Appeals court says search of housing official is illegal

The Associated Press
Friday April 19, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Government investigators violated the privacy rights of a San Francisco city official when they searched her office in 1999 as part of a fraud probe in the city’s minority contracting program, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday. 

The decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals means the government cannot use in court the hundreds of pages of records it seized from Zula Jone’s office. She was the chief compliance officer of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and is accused of using her post to aid the alleged scheme. 

The appeals court, in upholding a federal judge’s ruling, said federal officials needed a search warrant. 

The government declined comment. Lawyers for Jones were not immediately available. 

Jones, 53, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on allegations in which she aided a scheme by which non-minority firms were given city contracts meant for disadvantaged minority-owned firms. She has pleaded innocent. 

It is unknown whether the ruling would affect the government’s case. Public court records are unclear on what was seized. 

As part of the government’s probe, Scott Company of California Inc., of San Leandro, agreed to pay $1.5 million in fines and restitution for scheming to obtain public works jobs meant for the disadvantaged. Robert Nurisso, the firm’s executive vice president, has also pleaded guilty and is expected to receive up to a year in a federally supervised home detention program when sentenced in June.