Wednesday, 17 April 2024

Hinchcliff: Addressing the claims made in the district attorney’s race

On June 7, Lake County voters will be electing a district attorney for the next four years. There are two candidates on the ballot: incumbent District Attorney Susan Krones running for reelection, and Anthony Farrington running to replace Susan Krones.

As a longtime criminal prosecutor in Lake County I would like to share information and concerns I hope the voters will consider.

I have worked for the Lake County District Attorney’s Office for the last 27 years as a criminal prosecutor, and as the chief deputy district attorney for the last 16 years. I have supervised our prosecutors and been heavily involved in the day to day operations and management of the office. I have worked for five different district attorneys during my career and experienced the good and the not so good.

I have seen and experienced both the positive effects a good experienced district attorney can have on the office and the community, and the negative effects an inexperienced district attorney can have on our office and our community.

Susan has definitely been one of the good ones and deserves to be elected for another term. Anthony Farrington has done nothing to deserve the job, nor does he even come close to having the experience or skills necessary to do a good job.

Susan served in the military as an Army captain for six years. Susan has worked for the District Attorney’s Office for 29 years, has prosecuted over 100 jury trials herself, and has been involved in the prosecution of thousands of other criminal cases. She has supervised prosecutors and managed the District Attorney’s Office.

Susan has spent half of her life serving the citizens of Lake County, preventing people from becoming victims of crime and punishing criminals who cause people to become victims of crime. She has spent most of her life supporting our law enforcement officers who have also dedicated their careers to protecting our community.

Anthony Farrington has done none of these things. When Farrington graduated from law school he had the opportunity to work for the Lake County District Attorney’s Office if he wanted to. I had mentioned to him some years ago that he should consider working for our office. He had no desire to do so. He never applied for a job as a prosecutor. He instead chose to go into private practice where he could be his own boss and make more money. There is nothing wrong with that. Many attorneys make that decision with their careers.

But there is something very wrong with not having any desire to get any experience whatsoever as a prosecutor, not having any training, having no desire to be a prosecutor or be involved in law enforcement, but wanting to be the boss of the District Attorney’s Office.

There is something wrong with not wanting to put in the time to get the years of training and experience to do the job and actually earn the job, but wanting voters to give him the job without having to actually put in any effort to earn it.

Do you really think all of a sudden Farrington wants to be district attorney because he now cares about protecting our community from criminals? The only reason he wants to be district attorney now is because he was a politician for years, and he wants to be district attorney solely for political reasons. He wants it as a feather in his cap so he can use it as a steppingstone to run for judge or some other position some day.

Electing someone as district attorney just because they have a license to practice as an attorney would be like electing someone as sheriff to run the sheriff’s department because they know how to shoot a gun. Or hiring someone as a fire chief because they know how to squirt water out of a hose. It makes no sense whatsoever.

The voters have to ask themselves if they want a district attorney who actually cares about law enforcement and protecting the community and has proven it, or do they want a district attorney who is just a politician.

Do you want someone like Susan who has literally worked in excess of 50,000 hours as a prosecutor protecting our community, and received hundreds of hours training as a criminal prosecutor, or someone like Farrington who literally has not spent one minute working as a prosecutor and has no training as a criminal prosecutor?

One of the worst things that could happen to our county and the criminal justice system is to have a politician running the District Attorney’s Office for political reasons. That has happened in other counties, and it has been a disaster for communities and the criminal justice system in those counties.

During the campaign I have heard Farrington state several times he has experience as a “prosecutor.” That is not true, and is just a campaign statement probably intended to mislead voters and make himself look like he has experience he does not have.

He claims to have “prosecution” experience from representing domestic violence victims as a civil attorney in “civil cases,” by helping them obtain restraining orders. That is not “prosecution” experience and does not make him in any way a “prosecutor.”

Farrington also claims a 100% “conviction” rate in those cases. You don’t get “convictions” in a civil case. Only criminal cases.

In my 31-year career as an attorney, I have never heard any civil attorneys refer to themselves as a “prosecutor” or claim they were “prosecuting" cases, or claim they got a “conviction” in a civil case, until Farrington started making those claims a couple months ago to get votes. His claims are inaccurate and misleading.

