California Attorney General Xavier Becerra testifies in Washington in September. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi/ ALM

Staffing up for his ongoing fight with the Trump administration, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is poised to go on a hiring binge.

The state Department of Justice plans to hire 18 of the 19 new attorneys allocated in the 2017-18 budget by the end of February, according to a deputy in the office.

Those attorneys—14 deputy attorneys general and five supervisors—are part of the 31 new positions and $6.5 million in extra funding the governor and lawmakers gave to Becerra last summer to battle Trump administration initiatives on health care, environmental rules, consumer affairs and “other general constitutional issues.”

The department has made one related hire so far, Marin County government attorney Mike Jorgenson, who will start later this month as a supervising deputy prosecutor in the antitrust section.

Deputy Attorney General Michelle Mitchell told The Recorder that the state’s “elaborate” employment process and Becerra’s focus on “building teams rather than just filling specific positions” has led to the slow rate of hires.

“In the interim, our current workforce has fulfilled more than 13,068 hours a month on these issues,” Mitchell said. The Department of Justice employs more than 1,100 attorneys.

Just months after his appointment last year, Becerra pleaded with lawmakers for more money to handle the “new reality” of responding to and confronting the Trump administration and dealing with a handful of unfunded state legislative mandates.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat reality here because it has real implications for all the work we do,” Becerra told a budget committee in April.

Over the last year, Becerra has initiated a variety of legal actions against the Trump administration on issues including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, air pollution standards and transgender Americans serving in the military. On Tuesday, Becerra joined 20 other states and the District of Columbia in a petition challenging the Federal Communications Commission’s recent repeal of net neutrality rules.

The attorney general’s actions have been well received by Democratic leaders in heavily blue California. State Republicans, however, have accused Becerra of flouting federal law.

On Friday, GOP assemblyman and gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen accused Becerra of obstructing federal immigration laws. Becerra on Thursday said he will enforce a new state law that bars employers from giving workers’ records to immigration agents without a court order or subpoena. Becerra was responding to rumors that federal agencies plan massive immigration sweeps in California.

“Threatening individuals for cooperating with federal law enforcement is criminal obstruction of justice,” Allen said in a prepared statement. “These are the same tactics that the mafia uses to silence witnesses.”

Becerra did not immediately address Allen’s comments. In an op-ed published in The New York Times on Tuesday, the attorney general insisted that he doesn’t “wake up in the morning looking to pick a fight with this administration.”

“Over the past year, the Trump administration has put our people, our Constitution and our laws on trial,” Becerra wrote. “So far, California hasn’t lost a case.”

 

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