Famed lawyer Tony Serra to represent Garcia Zarate on federal gun charges

Trumped-up case against immigrant who was acquitted in the death of Kate Steinle will pit feds against a lawyer who has a long history of fighting political prosecutions

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who was acquitted in the death of Kate Steinle, will be sentenced Friday morning for a minor gun possession charge, and even if he gets the maximum of three years, he has already served enough time that he should be released.

However, the US Attorney’s Office, in a move that is unusual and possibly unprecedented, has charged Garcia Zarate under federal gun laws, meaning he will immediately be taken into federal custody.

“This never happens,” Matt Gonzalez, who represented Garcia Zarate in his state trial, told me. “The federal government doesn’t charge these kinds of cases unless the person has a long list of gun priors, gang activity, that sort of thing. The feds had no interest in this case at all until he was acquitted of murder.”

A press release from the Public Defender’s Office call it “the Trump Administration’s politically motivated, vindictive prosecution.”

The SF public defender can’t represent Garcia Zarate in federal court – but he’s going to have a famous, widely experienced attorney who knows from decades of practice how to fight the federal government. 

Famed lawyer Tony Serra will represent Garcia Zarate on the Trumped-up federal gun charges. Painting by Paul D. Gibson, used with the artist’s permission

Tony Serra, who has successfully represented a long list of political activists and immigrants accused of federal crimes, and was the subject of a major movie, True Believer, has agreed to take the Garcia Zarate case, the Public Defender’s Office announced today.

Matt Gonzalez and Tony Serra outside the Hall of Justice in 2016. Photo by Rod Ciferr1

The charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and being an “illegally present alien” in possession of a firearm were issued by a federal grand jury December 5 – not long after Trump tweeted that the not guilty verdict was a “disgrace” and used it to call once again for a wall on the border.

Serra couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. But he is likely, the PD’s Office said, to challenge the federal indictment both on the grounds of double jeopardy – they are essentially trying Garcia Zarate again a charge that he’s already been convicted of – and the political motivation of the indictment.

That’s part of Serra’s fame: Taking on the feds and proving that cases were driven by politics, not by law. It will be a fascinating case.

43 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you. I’m not a big football fan, but I did attend Alabama, and as I said, I met the Bear, and I have fond memories of walking by the practice field and seeing him in his tower next to the practice field. We used to say, “Bear’s in his tower-All’s right with the world.” The first coach who replaced him had it removed. The next had it put back, in case Bryant wanted to come down and watch, and had another put up for his use, saying “I am not worthy to use his tower, but if it worked for him, I think it is worth doing.”

  2. Congrats on your Tide,

    At least we got to see Najee Harris, a true freshman from out Antioch way burst into the starting lineup and make us proud.

    h.

  3. Sessions doesn’t go for the kinky stuff. And besides, Trump would fire him immediately. I am not disagreeing. Sessions should. But he won’t. He hates the idea of a fair trial. I think they are next in court in a few days.

    Oh, and Roll Tide. As the song say, “Go teach the Bulldogs to behave….”

  4. Read this very carefully. That is NOT San Francisco’s concern, or responsibility. Unless ICE obtains a warrant, all they can do is ASK. and San Francisco can ignore them. That is both LEGAL and MORAL. Even if ICE says “Pretty please, with sugar and sprinkles on top, San Francisco can toss the request in the garbage…UNLESS ICE gets a warrant. Without a warrant, there is no valid reason to hold someone. That IS the law.

  5. ROTFL!!! You try to insult me by calling me “Gran,” and then whine when I call you on it. Look up hypocrisy. And referring to someone as a worthless vagrant establishes your hatred and proves my point. You cannot accept the facts, and you keep trying to claim things based on nothing but clear hatred.

  6. There was no valid reason to turn him over to ICE.

    nonsense. He’s patently deportable. If there was no reason to turn him over, why did SF do so?

    “The felon had no idea he was breaking the law. ” as we say, ignorance is no excuse.

  7. ad hominem attacks, how fun! I pity your grandchildren. If I’m an a-hole that makes you a (unt.