Susan Krones is a real prosecutor, having actually prosecuted hundreds of domestic violence offenders in criminal cases, obtaining hundreds of convictions, and sending spousal abusers to jail and state prison. Farrington has never “prosecuted” a domestic violence offender, or obtained a “conviction” in a civil case or criminal case, or sent one person to jail or prison.

Farrington also claims to have done over 100 trials. But those trials were civil bench trials before a judge only. Very seldom do civil trials take place before a jury. Most are nothing more than simple hearings that last an hour or two.

Criminal trials take place before a jury where 12 people have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, and last usually three or more days, and sometimes for several months. Civil trial experience is not the same as criminal trial experience. Susan has actually done over 100 criminal jury trials, including murder trials that have lasted for weeks, not hours.

Farrington also misled voters, either intentionally or unintentionally, in his recent campaign flier where he claims Lake County has one of the highest crime rates in California and Lakeport has surpassed the city of Clearlake in property theft crimes. Farrington cites “Crimegrades.Org” to support his claim.

I review the law enforcement crime reports in the District Attorney’s Office on a daily basis and found his claim hard to believe. So I looked at Crimegrades.Org. It took me less than a minute of reading to figure out that it is a bogus clickbait website.

The statistics they cite make no sense. For example, it shows the Cow Mountain area between Lakeport and Ukiah, where few people live and we see almost no crime, to have a higher crime grade than the populated areas in the county.

There is also the fact that every couple paragraphs in the report is an ad you can click on to buy a home security system. Clearly this is an inaccurate or fraudulent clickbait advertising website used to scare readers into buying a home security system. Yet Farrington cites that in his flier as factual information to attempt to get voters to believe Susan Krones (and the other law enforcement agencies) is doing a poor job.

If Farrington intentionally cited that website to mislead voters and get votes, then he should not be district attorney. If he was unable to or failed to realize it was a bogus website with clearly inaccurate information, then he should not be district attorney.

Farrington’s campaign for district attorney has exposed his complete lack of knowledge and experience as a prosecutor, and proven he does not know how the criminal justice system operates, and is incapable of running the District Attorney’s Office.

Among other things, Farrington has said if elected he wants to start paying prosecutors more money, or bonuses, to get convictions and increase the conviction rate. First of all, he could not do that without authorization by the Board of Supervisors. The district attorney has no authority to give bonuses or raises to employees on their own. And Farrington obviously makes that claim now in an effort to get votes.

When he was a supervisor for the county making budget decisions, the prosecutors and other county employees went many years without raises.

Secondly, Farrington’s proposal is extremely unethical, and probably illegal. Paying prosecutors extra to get convictions would create a huge conflict of interest, and would be absolutely unethical. Prosecutors are supposed to be fair and use their best judgment in determining whether someone should be convicted of a crime, or what kind of crime. Prosecutors should NOT be considering whether it would be financially beneficial and profitable to themselves to get a conviction.

Farrington’s proposal would be no different from telling deputy sheriffs they will make more money if they put enough information and evidence in their reports to make better cases and get convictions. Any new prosecutor in our office knows that Farrington’s proposal would be highly unethical. If Farrington fails to see the conflict of interest and huge ethical problems in such a proposal, then he has absolutely no business being district attorney.

Farrington has also proposed cleaning up some of the lower class motels in the county by kicking out criminals living there or prosecuting owners for renting rooms to criminals. It sounds like a great idea, until you consider things Farrington is apparently unaware of.

For one thing, you cannot prosecute a motel owner for renting to someone with a criminal history. And motel owners cannot legally run background checks on someone who wants to rent a room in order to determine if someone is a criminal. So his proposal makes no sense and appears to be another of his election time slogans or sound bites.

Secondly, if you could actually prevent motel owners from renting to criminals, or you could condemn and close those motels, then does that help our community? No.

Those same criminals would still be somewhere in Lake County. Those same criminals would still be out using drugs just as often and committing just as many crimes, if not more crimes, in order to survive. The only difference is that now they would be homeless.

They would be living on the streets, exacerbating the homeless problem Lake County and all of California already has. Instead of being in a motel with garbage cans, they would be camping along creeks, the lake, and in our parks, and throwing their garbage and drug needles in our waterways or on the streets. Instead of being in a motel room with a toilet they would be defecating in our parks, sidewalks and parking lots.

