SAN FRANCISCO / Gonzalez represents woman suing city in identity theft case / Ex-supervisor helps client wrongly named as fugitive
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A woman who was arrested repeatedly over a two-year span because San Francisco authorities didn’t withdraw a bench warrant after learning it wrongly named her as a fugitive has hired former Supervisor Matt Gonzalez to help her sue the city for her troubles.
Stancy Nesby, 28, of Richmond was arrested seven times between July 2002 and September 2004 after a San Francisco Superior Court judge issued a bench warrant for another woman who had used Nesby’s name with police and missed a court date on a drug charge.
Last month, another Superior Court judge dismissed Nesby’s lawsuit against San Francisco, siding with city arguments that it had no duty to correct a warrant once it was lawfully issued by a judge and entered into statewide law enforcement databases.
But Gonzalez and other lawyers representing Nesby say they have new information that shows sufficient negligence on the part of San Francisco law enforcement officials, and they intend to file court papers Monday to reopen the case.
“It is a shocking argument to make in court,” Gonzalez said of the city attorney’s assertion that, despite the fact that authorities learned that the bench warrant had been issued in another person’s name, they had no responsibility to correct the problem.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Gonzalez said. “They are essentially making the argument that there was not a statutory duty to correct a false warrant like this. There’s a lot of ways that this thing should have been caught (and corrected).”
Matt Dorsey, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, acknowledged that Nesby didn’t deserve what shed gone through but insisted that the city and county of San Francisco were not liable for the damage caused her.
“We’re certainly sympathetic to Ms. Nesby’s ordeal, and in Matt Gonzalez she certainly has a capable attorney,” Dorsey said. “But based on the facts of the case as we know them, there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the city.
“The court has already held that Ms. Nesby has no basis for a lawsuit against the city. The city can’t be held liable for the actions of the Superior Court in issuing a bench warrant, and it can’t be held liable for the action of officers outside its jurisdiction” who arrested Nesby based on the warrant.
Under a San Francisco ethics law, former city officials are barred from contacting city agencies on behalf of a paying client. But this year, Gonzalez, a lawyer who worked in the public defender’s office before being elected supervisor in 2000, received a waiver from the city Ethics Commission that allows him to be in contact with the district attorney and city attorney in the course of his new private practice.
In the lawsuit that she filed in September and which was dismissed this month, Nesby said she had been arrested six times between July 26, 2002, and Sept. 16, 2003, in five different cities by police officers who turned up the bench warrant in her name during traffic stops.
After The Chronicle published a story about her plight, Nesby was arrested a seventh time on Sept. 18, 2004, in Berkeley, when police investigating a robbery noticed her sitting in a parked car.
In 2003, San Francisco police provided Nesby with a letter declaring her innocent of any crime. But they didn’t move to have the warrant withdrawn or expunged from databases, so the arrests continued, according to her original lawsuit. The warrant was finally recalled after Nesby’s case received publicity last fall.
In a new suit that Gonzalez and his law partners say they will file, Nesby will say that additional information her legal team has uncovered shows that city officials failed to verify the identity of the woman who used Nesby’s name. She also is accusing officials of sitting on fingerprint evidence that could have been used to quash the warrant while Nesby continued to be arrested.
According to the lawsuit, the impostor was arrested four times in San Francisco and booked into jail seven times in 1999 without police determining her real name or challenging her use of Nesby’s. Nesby’s attorneys say the city has withheld arrest reports and booking logs concerning the impostor, whose identity remains in question.
“Essentially, the city of San Francisco facilitated identity theft here, ” said another attorney for Nesby, Bryan Vereschagin. “How was this missed seven times? It’s outrageous.”