LA Times Opinion Blog by Robert Greene Spotlights Alan Jackson
Two Questions for the Candidates by LA Times Editoral Board
As a general rule, I do not enjoy politics at all. When I used to participate on Internet message boards I avoided the political topics like the plague. I won't discuss the subject at home for more than five minutes (no matter how hard Mr. Sprocket tries) and I beg to have the channel changed when a state's primary results are coming in. In the 2000 presidential election, Mr. Sprocket and I voted for different candidates and I didn't let him forget it for quite some time afterwards. In addition, the contributors here at T&T are not all from the same political party and I think the reason we are able to remain friends is...we don't discuss politics.
So, T&T is out on a limb here with this topic. I've never covered a political debate or forum and reported on it; it's a totally different animal than sitting in court. However, I believe in my heart that the race for Los Angeles County District Attorney is an important one that T&T should cover for several reasons.
First, T&T mostly reports on murder cases in the downtown criminal court building that are prosecuted by the LA County District Attorney's office.
Second, Los Angeles County has the largest local prosecutors office, not just in California, but in the entire United States. There are 88 incorporated cities in Los Angeles County, which covers an area over 4,750 square miles. The LA County DA's office is considered one of the most powerful prosecutorial offices in California, if not the US. Other prosecuting agencies in California and beyond look to LA County for policy and guidance. (Second in command, Chief Deputy DA Jackie Lacey stated that the DA's office has received calls regarding policy from the White House at the forum on May 2nd, 2012.)
Third, it's been almost fifty years since an incumbent has not been in the race; the current District Attorney, Steve Cooley, is retiring after serving 12 years. The office is literally up for grabs and there are quite a few candidates who have thrown their hat into the ring.
Last, I've been fortunate enough to get to know on a personal basis one of the candidates in the race and that's Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson, whose career I've followed since 2007. I feel that's important to get out there that I have a bias. I can't guarantee that my reporting on this race will be exactly the same as my goal of impartial reporting on a criminal case, since I support this candidate. However, I can say that I am not being paid by Jackson's campaign or anyone else to write about this race.
Phil Spector Trial, 2007
Who can forget back in 2007 the televised Phil Spector trial? It was during that trial that I started T&T, a diary, trial by fire if you will and a way to share my personal experiences of attending a high profile case. That trial was a whirlwind of experiences. It's where I first met CourtTV's Beth Karas and The Daily Journal's Ciaran McEvoy who both became friends and mentors and continued my friendship with former LA Weekly staff writer Steven Mikulan who I met during the Robert Blake case. It's where I ended up sitting next to Vanity Fair's Dominick Dunne, exchanging notes, having lunch together in the cafeteria and eventually helping him set up bookmarks on his computer in his room at the Chateau Marmont. We even attended the press staging area together for the jury site visit. Our courtroom friendship continued beyond the trial until Dominick's death in 2009.
Although I had watched many trials on CourtTV, I had never watched a prosecutor like Jackson before. He was brilliant. Here is how Dominick described him in the August 2007 issue of Vanity Fair:
"There's a big new star in the Los Angeles district attorney's office, and he's the 42-year-old prosecutor in the trial, Alan Jackson. His opening statement was a work of art. At an evidentiary hearing, his questioning of the renowned forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee, who became a household name during the O. J. Sompson trial, was tough and courteous. The guy is so smart and knows the law so well.
Although I had attended most of the trial I had never approached Jackson with a question. Like Dominick, when I first spoke to Jackson it was over the phone, late into the trial in August 2007. I've never blogged about the details as to how Judge Fidler came to give me that public apology on the record, suffice to say that Dominick and Jackson were instrumental in my vindication.
It wasn't until the second Spector trial that I got to know Jackson personally and understand his deep commitment to being a prosecutor and an advocate for crime victims. There were a few public people who attended the second trial on a regular basis. Many times before trial would start, Jackson would answer questions from the public in the gallery. One question I asked him was, would he ever consider going into defense work, stepping across the line to the other side. With a very serious expression on his face, the force and absoluteness of his one word answer surprised me. Jackson responded, "Never." I believe Jackson could easily have doubled his salary if he ever decided to leave public office for defense work, but the message was clear. This was his calling.
