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DA Chesa Boudin Announces Appointment of James Bell to the San Francisco Ethics Commission

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Rachel Marshall / (415) 416-4468 / Rachel.Marshall@sfgov.org 

SAN FRANCISCO – Today, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced that he will be appointing James Bell to replace the Honorable Judge Fern Smith (Ret.) on the San Francisco Ethics Commission.  Judge Smith, who was appointed to the Commission by District Attorney Gascon, is stepping down after serving two years on the Commission.  District Attorney Boudin has selected James Bell, the Founding President of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, to fill the District Attorney’s slot on the Commission. 

“Judge Smith was a dedicated member of the Commission, and we are so grateful for her service,” said District Attorney Chesa Boudin. “I am delighted to fill her seat with the appointment of James Bell, someone who is a model of integrity and a champion of racial justice and public service.”

Mr. Bell is a renowned lawyer who has dedicated his career to promoting equity, fairness, and justice in the legal system and beyond.  He founded and is the President of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, which works throughout hundreds of jurisdictions across the nation to engage justice stakeholders and communities to build equity. The Burns Institute’s innovative methodology has evolved to move beyond traditional justice reform, by addressing structural inequities as well and working to eliminate racial disparities on a systemic level.  The Burns Institute has worked in over 200 counties in 23 states.

Mr. Bell has trained thousands of professional and community members on race and inclusion to promote public safety for all communities. In addition to his work with the Burns Institute, Mr. Bell brings extensive experience in juvenile justice and international justice.  He helped the African National Congress improve its juvenile justice administration in South Africa and has collaborated with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.  He has also worked in England and Holland, among other nations, to promote racial equity in their legal systems.  He attended California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and Hastings College of Law.

“I have dedicated my professional career to promoting fairness, racial equity, and justice in legal systems and communities across the globe, and am eager to bring my experience and perspective to the San Francisco Ethics Commission,” said Mr. Bell.  “I am thankful to District Attorney Boudin for this appointment and am looking forward to improving transparency and accountability in our city government.”

Judge Fern M. Smith (Ret.) previously served as a Federal District Court Judge for the Northern District of California, and as a Superior Court Judge in the County of San Francisco. Judge Smith also served as Director of the Federal Judicial Center and worked as a Mediator and Arbitrator with JAMS.  Judge Smith has also served as an international trainer and facilitator on judicial administration and reform.

Judge Smith stepped down in part because of her belief that as the Commission increasingly focused on human rights issues, it needed racial diversity—particularly representation from the Black community.  “I am so pleased that District Attorney Boudin has appointed James Bell to fill my place on the Commission,” Judge Smith explained.  “Not only does he bring significant legal experience in human rights and justice issues, but he will add some welcome diversity to the San Francisco Ethics Commission.”

The San Francisco Ethics Commission was created in 1993 after Proposition K was passed by voters.  It aims to promote transparency and accountability in city government by enforcing San Francisco’s ethics laws.  The Commission is tasked with providing independent enforcement and administration of campaign finance laws, public finance laws, conflict of interest laws, general ethical issues that emerge in government, as well as regulation and reporting of developers, consultants and lobbyists. 

The Commission also explores new developments in campaign finance, lobbying and conflict of interest laws to refine the City’s established practices and policies.  The Commission conducts research, makes legislative recommendations, and approves ordinances and regulations to bolster the transparency of San Francisco’s government.  The Commission is also able to submit ballot initiatives directly to voters in San Francisco.  Each of the five seats on the Commission is appointed by a different arm of city government: the District Attorney; the Mayor; the City Attorney; the Board of Supervisors; and the Assessor-Recorder.