    Nowhere did I say Zarate was anything less than human or that I “hate” him. I hate what he did. He’s a useless vagrant with seven felonies to his name. I in fact have stated on more than one occasion, that he received a very zealous defense (to which he was entitled) from Matt G.
    My issues are how the prosecution handled the case – idiotically asking for murder 1, when it should’ve been focusing on manslaughter.

    Try reading.

  8. Campers,

    Session should call for gag order on Trump. I don’t see how Zarate can get a fair trial in the US with the President bad-mouthing him.

    Now, I was there this morning and granted that I am somewhat hard of hearing here’s what I heard from the back row of a courtroom that seats 36 …

    I think he (Zarate) said again that he was born in 1863.

    The judge noted that tho the defendant has already been tried, convicted and served his sentence on the charges that the government was going to charge him again but this time raise the ante …

    Charge for touching the firearm goes from 3 years max to 20 years.

    Fine to court goes from $100 to $500,000.

    And, did the defendant get a new name?

    Again, I had my ear against the door but it sounded like the Judge agreed to call the defendant something like … ‘la carrera’?

    It was an honor just to watch Serra work for a few minutes.

    I think Paul Newman wore that overcoat in a movie where he portrayed a lawyer.

    They’re back either February 16th or the 19th but I couldn’t be certain.

    A note for hygiene to the court.

    Does the Federal Court District of Northern California own a washing machine?

    I couldn’t believe the filthy condition of the varied multi-colored rags Zarate was wearing.

    Go Georgia!

    h.

  9. There was no valid reason to turn him over to ICE. They did not have a warrant, and just because they asked nicely, there was no legal basis for him to be held. San Francisco followed the law, which has held that it is unconstitutional to hold someone without a warrant.

  10. The money paid for Gonzales was his salary, which would have been paid anyway. So, trying to claim that money was spent on this case is imaginary. You are the one who is deflecting now. And why do you think referring to me as Gran is anything other than you being an asshole? Yes, I am a grandmother. No, I am not your grandmother, so you are just being, as I say, an asshole. I simply offer a bit of history to establish my expertise. And I realize you hate the fact that Zarate, or anyone else who does not meet your standards as a proper human being, might get a proper defense.

  11. Why? Because the Fed’s asked nicely? It is not the job of the Sheriff’s Department to do ICE’s work for them, and it is not constitutional to hold someone who has been cleared. SF followed the law, ICE didn’t. ICE could have obtained a warrant, and in fact did, AFTER Zarate was charged with the shooting. Then Trump had a hissy fit, and ordered Sessions to bring an indictment, which by the way, is pretty much a given. As the saying goes, a competent prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. They still have to prove their case, which is not going to be remotely easy. Momentary possession is a valid defense. Since it has been established that he did not know it was a firearm until it accidentally went off, and since he immediately disposed of it, the Fed’s case will fall apart. The law is the law, whether you, or Trump, or Sessions, or the entirety of the alt-right, likes it or not. They will have to prove INTENT, and that he did not dispose of it immediately. A good analogy would be an undercover cop walks up to a know felon, carrying a box. Pretending to need to get something out of a pocket, he says “Hey, can you hold my box for a moment, I need to answer my phone.” The felon takes the box, having no idea what is in it, and the officer immediately pulls out handcuffs and a badge and arrests the felon because the box contains a gun. Felon, in possession of a gun? Right? Yeah, it would be entrapment, but that is not the point. The felon had no idea he was breaking the law. This is why the Feds have no case, and the judge should have granted the motion for a new trial.

  12. No, not deflection, which seems to be one of the favorite memes of the right wing-nuts. Oh, and one of your favorite tactics as well.

  13. Tomorrow morning 9:30am 15th flr Federal bldg on Goldengate.

    Magistrate is Judge Maria-Elena James and and she’s been both a deputy public defender as well as an assistant district attorney at early points in her 20 year career.

    Went down to watch the sentencing and man o’ man has Tony Serra still got it or, I mean like … what?

    It was like going back 40 years in a time machine and seeing him like he was.

    And, still is.

    Tim covered it best I thought.

    It was pretty straight-forward.

    The judge refused a new trial on the one guilty count.

