Willie Brown: Help With CEO’s Domestic-Violence Case Was Ethical

Willie Brown
Zuma Press

Former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown said in a radio interview Friday that his assistance with a high-profile domestic violence case involving a local startup CEO was both ethical and effective.

On Thursday, The Journal published a story that cited emails between different people involved in the domestic-violence case of Gurbaksh Chahal, the founder of digital ad company RadiumOne, as it prepared for an initial public offering. The emails were listed as exhibits in a mediation brief prepared by Mr. Chahal’s attorney as he left the company in 2014.

The emails included correspondence between Mr. Brown’s assistant and former California state controller Steve Westly about setting up meetings with the district attorney. In another email, Mr. Chahal told Mr. Westly – a RadiumOne board member at the time — that he met with Mr. Brown, and that Mr. Brown, who is a lawyer, “wants $1 million he can make this go away.” The emails suggested Mssrs. Westly and Chahal sought to resolve the case so that a planned IPO could move forward.

“It was more than just an IPO,” Mr. Brown, also a former speaker of the California Assembly, said on KCBS news radio in San Francisco. “We did put together a fabulous defense team under, you know, the canons of ethics….We followed all of the rules and regulations and saved him.”

Mr. Brown, who had declined to comment for the Journal story, denied he said he could make the case “go away.” “One would be out to lunch if they said they could make anything ‘go away.’”

Phil Matier, a columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle, where Brown is also a columnist, asked Mr. Brown in the radio segment if he ever met with District Attorney George Gascon. Mr. Brown did not directly answer. “You don’t meet with just the district attorney,” he said. “You put together a whole team of people and they put together a team of their people.”

Mr. Brown said the Chahal legal team could not convince the district attorney’s office to throw out a key piece of evidence in the case, a home-security video that prosecutors said showed Mr. Chahal hitting his then-girlfriend more than 100 times. Mr. Brown suggested the negotiations with the district attorney’s office were influenced by political considerations.

“The various people who handled the representation were unable to convince the district attorney because politically, you know, when you start dismissing things like domestic violence, you really are running a risk on your re-election of having people raise questions.”

Mr. Gascon’s office and Mr. Chahal and his attorneys didn’t immediately respond to request for comment. A spokesman for Mr. Westly declined to comment.

In April 2014, San Francisco Superior Judge Brendan Conroy threw out the video as evidence in the case, ruling it was inadmissible because it was seized without a warrant.

The Journal article cited financial records showing Mr. Brown returned $198,400 to Chahal as a refund on a retainer, mentioned in the emails as being $250,000. Mr. Matier asked Mr. Brown why he returned the money.

“Because I didn’t do the work for him,” Mr. Brown replied. Mr. Matier than asked why he kept $50,000.

“I didn’t get 50,000,” Mr. Brown said. “I had a whole team of lawyers…. I got under 20, I think.”