The only real solution to keeping criminals out of motel rooms is to prosecute these criminals, and get them into jail or prison, or into mental health treatment and drug counseling when we can. Susan has been prosecuting these criminals for years. She is also involved with mental health diversion and drug diversion counseling and treatment programs in an effort to reform criminals and reduce criminal activity.

Susan is a big advocate and supporter for Lake County’s Veterans Court Program that provides needed assistance, counseling and support for veterans with criminal charges, to help get them off the streets and out of our criminal justice system permanently.

Recently, ex-District Attorney Don Anderson wrote a letter supporting his close friend Anthony Farrington for district attorney. I wish I could spend several pages responding to all the incorrect claims in that letter, but it would take too long. The ex-district attorney was elected with no experience as a prosecutor. That was not good for our office, even though he at least had prior law enforcement experience. Things did not go nearly as well as he claims.

I will just say that there were some improper or unethical things that occurred under his leadership that no longer exist with Susan as district attorney. Fortunately for our employees and our community, Susan has restored the integrity to the top leadership position that was missing, and that is so important and necessary to being a good district attorney.

In addition, as a result of what I and numerous other people saw as poor management at the top level during the ex-district attorney’s tenure, there were two lawsuits filed against the county. Unfortunately, our office is still dealing with some of the negative consequences left over from the prior leadership.

The ex-district attorney’s claim about the abandoned perjury unit are without merit. We still prosecute perjury cases, the only real difference is that we do not have a single person prosecuting perjury cases, they are prosecuted by more than one prosecutor.

And the truth is that the perjury unit was a pet project of the ex-district attorney to prosecute perjury in civil cases. Most of the prosecutors in the office, including me, thought it was a poor use of our limited resources at the time that should have been devoted to more serious crimes.

Under Susan’s leadership we still prosecute some perjury cases, but our limited resources are now being used more to prosecute murder cases, shootings, sexual assault cases, felons in possession of firearms, etc.

The ex-district attorney’s claim that his aggressive way of pursuing human trafficking of women is now gone is incorrect. We still prosecute human trafficking cases, but we don’t really see that much of it in Lake County.

Under Susan’s leadership our office, as well as the sheriff’s office, are now a part of a five county human trafficking coalition, “The Northern California Coalition to Safeguard Communities.”

The coalition now allows us to work together with other counties to find, investigate, and prosecute human trafficking. A big emphasis of the project is human trafficking in marijuana grows. The coalition has special funding and training and will be a big improvement over what we had under the previous leadership.

There are other claims made by the ex-district attorney in his letter that are unfounded, including that the conviction rate has gone down. I have no personal grudge against him. But, I worked for him for eight years as chief deputy district attorney, and in my opinion anyone he would support for district attorney would not be good for the District Attorney’s Office or Lake County.

If a person has never worked for a district attorney’s office, never prosecuted a criminal case, never supervised prosecutors, never supervised criminal investigators, doesn’t have any idea what prosecutors do on a daily basis, and doesn’t know what you can do ethically or legally in the office, then how can they competently run the District Attorney’s Office?

The answer is, they can’t.

Farrington has come up with nice little election season slogans like “Take back our neighborhoods” and “Fund the police.” These are things Susan has worked thousands of hours on and actually been doing for almost three decades, and things Farrington has only been giving campaign season lip service to for the last three or four months.

As the saying goes, Susan has been walking the walk, and Farrington has just been talking the talk.

Farrington has been a politician for many years who is well spoken and sounds good at speeches and candidate nights, and knows what to say to get votes, even if much of what he says is not true.

If you do vote for Farrington, it will be a vote to replace an experienced, hard working, honest, ethical, conservative career criminal prosecutor, law enforcement supporter and crime victim advocate with a politician with no experience as a prosecutor or in law enforcement.

Richard F. Hinchcliff is a Lake County native who has served with the Lake County District Attorney’s Office for 27 years, with 16 of those years in the role of chief deputy district attorney. He was named the 2020 Wildlife Prosecutor of the year by the California Fish and Game Commission. He lives in Lakeport, California.

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