Lawyer Suing San Francisco for Racial Discrimination May Need a Lawyer Himself

Listen closely to the rhetoric of the 2011 political season. President Barack Obama — a conservative Democrat with a keen ear to Wall Street — is a fearsome radical. Nonwhite immigrants pose an economic and security threat. Government antipoverty programs, which disproportionately benefit nonwhites, threaten America's solvency.

Can you hear it? Whitey is scared.

Even in liberal San Francisco, a vigorous struggle between nervous white people and everyone else has been waged in the last decade. And a key foe against the city's efforts to attain racial equality in education and employment has been a Southern California attorney named Patrick Manshardt.

In 1999, he was among attorneys participating in litigation that led to a settlement halting the quotas meant to desegregate San Francisco schools. In 2007, he obtained a $1.6 million settlement from San Francisco for white police officers who claimed discrimination based on race. And this August 16, he represented Heinz Hofmann and Thomas Buckley, white SFPD officers who claim they were passed over for promotion. “The city has a longstanding custom and practice in discriminating against white males,” Manshardt wrote in a federal lawsuit complaint on their behalf .

That may sound a little extreme in a city where neighborhoods and schools are segregated by race and income. But Manshardt seems sincere in his belief that the white man is being persecuted.

His personal blog, Law & Politics, includes posts such as “Blacks Gone Wild” and “Gates', Obama's experiences not unique to black men.” In the latter, he argues that he faces the same unfair treatment as any African-American man, because when he goes into elevators, women clutch their purses.

Manshardt's fears connect to a broader societal paranoia. It's the same stuff spouted by talk radio hosts and backlash-feeding right-wing Republicans, who feel genuinely persecuted in an America that doesn't look like they believe it used to. What sets him apart from other worried white folks: He puts his rhetoric into practice by litigating cases.

“I imagine there will be some time before they [the SFPD] get around to making up a reason as to why they didn't promote my clients,” Manshardt says in an interview. “I'm saying I already know the reason, and it was because they promoted other people because of their race.”

Given that they earned a combined $325,000 last year, Manshardt's two current SFPD clients don't exactly seem to be compelling victims of racial persecution. For that matter, the idea that a rising tide of opportunities for nonwhites also helps whitey is widely accepted by economists, sociologists, and even business leaders.

For the most part, white paranoia is just that. Unlike other racial alarmists, however, Manshardt actually does have a scary force aligned against him, namely the California State Bar: He's facing 26 counts of violating its rules. Most are associated with practicing law without a license while his Bar card had been yanked for previous violations such as stiffing a client to whom he owed money, and falling behind in child support payments.

With Manshardt as his hapless champion, perhaps whitey should be scared.

White people became a local minority in 2000, when the Census showed them comprising 49.7 percent of San Francisco residents. In 2010, that was down to 48.5 percent. “White folks may feel they're losing all sorts of power,” says Amy Sueyoshi, an assistant professor who teaches a Whiteness Studies course at SF State. “They'll call it economic insecurity, or job loss. Or they'll say they can't get into college.” As she puts it, “White men are freaking out.”

California has long been at the vanguard of that freakout. It was 1978's Regents of the University of California v. Bakke Supreme Court decision that blunted government's ability to improve racial diversity through admissions quotas. In 1996, Proposition 209 prohibited the government from considering race, sex, or ethnicity in hiring, advancement, or other decisions. In San Francisco, activists battled for years to undo a 1983 court order to end segregation. Following Prop. 209's passage, they prevailed in 1999 with Manshardt's help, winning a settlement in which the school district agreed to curtail the use of race as a basis for placement. Then came Manshardt's suits against the city.

Manshardt may or may not be right on the legal merits. The law, after all, prohibits affirmative action, and city agencies have attempted to work around this by promoting diversity without overt racial quotas. But while he gained a reputation as a winner after the $1.6 million settlement, behind the scenes he was making an extraordinary mess of things.

Charges filed in June by the State Bar's general counsel contend that after the city tentatively agreed in January 2006 to pay that settlement, Manshardt's 12 police-officer clients began squabbling about how the money should be split. To stanch the quarreling, Manshardt quietly promised to pay one of them an extra $10,000 — a no-no, as joint settlements are supposed to be made with the full consent of all plaintiffs. Making matters worse, he then didn't pay the extra amount.

That police officer wasn't the only one with a beef. Seven of Manshardt's clients, dissatisfied, hired a new attorney to handle the distribution of the settlement.

By then, Manshardt already had a tense history with the State Bar. In 1996, he published an essay in the Los Angeles Times, “Don't Force Lawyers to Join the State Bar,” characterizing it as an organization run by left-wing demagogues. Between 2003 and 2009, Manshardt's license was suspended seven times. His trouble snowballed in 2006, when he failed to file routine court papers on behalf of a client. After some warnings, his bar card was yanked. But he then still filed court papers in connection with the $1.6 million settlement. In 2008, his card was again suspended because he was purportedly behind on child support payments. Again, despite having briefly lost his right to practice, he continued to file court papers.

The California State Bar has over the years been accused of overlooking violations by litigators who participate in fraud, or district attorneys who suppress evidence. But any lawyer will tell you that the Bar vigorously prosecutes attorneys with suspended licenses who make court filings.

Manshardt has made a career complaining that the white man is suffering because minorities are given special treatment. Perhaps he is comforted by the fact that he is now being treated not as a white, black, or Latino lawyer — but as just another screwup.

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