Chief prosecutor leaves legacy of Jewish defense

Monday, Miller was sworn in as chief deputy under new S.F. District Attorney Terence Hallinan.

Playing both sides of the fence doesn't faze Miller. The two positions aren't inconsistent, she says.

"Your ultimate goal is to either successfully prosecute or to put government to its test and not have a client held responsible. Either way the principles of fair play apply," Miller said in an interview last week, in between moving her office.

Miller, 41, resigned as a partner from the law firm of Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk and Rabkin following the announcement of her appointment in December. She traded a full-service, 100-lawyer office in the Embarcadero with a commanding view of San Francisco Bay for a somewhat earthier South-of-Market locale, where she oversees the daily operations of 100 prosecutors, investigators and assistants.

It's an unexpected yet welcome change.

"I've always been interested in being a prosecutor," Miller said.

She relishes working in criminal law, but says the real appeal is "representing the government. It's quite worthwhile."

This isn't the first time Miller has worked for the government.

A graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, Miller clerked with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit before joining Howard, Rice in 1982. Four years later she became a partner.

However, in 1987 Miller left that job to fulfill a cherished dream of working for the U.S. Attorneys' Office in Washington, D.C. Working as an assistant attorney under then-U.S. Attorney William McGivern Jr., Miller tried cases ranging from bank fraud to drug trafficking.

She returned to Howard, Rice in 1991, eventually chairing the firm's litigation department. However, she fondly recalls working in Washington, hearing bailiffs call, "Marla Miller, United States," and judges asking, "What is the government's position?"

"Wow. It's so important to represent the people [of the United States] and their interests. That was really satisfying for me," Miller said. "You're paid to do the right thing, to be responsible."

As chief deputy Miller will spend considerably less time in the courtroom. She hopes to try cases eventually, but is excited about the new challenges she faces in leading a team of government prosecutors.

"It's an exciting and dynamic time. We have a newly elected D.A., a newly elected mayor. The voters indicated they wanted change," Miller said.

"This is a real opportunity — to help make the D.A.'s office a model for the state and country…to respond to the needs of the people and their specific neighborhood issues."

In her own community, Miller is a member of Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco's Pacific Heights. Her husband, David Kremer, serves as the synagogue's treasurer.

In addition, Miller serves on the board of directors of the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services and is chairwoman of the program advisory committee of Parents' Place.

And she's a mother of two.

With all that she's doing, "It's a good thing 1996 is a leap year," Miller said, laughing. "I'll have an extra day."