Kimberly’s Big Break

Senator Kamala Harris is not the only Assistant DA who once worked for Terence Hallinan and is now in the national spotlight. Kimberly Guilfoyle,  the significant other of Donald Trump, Jr., is a political “player” in her own right, with enemies powerful enough to plant a story in the New York Times headlined “Kimberly Guilfoyle’s Fund-Raising for Trump Draws Scrutiny.” A subhed explained, “Trump supporters inside and outside the campaign say the operation she’s built hasn’t lived up to expectations.” 

Getting favorable ink for Kimberly was once part of my job. Does she ever think, “If only good old Fred was here to have my back?”  Not very likely.

Kimberly, who was in the General Litigation unit and had handled a few animal abuse cases, was assigned to prosecute the gruesome “dog mauling case,” which immediately became the biggest story in town. On January 26, 2001, Diane Whipple, 33, was attacked and killed in the hallway of her Pacific Heights apartment by a huge “gladiator dog” owned by her neighbors, Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel. Whipple, a great athlete, was the soccer coach at St. Mary's College. Knoller and Noel were once respectable liberal lawyers who had come under the sway of a charismatic prisoner at Pelican Bay, a leader of the Aryan Brotherhood on whose behalf they were keeping the 120-lb Presa Canarias that attacked Whipple. We'll retell the tragic tale next week. Our focus here is on personal publicity.

An ambitious prosecutor in the Homicide unit, Jim Hammer, suggested that I tell my friend Terence that the death of Diane Whipple was potentially manslaughter and that he, Hammer, should be assigned to prosecute the case. I told Jim to lobby the boss directly, which of course he was already doing. On February 7 a front-page profile of Guilfoyle in the Recorder —one of two daily papers covering the local courts— announced that “Kim Guilfoyle is leading the investigation into the dog-mauling case” and quoted Hallinan saying, “I think she's doing a fine job and I want her to stay with it, even if it goes to homicide.” 

The Recorder profile by Dennis Opatrny ran on the front-page alongside a big picture of Guilfoyle looking serious and exceptionally beautiful. (We struggle against lookism but we don't always win.) That morning she came into my office with a copy of the tabloid and closed the door behind her. Opatrny had quoted a lawyer named Jasper Monti who'd said, “She cuts corners and fudges the truth… She also tries to take credit when she doesn't deserve it.” She wanted to write a rebuttal, which was fine with me. She also took umbrage at Opatrny having written, “To pay for tuition at the University of San Francisco School of Law, she modeled lingerie for Victoria's Secret and Macy's. She passed the bar on her first try after graduating in 1994.” And she didn't like his tag: “Guilfoyle and SF Supervisor Gavin Newsom are romantically linked. An engagement is imminent, she conceded.” We discussed her response. Later I told Terence that she was upset and why. 

On February 9 the Recorder carried a letter from Kimberly defending herself against Jasper Monti's put-down. She added in closing,  ”Since when is it newsworthy that a lawyer was formerly a lingerie model, who happened to pass the bar on the first try, and who may be getting engaged? I look forward to the day when women lawyers are treated with the same respect and professionalism as their male colleagues.”  

Next came a letter from Terence and his chief assistant, Paul Cummins, putting down Jasper Monti: “'Consider the source' is small consolation when one thinks of far-flung colleagues and acquaintances reading a baseless put-down. Mr. Monti represents a client who has been charged by this office in an animal abuse case. [A man had bitten his dog in the neck; claimed he was teaching it not to bite.] Ms. Guilfoyle would not offer the disposition he sought —dismissal of the case. The comment you chose to publish is inaccurate and unfair. We are highly pleased with her work in all respects… She is an exemplary advocate for the People. Her word and her integrity have never been an issue.” 

But the prospect of charging Knoller and Noel with manslaughter was becoming a likelihood, and Terence had already decided to make Jim Hammer the lead prosecutor. Guilfoyle would stay on the case and it was she to whom Lt. Henry Hunter, the SFPD officer in charge of the investigation, would continue to report what his inspectors were learning day-by-day. She and Hammer were frequent visitors to my fluorescent cubby because they both wanted to know who in the media had been calling. (Every outlet from Good Morning America to the Noe Valley Voice.)

I was surprised by the poor quality of Hunter's investigation. The screams of the victim and barking of the dogs could be heard on the floor below, but only one resident of the 6th floor —an elderly woman who got a glimpse of the carnage through her peephole and called 911— acknowledged having heard anything. I asked Kimberly to let me see the inspectors' reports of interviews with the other 6th floor neighbors. She said none had been conducted. Hunter told her that his officers had “left a flier for them” but nobody had responded. 

“This is why people who can afford it hire private investigators instead of going to the police,” I told her. “You've got to keep going back and knocking on their doors. People don't want to get involved. It's much easier to ignore a flier than an officer at your door saying 'I see you're home this afternoon, did you happen to be home the afternoon that Diane Whipple was killed by that dog? You may think the little bit you heard or saw was insignificant, but to those of us who are trying to figure out exactly what happened, every little detail would be useful.'“  

According to Jack Webb (a retired SFPD officer who became a successful PI, not the Dragnet actor), “When you go back and knock on their door a third time, they get the message that you don't believe them.”  I don't know if Kimberly relayed my criticism of the cops to Lt. Hunter. When I shared it with Terence he said, “The old-timers weren't lazy.”

My dealings with Kimberly were friendly all the way through, and the missus and I were invited to her wedding and the reception at the Gettys' mansion in Pacific Heights. Security was provided by eight veteran SFPD officers who did this kind of work for San Francisco's ruling class so often that they had their own dinner jackets. An amazing percentage of the women over age 40 were plastic surgery victims. Seeing eight or 10 of them in a room was actually upsetting, a grotesque site.

When I was leaving the DA's office I gave Kimberly some parting advice: “You're a beautiful woman. I can tell you've had something done to your lips, but it's not too bad. Don't let them do anything else to your face.” She took it with equanimity. 

5 Responses to "Kimberly’s Big Break"

  1. Harry S. Pariser   August 14, 2020 at 3:15 pm

    More please!


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