FEBRUARY 14, 2017
New Lawsuit Directly Counters San Francisco’s Lawsuit against Trump Administration
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch today announced that it filed a new taxpayer lawsuit against San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy and the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department (SFSD) to prevent the use of taxpayer funds on policies “that prohibit or restrict SFSD personnel from sharing … immigration-related information with federal immigration law enforcement officials.” The suit was filed on behalf of Cynthia Cerletti, a taxpayer of the City and County of San Francisco, in the Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco (Cynthia Cerletti v. Vicki Hennessy (No. CGC-16-556164)). After Judicial Watch filed its suit, which invokes the federal government’s preeminent authority over immigration, San Francisco filed its own lawsuit in which it asks that its sanctuary policy be declared legal.
Judicial Watch’s lawsuit seeks to prevent Sheriff Hennessy and the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department from:
[E]xpending or causing the expenditure of taxpayer funds and taxpayer-financed resources on policies and/or practices that prohibit or restrict SFSD personnel from sharing or exchanging immigration-related information with federal immigration law enforcement officials, including information about the citizenship or immigration status of individuals in the SFSD’s custody and information about the release of individuals from the SFSD’s custody.
Judicial Watch’s lawsuit details how the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department’s “sanctuary” policy conflicts with the federal government’s “broad, undoubted power over the subject of immigration and the status of aliens.” Judicial Watch also argues that Congress:
[H]as long sought to encourage full and open communication between states and local agencies and federal immigration law enforcement officials and to remove obstacles to such communication to aid in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
On March 13, 2015, then-San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who oversaw San Francisco’s jails, issued a directive prohibiting SFSD sheriff’s deputies and other officials from providing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with information about inmates’ citizenship or immigration status. Judicial Watch filed suit to challenge the directive (Cynthia Cerletti v. Ross Mirkarimi (CGC-15-549250)).
Mirkarimi lost reelection to Hennessy, and, in April 2016, Hennessy replaced Mirkarimi’s directive with her own. Hennessy’s new directive still restricts the ability of sheriff’s deputies to communicate freely with ICE about inmates’ citizenship/immigration status. On December 23, 2016, Judicial Watch dismissed its original lawsuit and filed a new lawsuit challenging Hennessy’s 2016 policy directive.
Five weeks later, on January 31, 2017, San Francisco filed suit against the Trump Administration (City and County of San Francisco v. Trump, et al., (No. 3:17-cv-00485)). San Francisco’s lawsuit asks that the city’s sanctuary ordinance and laws be declared lawful and that one of the longstanding federal immigration laws invoked in Judicial Watch’s lawsuit, 8 U.S.C. § 1373, be declared unconstitutional. San Francisco’s lawsuit also asks that the federal government be prohibited from enforcing President Trump’s Executive Order barring sanctuary jurisdictions from receiving certain federal funds. San Francisco’s lawsuit is in direct conflict with Judicial Watch’s lawsuit.
Not including federal funds, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department receives over $200 million in taxpayer support annually to fund its operations, a portion of which is being spent to carry out the Hennessy policy directive and train personnel on its requirements. As California grants its taxpayers the right to sue government officials to prevent expenditures of taxpayer funds on unlawful activities, Judicial Watch filed suit against Mirkarimi and subsequently Hennessy, in their official capacities, on behalf of Cerletti.
San Francisco’s sanctuary ordinance gained national attention on July 1, 2015, when Kathryn Steinle was gunned down at one of the city’s most popular tourist spots, allegedly by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an illegal alien who had been released from the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department despite a request from ICE that he be detained for possible deportation. The Sheriff’s Department not only ignored ICE’s detainer request, but also failed to notify ICE when it released Lopez-Sanchez on April 15, 2015, little more than a month after Mirkarimi issued the policy directive prohibiting sheriff’s deputies from providing ICE information about any inmates’ citizenship/immigration status.
“The San Francisco Sheriff’s policy undermines enforcement of federal immigration law and is dangerous to public safety,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Neither local taxpayer dollars nor federal funds should be used to support dangerous, unwise, and unlawful sanctuary policies, and we are hopeful that the courts will agree.”
Robert Patrick Sticht, a Los Angeles-based attorney, is serving as lead counsel in the Cerletti litigation.