From: POA Journal (Nov 2018)
By: Paul Chignell
Former POA President and Current Legal Defense Administrator
One of the joys amind the constant angst of assigning cases and working with POA attorneys on discipline is the opportunity to meet some outstanding advocates and truly wonderful people.
Their expertise in the law and zeal for representing police officers is truly something to behold. But when you dig a little deeper into their backgrounds and their life experiences, you find true examples of not just lawyers, but individuals who have accomplished much and are rewarded with lives shaped by their experiences.
At first, you would not think of Russ Giuntini and Nicole Pifari as similar, but on further examination you might think differently. It ain’t just about fish, but yes, it does involve that symmetry.
Both of these lawyers are accomplished fly fishers, as you can see from the accompanying photos. But more on that later.
I first met Russ in 2008. I had the pleasure of being the commanding officer of the Ingleside Police District and I was attending a boring meeting of all the patrol captains in the Police Commission Conference Room on the fifth floor of the old dilapidated Hall of Justice. He was ingratiating himself with the captains, sneaking on the prosecution policies of the District Attorney. We were all skeptical. My views of it all were jaded because the criminal justice system was somewhat dysfunctional at the time, and we tacitly blamed then District Attorney Kamala Harris and her staff, including her Chief Assistant District Attorney, Russ Giuntini.
In 2013, I took over as Legal Defense Administrator of the San Francisco Police Officers Association (SFPOA). I soon learned that former Assistant D.A. Giuntini was now working for the pro-police labor firm of Rains, Lucia and STern, and that Russ was handling the “Brady” matters for the SFPOA. Brady is a Supreme Court decision that requires the prosecution to turn over exculpatory information to the defense, including certain matters dealing with alleged prior police misconduct.
Through my network of references I started learning more about Russ Giutini. Not in his favor, I learned that, as an East Bay resident, he hates the SF Giants! But, I also learn that he was quite an accomplished prosecutor who spent twenty-five (25) years as a prosecutor with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. During those years he wrote meaningful law enforcement legislation, prosecuted hundred of cases including rape, murder, and the various crimes of the Black Guerilla Family and some of the top drug kingpins in the Bay Area. Many of his case were handled in Federal Court where he became one of the first local prosecutors cross-designated as a federal prosecutor. He also became the top Assistant District Attorney in a supervisory capacity in the Oakland office of the District Attorney.
In Alameda County, Russ worked assiduously on a comprehensive parole initiative, drug diversion, nuisance abatement, and other progressive programs to reform justice and to protect victims from recidivist criminals.
His tenure in San Francisco from 2004-2010 was remarkable. His work on the Community Justice Center, Behavioral Court, Drug Court Reform, DNA Cold Hit Team and community outreach, as well as other sterling accomplishments, is well known.
Upon his retirement from Alameda and San Francisco public service, Russ became a police labor attorney and represented scores of officers in misconduct cases, and become the SFPOA Brady attorney.
His represenation of police officers was analogous to his drive as a prosecutor. His analytical skills, institutional experience, dissection of opposing arguments, and legendary tenacity certainly fit that bill.
One case involving a San Francisco police officer (who had been pilloried by the Prince of St. Francis Wood and perennial jaywalker, Public Defender Jeff Adachi) was vintage Giuntini. He destroyed the bogus case against the officer and his exoneration was sweet revenge on the jaywalking miscreant Adachi.
Brady cases are tough because the current structure of adjudication is stacked against the officer who is accused. But Russ has been eminently successful on many cases, and has served the SFPOA well and better than even we had expected.
Lots of Fish
Russ is now in semi-retirement and spends significant time at his northern California vacation home and making many forays fishing, particularly in British Columbia. But he still volunteers in Alameda County. In the past he has served on Boards including Safe Passages, Alameda Superior Court Planning Committee, Urban Voice, Alameda County Violence Plan Advisory Board, Alameda Boys and Girls Club, and the California Judicial Council.
Today he continues his service with Center for Family Counseling in Oakland where he has volunteered for the past twenty-four (24) years.
Unfortunately, he still attends Oakland Athletics games and bashes the San Francisco Giants.
When attorney Nicole Pifari met Russ Giuntini for a cup of coffee in Oakland near the police headquarters in 2014, he was immediately struck when she started talking about her background in Law Enforcement and working her way through college and law school. But what really struck him was that Nicole indicated she had been a fly-fishing guide for three (3) years to make money to get through college, and particularly in the wild west of Montana. Russ Giuntini is an avid fisherman as you can see by the photo accompanying this photo.He and Nicole became mutual admirers and Russ, a couple of years later, vociferously recommended Nicole to become the new Brady attorney for the SFPOA. It was a great recommendation.
Who is Nicole Pifari? She is a strong-willed and effective advocate who has served victims and police officers as a prosecutor, POA Board member, and now as a police union attorney throughout Northern California.
Her background has served her well. Growing up in Boise, Idaho in a family of only girls, her mother and father instilled good, old-fashioned values in all of their children. The entire family learned to fish, hunt, ride horses, float the ricers, waterski, backpack and snow ski. By the time Nicole an dher sisters left th enest, Nicole said “they knew how to change a tire, shoot any gun, work any power tool — and that with hard work there wasn’t anything they couldn’t accomplish…”
Nicole carried it further when she went to college in Missoula, Montana by scraping together money for tuition by working as a tile setter, waitress, landscaper, transcriptionist and yes, as a fly fishing guide!
She then joined the Missoula, Montana Police Department where she served for six (6) years, four(4) of which as a canine handler. She served three years as an elected Board member of the Missoula Police Officers’ Association, and learned to represent officers in citizen complaints, uses of force, an officer-involved shooting, vehicle pursuits, and other assorted union representation.
Today when Nicole represents officers accused of misconduct or problematic Brady matters, she relies on that passion and her formative years as a POA representative.
After graduating from Hastings College of the Law in 2013, she became a prosecutor. But unlike Russ Giuntini, she did not make it a career. She ended up at Rains, Lucia, Stern engaging in police labor matters, and met fellow fly fisher Russ Giuntini.
Nicole said the other day, “I found that working as a defense attorney for cops is far more rewarding”.
Today, Nicole Pifari and her partner have three (3) children and live in the Oceanview neighborhood. She has taken the expertise of her mentor, Russ Giuntini, and has hit the ground running by doing a superlative job on Brady matters. Her writing skills are exemplary, and I receive many positive acknowledgements from officers of her work in their Brady appeals.
In addition, Nicole has taken police discipline cases in San Francisco and in other cities around the state. As I write this article, she is hooping on a plane to Southern California for a trial involving three police officers.
Russ Giuntini made a great choice for a lawyer to succeed him as the SFPOA Brady attorney.
Little did we know that Nicole Pifari could also assist us from time to time in discipline representation cases.
Thank you Nicole for your service to our membership, and thank you, Russ, for all you have done for San Francisco Police Officers.