The Race Begins
After District Attorney Steve Cooley loses his bid for the California Attorney General's office and announces he will not run for a fourth term, Alan Jackson announces he will run for office on December 6th, 2010. By January 4th, 2011, Jackson's campaign reports they have collected ".....$113,870 from more than 100 donors and secured well over $200,000 in commitments." Jackson also accumulates many key endorsements from city leaders and law enforcement agencies. Other candidates who throw their hat in the ring early are second in command at the DA's office, DDA Jackie Lacey (who wins Steve Cooley's endorsement), DDA Danette Meyers, DDA Bobby Grace, DDA Mario Trujillo, and DDA Marcus Musante. The big 400 pound gorilla early on in the race was whether or not City Attorney Carmen Trutanich would announce throwing his hat into the ring. Many sources covering the race (LA Times, LA Weekly and Dragnet) feel Trutanich comes with quite a bit of baggage and is full of broken campaign promises, specifically that he would not seek higher office for two full terms if elected City Attorney. He's two years into his City Attorney post and he's already bailing on the job.
The first forum was held on November 3rd, 2011 by the Asian Pacific American Bar Association (APABA) in the beautiful Japanese American National Museum. The organizers set up 250 seats that were quickly filled with many attendees standing in the back. Ipsen, Jackson, Grace, Lacey, Meyers and Trujillo were on the podium; Musante was in the audience and Trutanich was a no-show. The LA Weekly reported:
"John Shallman, Trutanich's campaign manager, said that Trutanich did not participate in the debate because "He wasn't invited." But one of the debate organizers, Halim Dhanidina, said he reached out to the Trutanich campaign to ask if the city attorney wanted to participate, and never got a call back."
(Note: As of this date, Ipsen and Trujillo have dropped out. Trujillo is putting his support behind Trutanich. DDA John L. Breault III, has joined the race. Sprocket)
I attended the event with my friend Deidre, who has worked on several political campaigns. It was a packed event. This was my first opportunity to hear the other candidates and see how they presented themselves and what they had to offer. There were a few faces that I recognized in the crowd but they were mostly press. It was obvious after taking in the room that the audience was a sea of DDA's, DPD's and at least one newly appointed judge, Shelly Torrealba.
Naturally, there were quite a few Asian faces in the crowd and about 95% were wearing a suit. Lots of hand shaking, smiles, meet and greet. I kept looking at the room. The ceiling was quite high and the stone walls gorgeous.
I tried to get a sense of the other candidates, but I couldn't believe how bad some of the opening statements were. Lacey often reminded the crowd of her "decade of experience over this panel" in her administrative position yet she didn't come across as a strong leader and Meyers came across as an angry black woman. (Meyers and Lacey joined the DA's office at the same time, 25 years ago.) Meyers spoke about internal reform within the office as well as how promotions and transfers are made. I was floored when she said to a crowd filled with prosecutors, "You may not like me, but you will respect me." (It was much later that I learned about the federal lawsuit. I don't believe it's been completely settled yet.) I noted that of all the candidates, Meyers went over her allotted time to speak the most. Trujillo had the most liberal stance and said he would "Change archaic policies of this office to change public safety."
Some of the topics the candidates were asked were the three strikes law and how it's applied to juveniles, AB109, the proliferation of the medical marijuana businesses, the death penalty, partnership with the public defenders office, and gang violence.
Here is Dragnet's view on the November forum as well as the LA Weekly, and Metropolitan News-Enterprise.
March 2012 Forum
The second forum Deidre I attended was held on March 31st, 2012 by the Police Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) and the moderator was local CBS reporter Dave Bryan. Trutanich declined to attend supposedly stating "scheduling conflicts" according to the LA Weekly. The Weekly article has a good wrap up of the candidate's position on the issues presented to them at this forum. Dragnet had a different theory why Trutanich missed the debate. It was a much smaller event than the first and only three of the candidates attended: Jackson, Lacey and Meyers. The two other candidates still in the race (Grace, Breault) were not invited because of low campaign funding.
This was a very civil debate among colleagues. They candidates all presented themselves better than the first time I saw them. Lacey spoke better than she did before and although Meyers has toned down her angry black woman demeanor, it's still under the surface.
Jackson's opening statement asked the audience, "You're going to have choice. (snip) Do you want a politician, an administrator or a true prosecutor? (snip) I understand what it means to be District Attorney. I understand what it means to partner with law enforcement. It's why I have the support of more law enforcement (agencies? of) than anyone else at this table."
Again, Lacey stressed her management experience as Chief Deputy DA. She also gave a bit of her background. "I'm the first in my family to go to college. (snip) I attended Dorsey High School. (The) Crips & Bloods (were) fighting when I walked to high school. (snip) Twenty-six years ago (I) joined the DA's office (and? the?) life of my dreams." (snip) "I've had a two part career. For the last eleven years, involved in running programs (for?).... I've inspired people. I'm involved in budget talks (and I have) Steve Cooley's endorsement. He's chosen to endorse me as his successor."