    He then levied a sentence of “time served” .

    On the charge of being a ‘felon in possession of a firearm’.

    In the hall there was an artful transition from the Adachi Team lead by Matt Gonzalez to the Serra Team led by Tony Serra.

    Let me just say this about this about that.

    Tony ain’t lost a step or developed any speech impediments.

    This is gonna be a much more brutal atmosphere.

    Jeff’s lawyers reflect Jeff Adachi. They are intense and even driven but they find time for the arts and the atmosphere in the suite of offices is open and full of smiles.

    Adachi’s centerpiece is a bronze of Clarence Darrow.

    Gonzo has a changing array of modern art for the most part.

    I’d like to see Serra’s office/s.

    Anyway, be there tomorrow 9:30am and watch Tony Serra appearing as …

    Tony Serra

    h.

  14. Remember the Boston Massacre?

    They couldn’t get anyone in the colonies to defend the soldiers and their officer so John Adams took on the job and got them off. People could recognize then that everyone deserves a true and honest defense.

    They didn’t shun John Adams.

    They elected him president.

    Jimmy Gggggg for Acting Mayor!

    h.

  15. Hardly “overwhelmed”, thanks Gran. Only in SF would money actually spent be “imaginary”. Talk about facing reality. This isn’t about your ticket and your insistence on “truth” either. The world, thankfully, nor the court system, rely on your judgment or experiences with your constitutionally riveting speeding ticket.

    ROTFL ROTFL as you always say ::eyeroll::

  16. I’m glad you’re so strong on the defense of t-shirts. Good to know your priorities are in the right place.

  17. Maybe Trump’s whole business is money laundering. Only about half of his real estate ventures ended up being successful. American real estate is a preferred vehicle for rich foreigners who want to evade taxes in their own country.

  18. He is whining about imaginary money being spent. He is having a tantrum because Zarate was not subjected to an inadequate defense like most suspects in some states are. I once got a speeding ticket, which I fought. I had a couple of questions and was referred to a public defender, who insisted on taking my case. I thought I had lucked out. He was worse than incompetent, and the police simply lied about what happened, and he put all his effort into ignoring what I said on the stand, and argued that their speedometer was not properly certified. The problem was, in reality, they had not clocked me. They made a u-turn, and went after a guy in another car. When I started to leave, they sounded their siren, and told me to back up and park behind them. I assumed they wanted me as a witness. Next think I knew they have me a ticket. I found out later that the lawyer who represented me was notoriously incompetent, and people were trying to have him fired. I appealed, defended myself, and won. The police lied again, but I had a witness, and a couple of other tricks up my sleeve. That, and the truth was on my side.

    Anyone accused of a crime has a right to competent counsel. That is what Zarate got. I am sure it was somewhat costly, but it was also a complex trial. So whining about how good a defense he got is not really any different from arguing that he should have been denied proper counsel.

    I’m sorry you feel overwhelmed by actual facts, and my defending the Bill of Rights. Perhaps you should face reality. This IS the United States, and we don’t do things the way you seem to want.

  19. Again, you do realize that those attorney’s get paid whether they are defending someone, or not. It may well have been a million dollars worth of legal work, but that does not mean that they actually spent an extra million out of the budget. You are playing loose and fast with figures and implying stuff that is not supported by any actual evidence. They did what was needed. I wonder how much Gascon poured into the prosecution. Now, that was clearly wasted.

  20. I am no fan of Che, but if someone wants to wear a shirt with him one, that is none of my concern. If you want to wear a shirt with Hitler on it, that is YOUR right. I would defend it as well. Though I also would not be surprised if some very elderly veteran didn’t spit in your face.

  21. I have never heard of anyone not getting adequate representation from the Public Defender’s office. And those people you are whining about would have been paid anyway. They are not paid by the trial, they are on salary.

  22. It is pretty clear that if Trump get’s his panties in a wad and orders a nuclear strike, say on North Korea, unless there are missiles headed at the U.S. the military is going to say “Nope.” They cannot come right out and state that for a fact, at least until Congress makes some changes. Technically, Trump holds the power, in theory, to nuke Canada on whim, but in reality, it is obvious that he would be stopped.

