Oakland-born Democrat Kamala Devi Harris was elected Attorney General in the November 2010 statewide election.
Harris’ mother, Dr. Shayamala Gopalan of Chennai (the former Madras), India, came to UC Berkeley in California as a graduate student in endocrinology; today she is a breast cancer specialist. Her father, Donald Harris, is a professor emeritus of economics at Stanford University. Her parents met while taking part in the civil rights movement. She has one sister, Maya, also an attorney and vice president of the Ford Foundation’s Democracy, Rights, and Justice Program.
Harris attended public schools in California, and graduated with a BA in 1986 from Howard University in Washington DC, the oldest black university in the U.S. (Harris’ father is Jamaican). She earned her law degree at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1989. In 1990 she went to work for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.
While her specialty was prosecuting child sexual assault cases, she also built cases against those accused of murder and robbery. Harris prosecuted hundreds of serious and violent felons.
Harris joined the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office in 1998 as the managing attorney of the Career Criminal Unit, where she prosecuted three-strikes cases and serial felons, and later became chief of the Community and Neighborhood Division. She then served as head of the City Attorney’s Division on Families and Children for the city of San Francisco.
In 2003, Harris was elected the first female district attorney in San Francisco and was re-elected in 2007. As in her present office as the state’s attorney general, she was not only the first woman but also the first African American woman and South Asian American woman in California to hold both those positions.
As San Francisco’s DA, Harris increased conviction rates for serious and violent offenders, created new prosecution divisions, and formed a gun specialist team. Her office more than doubled its conviction rate for gun felonies and won prison sentences for 50% more violent offenders. Harris also set up free legal clinics and outreach programs in immigrant neighborhoods.
Harris was vice president of the National District Attorney’s Association and sat on the board of directors of the California District Attorneys Association. She also wrote Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer in 2009.
Harris is a vocal opponent of the death penalty, although she has pledged to pursue it in cases where legally appropriate. She is a strong advocate of environmental law enforcement and created the Environmental Justice Unit when she was San Francisco district attorney. She called for a crackdown on predatory lending when she campaigned for attorney general.
Harris was a key player in the $26 billion mortgage settlement reached between attorneys general from a number of states and banks in February 2012, a deal she walked away from months earlier when she thought it wasn’t tough enough and California wasn’t getting its fair share. The state’s share of what could eventually be a $45 billion pot grew in the final deal from its initial $4 billion to $18 billion and the banks were no longer immunized against future legal liability.
Kamala D. Harris, 32nd Attorney General (OAG website)
Brilliant Careers (by Steve Kaplan, Super Lawyers)
At a Glance: Kamala Harris (Los Angeles Times)
State is Key to Deal on Mortgages (by Nathaniel Popper and Alejandro Lazo, Los Angeles Times)
Kamala Harris Has Key Role in Mortgage Settlement (by Andrew S. Ross, San Francisco Chronicle)