Meyers also spoke about her career in the DA's office. "(I'm) a twenty-six year veteran (of the office?). I've tried over 200 felony cases, six death penalty cases and supervised two offices: the Belflower Office and the Metropolitan Office. Then I went to Compton. I supervised young deputies under me. (snip) Two times I've been named prosecutor of the year (snip) and served on numerous committees." Meyers also mentioned her endorsement by prior DA Gil Garcetti, (three mayors?) and two city counsel members.
The candidates were asked what they thought about the "plea deal" with Patrick Lynch over the Coliseum scandal, since some thought that was a mild plea deal.
Lacey: "I have been on a leave of absence. (snip) Here's what I'll say. The media may not be aware of all that goes into these deals. (DDA) Max Huntsman is not a shrinking violet...."
Meyers: "(I) don't know about the deal. I don't like to second guess (Huntsman). (snip) When things are done (by? public? officials?) there must be fairness. There can't be a presumption of unfairness. I will trust Max. I don't want to second guess him."
Jackson: I echo Danette. The first priority, is to enhance the Public Integrity Division (of the DA's office). Public corruption strkes at the very heart of our democracy. It strikes at the heart of the trust between the public and the people in authority. I would never second guess Max Huntsman without the benefit of seeing the file or interviewing a single witness. We need to trust (that the DA's) office acted in the best interests (of the public?)."
The rest of the topics were similar to topics discussed at the previous forum.
May 2012 Forum
This event was hosted by the Los Angeles Times at 11:00 am on Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012. The candidates were given up to fifteen seats to invite supporters to the event. I don't believe the event was open to the general public. Five of the six candidates attended. Trutanich and DDA's Lacey, Meyers, Jackson, and John Breault. DDA Bobby Grace is in trial and could not attend. Grace had a statement prepared that was read by the moderator, LA Times Editor at Large, Jim Newton. "It's with great regret I will not be able to attend....(snip) currently in trial... (snip) Thank you for drawing attention to this important race." The moderator stated this was a forum and not a formal debate. They would not keep a strict clock.
As my friend Deidre and I take our seats, we noted that directly in front of us was Collene (Thompson) Campbell, sister of murdered race car driver, Mickey Thompson.
One of the first questions was directed at Trutanich. "What brings you here today?" Trutanich responded, "....(I?) came when (?) felt it was appropriate. I feel now is the time to get our message out. (snip) LA Times (?) responsible organization. Thank you for putting this (event?) on... (snip) Given the stature of the host, .... appropriate to open my campaign..."
(Does that mean that every prior forum was insignificant, or is it that Trutanich knew he couldn't pass on this event if he was looking to get the LA Times endorsement. Sprocket.)
Meyers was confronted on a statement she recently made at a DA forum sponsored by the Democratic Club of Santa Clarita Valley that was also attended by Republican candidate DDA John Breault.
“There may be some good Republicans out there. I like John a lot. But as my philosophy is, even the best Republican doesn’t beat the worst Democrat,” said Meyers.
Lacey: "What does it mean to be a Republican? Same as a Democrat. It's a non-partisan race."
Jackson: "This is a prosecutors office. It's not a politician's office. We have a (wish?) to uphold and enhance public safety. (snip) The face of the DA's office... (snip) (if?) given the leadership... (I will?) do it in a non-partisan, non-political way. We can't afford to politicize this office."
Jackson also informed the room that more rank and file police offices are endorsing him than any other candidate. "They know the DA's office. They know what it is to do the job. They work more closely with the DA's office than any other agency in the county. They are telling the public who we want to lead the office for public safety."
Lacey informs the crowd why she is more suited to follow in Cooley's footsteps. "Most people have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. For twelve years I've made decisions on death cases (of if its?) jailhouse informants.... What I will say is, you need that seasoned (experience?) to lead the office over the next 12 years." Lacey also stated she regards her colleagues with high esteem many of whom she's supervised, but the office requires a difficult skill-set.
Meyers states that Steve Cooley didn't have those skill sets before he became District Attorney. Trutanich didn't manage others (when he became City Attorney). Meyers mentions the Tyquan Knox case and that she's a leader. She's a former LA County Bar Association President. "If my peers didn't think I could lead, I would not have been appointed."
Trutanich states, "Running a government agency is a talent." He asserts he can run a budget and a payroll. He talks about how he has managed the City Attorney's Office and came in under budget. "We took on gangs. We took on banks." I believe he said something to the effect that (no one on the podium?) tried a case while managing an office. (snip) You have to look at the track record to lead." Newton asks Trutanich, "You didn't have that experience before (elected)." Trutanich responds, "I had twenty years running an office before." Trutanich goes onto say "Running a company and running a government (office?) is financial.... (snip) We've saved over (20 million?) in civil suits (by using) mock trials. (snip) We've tried more cases than any other City Attorney.