    Actually, under Obama, a lot of people were deported. Trump is just acting like a loose cannon, and has no regard for things like the U.S. Constitution, and common decency.

  23. ROTFL! I know you will be disappointed if every pothead in San Francisco is not hauled off to Federal Prison for at least 20 years.

  24. “even if he gets the maximum of three years, he has already served enough time that he should be released.”

    He should be released into your custody Tim.

    He’s going to be handed over to the Feds, which should’ve happened upon request before he “Found” what “he didn’t know was a gun” and killed an innocent person.

  25. Where did you read where Tony @disqus_lLtycJ2jJu wrote that anyone was supposed to be tried without counsel and he “hates America”?

    Your commentary is right out of the defense’s playbook, word for word. You should be on retainer for them.

    Then, as usual, you veer into: “There is however, more than sufficient evidence that you are a idiot and a liar.”

    which playbook is this from? Tantrums, personal attacks and then repeat ad nauseam. How tiresome.

  26. I would like to think that Sessions is on the way out, but I don’t think it will happen soon enough. I think Trump will go down, but not for collusion with the Russians, but for money laundering – hiding cash from the IRS, or stealing from his own Campaign funds, or using Government assets for personal gain. Trump is first and foremost about money. Any dealings with the Russians were about putting money in his pocket.

  27. Everyone deserves a defense. Zarate is no exception, even if I believe he is guilty. But Adachi can’t go to the next mayor and say he needs more money when he hasn’t shown the ability or desire to manage his budget. He put his highest paid Attorney and multiple support staff for this one case. Well over a Million Dollars, for a 5-time deportee and 7-time convicted felon. Adachi spent more money on this case than any other in the last year or more, I’ll guess.

  28. Its hard to say because Sessions is in so much hot water now members of his own political party are calling on him to resign. Things are moving very quickly in the Russian investigation.

  29. I agree everyone deserves a lawyer. This guy got $1Million worth of free legal from the City of San Francisco. I just don’t want to hear that we don’t have enough money to defend San Franciscans because we blew our budget by providing this guy with 4 or more Public Defenders.

  30. The news today that the current US Attorney in SF is retiring is a game changer. Sessions will be able to appoint his guy. This is not good for San Francisco and California. Perhaps bigger that anything else during this administration.

  31. Its hard to say because some of the orders and directives of the Trump administration are being carried out and some are not. The military is basically picking and choosing which orders they are following. For example, the ban on transgender troops in the military hasn’t been implemented, but the INS has been taking a more aggressive stance on deporting people.

  32. Not to mention his wearing of that odious Che Guevara shirt, who was a notorious misogynist and homophobe.

  33. Perhaps nothing will happen. But we are talking about a couple of idiots who have very little in the way of restraints. Trump and Sessions are not very good at thinking things through before acting.

  34. So? Were these people supposed to be tried without counsel? Why do you hate America? Oh, and there is NO EVIDENCE that Zarate was a “professional drug mule.” And his “actions” were unintentional, and the death was the result of a bizarre and tragic accident. There is however, more than sufficient evidence that you are a idiot and a liar.

  35. Everyone deserves a lawyer right? Actually in the United States your right to an attorney irrespective of your ability to pay depends on what state you live in. Many poor people in the South languish in jails for months, even years due to the severe shortage of public defense lawyers. Your chances of getting a good lawyer are much higher in Ny or California.

  36. The repeal of the Obama era strategy of leaving states alone to do what they want with marijuana is probably just talk. It would take a huge increase in the numbers of federal law enforcement officials to prosecute the thousands of small and large producers.
    People in Washington are starting to realize that Trump might not remain President very long, and that anyone who has been associated with him might end up severely tainted. So it puts them in a tough spot.

  37. Serra isn’t much nowadays, but at the City isn’t on the hook to defend a 5-time deportee and professional drug mule, whose actions led to the death of an innocent person.

  38. Ain’t gonna happen. More likely DOJ may go after commercial growers and distributors, especially if they cross state lines. But I predict nothing will happen.

Comments are closed.