chanin opposed their reappointments for personal financial reasons, because their effectiveness at supervising OPD could lead to the department getting free of federal court oversight, which Chanin is paid to oversee—didn’t hold water.
OPD has been under federal oversight since 2003 as a result of the Riders case, in which a group of officers was exposed for beating people, planting drugs, and filing false reports. Since then, OPD has worked toward completing 52 reform tasks, but along the way new examples of civil rights violations, crimes, and misconduct by officers, including by chiefs and other command staff, have prolonged the oversight process.
The allegation that Chanin is taking steps to further prolong oversight “rests on the presumption that Mr. Chanin has more power than he really has,” said the judge. Only a federal court has the authority to decide when OPD has met its reform requirements, said Whitman, and the federal court supervises Chanin’s work and determines his attorney fees.
In a brief interview, Chanin said he feels insulted by Milele and Jordan’s allegations. He said he voted for both to become police commissioners when they were first appointed three years ago but that he and the rest of the selection panel felt it was time for new leaders to join the commission.
“I appreciate that the court recognized that my actions and those of the selection panel were completely appropriate,” he told The Oaklandside today.
Milele and Jordan’s attorney did not respond to a call after the hearing seeking comment.
In a brief to the court, Oakland’s city attorney said they don’t see a conflict in Chanin’s work as both a member of the selection panel and an attorney helping to oversee the reforms at OPD. In fact, argued Deputy City Attorney Hannah Edwards, the two roles are aligned.
“Indeed, Chanin’s work on [the reform case] lends him significant insight into the workings of OPD and the ways in which the department has room to improve,” wrote Edwards. “This may be why he was chosen to serve on the Selection Panel.”
Milele and Jordan’s attorneys strongly disagreed during today’s hearing, saying Chanin “has a financial interest in the longer the [federal oversight] case goes on.”
Kariuki accused Chanin of “sabotaging” members of the police commission through “falsehoods” and keeping the commission in the dark about goings on inside OPD, including the recent misconduct cases that led to Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong’s firing in February.
The commissioners also argued that their due process rights had been violated by Chanin and the selection panel. But the judge agreed with the city that nothing about the process that resulted in them not being nominated for another term was illegal and conflict of interest rules weren’t violated.
The judge’s decision may not be the end of the case. Milele and Jordan, and Ginelle Harris, a former police commissioner who is also part of the lawsuit, can choose to move ahead with their claims and ask for a jury trial.