The candidates are asked to describe their vision for the DA's Offie.
Breault: "My policy and role ad DA will be the same as any other citizens: advocate at Sacramento for policies and things (you? we?) want (modified?); laws changed.
Jackson: "I respectfully disagree with his philosophy. (We are not the same as the other 58 counties?) This is the largest District Attorney's office, not just in the state, but in the entire country. I think the weight of this office brings it's... (snip) This is an office that will have an impact state wide, not just county wide. (Cooley's?) three strikes law has become a product of (the state?). To say we are one of many voices is untrue." Jackson's policy approach is balance. We're not going to prosecute our way out (of the current problems?) ... (we need a?) compassionate view towards rehab. We will have an impact on rehabilitation. We will have an impact on education."
Lacey: "The DA's office, we are involved in so many issues. 2,200 employees. The City Attorney won so many cases (because?) smaller divisions (and mostly handled?) misdemeanors. (snip) Our office will get calls from the White House on policy. We have the ability to change the case of criminal justice. It is much more than putting people in jail. It's not the same as volunteering for the Bar Association."
Meyers: "The justice system is not just the same as... (snip) I understand civil justice." I believe Meyers says, "If we do not have criminal justice we won't have civil justice." Meyers also states, " think the DA's Office has a broader role. I've supervised two offices. (snip) The death penalty is not working. Governor Brown wants to do away with monitoring the juvenile justice system. (snip) (People are) looking for uniformity in justice throughout the state."
Trutanich: I don't get the first part of his statement. I believe Trutanich states, "Think of (this as?) interesting times; (we are?) being challenged via an economic crisis.... (snip).... those in government are going to have to do more with less. (snip) (9.6 million?) housing in prison. That philosophy is broken. (snip) The next twelve years (need to?) focus on prevention. Take high school, keep student in school. Teach life skills. Show them the value of not joining gangs or doing drugs." Trutanich mentions realignment in the Sheriff's Office, the merit program. "There are ways to drop recidivism. How to we accomplish more for less. Misdemeanors in Los Angeles County would be a felony in any other state. (Is that true across all 50 states? What is he talking about? Sprocket.) (snip) Pedophile predators on Facebook." Trutanich then mentions his volunteer reserve deputy program he instituted at the City Attorney's office and how that program costs taxpayers nothing.
The candidates are asked about an initiative on the ballot to do away with the death penalty and if they would support that measure.
Trutanich: "I've argued for the death penalty. I didn't put that person on death row." Trutanich mentions President Clinton, and that the death penalty should be reserved for only the most severe cases. "It is a ballot measure. I don't know if I can support (it) today. I would vote against. (It) should be kept for only the most heinous and (where the) evidence (is) so overwhelming (towards guilt). (I) would not got one way or another to support (it)."
Newton presses Trutanich further asking, "If you have strong feelings, why not make then known?" Turtanich responds, "At this point, I won't support the measure. (snip) I don't think we should make (the race for the) DA's office into a decision of the death penalty."
Meyers: "We should be truthful and realistic about the death penalty." Meyers would vote for the measure. Meyers mentions the (John?) Heard case, where she had to retry the penalty portion of that case. "There are over 700 inmates on death row to date. How many executed in the last year? Twenty years of appeals is too long. The initiative (on the ballot) allows for thirty million to law enforcement to solve crimes, murders, that have not been solved." Meyers will be voting yes on the ballot.
Lacey: "Since we're being honest, (snip) it's interesting what a candidate says and then they run... Trutanich doesn't sound sure of what he wants to do. The death penalty is an important tool... (snip) There are plenty of controls in place to get to the death penalty. Levels withing the DA's office have to agree. Twelve people (jurors) have to agree. (snip) (The real issue?) is how to get through the red tape of appeals."
Jackson: "I do believe it serves an important purpose. I would not support the initiative. (snip) I'm not a death penalty advocate.(snip)Voters have been asked over and over and they have supported the death penalty. I have sat on (the) committee that determines the appropriateness of the death penalty (for defendants). We prosecute 60,000 (defendants) per year. Of those 60,000 about 75 cases per year are considered for the death penalty. Of those, seven to eleven percent, depending on the year (the death penalty is sought). There are certain crimes that cut so deeply into the fabric of our community." Jackson then mentions some of those crimes. Killing a cop, a witness, preying on and murdering children. "It should be an option. As DA, I will make sure that option is available (and) used only in cases (that the) office uniformly applies. I agree with Jackie. The appeal process is broken, but it can be fixed."
