Sunday, 14 April 2024

Steele: A winning idea

In the district attorney election, it’s important to focus on the actual job — not a politically manufactured version of it.

The district attorney is the chief law enforcement officer in the county. The DA’s most essential duty is investigating and prosecuting criminal offenses on behalf of the people.

There’s a seasoned pro in the job — Susan Krones — a highly ethical attorney who has dedicated her entire career to effectively prosecuting criminals — thousands — right here in Lake County. Under her leadership this office is doing very well.

In this election, there are two choices — a seasoned pro who is doing the job that needs to be done; and a politician, who has never done this job but is willing to use deception and spend a lot of money to make voters think he can do it.

Sadly, about anything goes in the competition for an elected office. Case in point: DA Krones’ opponent has mailed out at least three deceptive, high-priced slick and glossy mailers.

These self-promoting mailers are a ruse to camouflage the inexperience of this politician — they are, in essence, designed to buy votes. It’s been said but worth repeating: Mr. Farrington has no criminal prosecuting experience — none. He finally admitted so at a recent candidate’s forum. Of course, he’s banking that most voters don’t know anything about that — so he keeps perpetuating this deception in expensive mailers.

Deception won’t get the job done — nor will a “blueprint for crime reduction,” another ruse concocted by this politician to deflect from the requirements of the job he isn’t trained to do and his inexperience.

In his so-called blueprint, he describes all the ways he will work with the Board of Supervisors and city councils. Too bad he didn’t focus on that in the 16 years he worked with them as peers because now not one county supervisor — current or former — or city council member will endorse him.

Be that as it may, two points in his blueprint stand out — the promise of vigorous prosecution and incentive pay — both nonstarters.

First, he says he wants to vigorously prosecute perpetrators of murder — as though serious cases aren’t already prioritized and vigorously prosecuted. As others in the DA’s office have pointed out, he has never put one murderer, or any criminal for that matter, behind bars.

Serious cases are often extraordinarily complex, require intensive and lengthy preparation, a profound understanding of criminal law and procedure, and experience in handling a jury. We now know, with certainty, that this politician has provided zero evidence of his capacity to either prosecute these cases or supervise those who do.

More importantly DA Krones, who has done thousands of criminal prosecutions, has and continues to deliver real results.

Case in point: Alan Ashmore got 140 years to life for killing two people and shooting a California Highway Patrol officer. In another recent heinous and complex case, a criminal who raped his daughter was convicted on all 12 counts in a jury trial and sentenced to 72 years in prison. And last week, under DA Krones’ leadership, a 32-year-old man, convicted of furnishing a controlled substance to a 16-year-old teen he sexually assaulted, was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

And it may interest you to know that very recently, DA Krones was contacted by Oxygen-True Crime, a mainstream television program, for her handling and conviction of an unusual and complex murder case with jurisdictional issues and other complications.

As to the promise of incentive pay for higher caseloads and conviction rates — this controversial idea is just another buzzy worded promise this practiced politician won’t be able to keep.

Promising bounties (“incentives”) for higher caseloads and/or conviction rates raises practical and ethical issues. As noted, serious cases are hard to try and win. A prosecutor responsible for even one of them may not be able to take on other cases. Will a prosecutor be penalized for vigorously prosecuting a serious case? A very high conviction rate, however, might suggest that a prosecutor is rejecting harder cases to keep that rate up. Bounties for conviction rates threaten public safety. The DA’s office is respected because it is motivated by justice, not profit.

There’s considerable evidence that incentive pay (aka pay for performance), which has been tried at the federal, state and local levels of government, is fraught with problems. These experiments have been studied (see the American Society of Public Administration); findings conclude a zero-sum gain, at best.

Having implemented various pay for performance models in two government entities, I know firsthand it is an expensive experiment that takes an army of human resource professionals, managers, employees, and their unions to achieve. The results are messy and highly questionable as to their value.

These two promises — vigorous prosecution and incentive pay — conflict. One of the reasons the understaffed District Attorney’s Office is highly productive and successful is its team culture. Deputy DAs are cross-trained and readily step up for each other. The politician would turn them into competitors instead of team players. It’s a bad idea.

In this highly important elected office on the June 7 ballot reject these ideas, reject deception, reject political theater, reject the politician.

Reelect a seasoned pro — that’s a winning idea for the county.

Olga Martin Steele lives in Clearlake Oaks, California.

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