Breault: "I also believe in the death penalty and would not support the initiative. (snip) For the death penalty to be effective, it should be swift and immediate. There's nothing wrong with the death penalty. (It gives discretion to the DA so we can decide and choose when necessary. I agree with Alan Jackson. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."
Meyers: "Of the twenty-two special circumstances that we have... (snip) I disagree that the appellate process can be reformed." Meyers mentions John Van de Camp who (I believe, did a study of the process) stated the best we can do is trim the appellate process down ten years. "That's still too long. The Tyquan Knox jurors wanted to know why the DA's office didn't (seek death)."
Trutanich: (My notes on this answer are not clear.) Trutanich addresses an issue Meyers brought up about the death penalty. He mentions that he ran an office and then I believe my notes state that the Governor of the State, Brown has endorsed him (but I don't know if that's correct or not). Trutanich would work to making the death penalty less costly. Also agrees that they shouldn't throw out the baby with the bath water.
The candidates are asked about transparency and making more information available to the public.
Trutanich states his office recently went through (this issue?) with the Fire Department and whether they chose to follow or not follow (the recommendations). "Our office policy is one of transparency."
Meyers states she believes the DA's office should be as transparent as possible, where it doesn't violate the law.
Lacey challenges Trutanich on the Fire Department issue and that being ".... one whole mess. The Mayor criticized the legal advice from the City Attorney's office. (snip) What you will not have is someone who plays games.
Jackson said, "My answer is yes. (I) would be more transparent than the current administration. I hold that trust for the public. (snip) I will favor making it as transparent (as possible) as long as the law allows it. As long as it doesn't impact (ongoing investigations?). This office belongs to the community at large."
Trutanich interjects, "The (Fire Dept.) issue was not response times. It was HIPPA." As DA, Trutanich would plan on being as transparent as possible (just like the City Attorney's office).
Newton read Trutanich a question from the crowd. "If you win, how soon will you start running for California Attorney General?" Trutanich responded with this single line.
I believe the candidates were asked, "Does the DA's office need a clean sweep?"
Meyers: Members of the DA's office support her. "I think the office needs changes. (snip) Someone who is not vindictive. We are defending a lawsuit right now, (the?) office (is?) in a federal lawsuit. (snip) We are being sued for retaliatory conduct. (snip) There should be policy for transfers. There should be a policy for promotions. I have the support of 26,000 members of the California Bar Association. I've handled budgets. They saw that and they endorse me."
Lacey: "No. (It's a large office.) They're lawyers. There's always going to be disagreements. I'm looking forward to working with other organizations that don't often get mentioned. (snip) No one is going to be able to get along with all member of the office."
Jackson: "I think the office needs to be modernized, through the Justice System Integrity Division and High Tech Crimes Dividion (departments). These are the (philosophies?) policy that should be embraced before we go forward. We are not going to handcuff our way out of the problems... (snip) I spent five years in Compton. I never saw a ten-year-old boy say, I want to grow up to be a gang member...but who went home and felt that they don't have (any choices?). The office needs to be modernized."
Breault: I'm against a "clean sweep." I've got 43 years in the DA's office, (back before?) Van de Camp. (Younger?) gave direction to the office but that was a guideline. (I stopped writing for a moment. It started to sound like Breault went off on a tangent. Sprocket.) The office is good. We do a good job on our cases. Why sweep (the?) out?"
Trutanich: When I took office on July 9th, 2009, I inherited a (fractured?) office. We faced (a) 2 million dollar shortfall. My job is different than anyone else at the table because I defend the City of Los Angeles when sued." Trutanich speaks about the reserve program again that he implemented. "I haven't been sued by any one of my employees. Not one person in three years has lost their job or laid off and we've had a 16 million dollar shortfall. (snip) What the DA's office needs is outside eyes and to look at (the?) issue(s?) freshly, differently, and that's what we need now.
Trutanich's statement ended the forum. I was disappointed that several candidates brought politics into a race that I don't believe should be political at all. It's supposed to be a non-partisan race. It's my understanding that the candidate's particular political affiliation is not listed on the ballot. I believe people should be voting for a candidate's worthiness for the office and not a particular party.
The next debate is scheduled for Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012 from 7:30 to 9:30 PM. It's sponsored by the Government Affairs Counsel of the Century City Chamber of Commerce and the Century City Bar Association. Chamber and CCBA $20.00; Non-members $30.00; at door $40.00.
I am still waiting on some video from the event as well as audio to provide a complete recording of the candidates statements.
LA Times Article
LA Times real-time blogger on the event
Dragnet's take on the forum
Local CBS News Report & Video
CANDIDATES CAMPAIGN WEB SITES