Wednesday, August 8, 2012

District Attorney candidates Lacey and Jackson trade barbs in bristly DA debate

The LA COPS District Attorney forum scored two firsts Tuesday night; it was the first forum between the two finalists vying to become LA County's next District Attorney, and it was the first forum in which the two veteran prosecutors took shots at each other, instead of Carmen Trutanich, the perennial political pinata.

The forum, hosted by LA COPS, the Los Angeles County Organization of Police and Sheriffs, was moderated by Waren Olney, KCRW's host of Which Way L.A. and To The Point. Olney's calm, wry and somewhat deferential style was soon overshadowed by the clearly combative stance of the challengers, a marked contrast to their  demeanor in previous debates.

Jackie Lacey's opening statement stressed the duality of her 27 year long career at the DA's Office; the first half, she said, was as a front-line prosecutor trying cases in the trenches including the Office's first successful prosecution of a hate crime - a Nazi Low-rider who murdered an African American victim.

 The second half of her career, one that has seen her rise through the ranks to the number two position in the office, gives her 'the most relevant experience' to be DA, she said. Lacey stressed the way her management style had boosted morale in the post-OJ Simpson depressed Central Trials era. That clearly struck a chord with the many Deputy DAs in the audience who remembered the way that Lacey's breakfast buffets and street-named corridors had raised spirits and reinvigorated the sense of camaraderie in the trenches.

But it was Alan Jackson who drew first blood in his responding opening statement, setting the tone for the remainder of the debate. Jackson stressed an 18-year career which saw him 'write the book' on gang prosecutions during his tenure as a Hardcore Gang prosecutor in South Central. Jackson's successes lead him to rise through the ranks to be Assistant Head Deputy in the prestigious Major Crimes Division and it's a 'distinction,' he said, that qualifies him to be the leader of the DA's Office because he is a prosecutor rather than 'an administrator who has not set foot in a courtroom in twelve years,' he said. 

Jackson's vitriolic attack had the 120+ audience on the edge of their seats throughout most of the hour and a half debate which saw Lacey respond by repeatedly assailing Jackson's naivety and lack of management experience. Lacey tore into Jackson saying it was 'demeaning' to portray her as an 'administrator.' Lacey ridiculed the attack by contrasting Jackson's assertion as equating to 'the managing partner of Latham & Watkins' being 'an administrator.'

The 'prosecutor versus administrator' theme permeated the remainder of the debate and appears to be the way that Jackson sees himself as being the more qualified candidate, while Lacey's response to was to challenge Jackson for not understanding the lack of resources for his solutions to the challenges presented by Assembly Bill 109; the bizarrely named 'realignment' that currently dumps convicted felons on the streets of Los Angeles without supervision.

While Jackson's proposal for protecting public safety from the very real dangers of 'realignment' centers on outsourcing costly incarceration to neighboring states such as Arizona and Texas, Lacey sees the solution as being a more concerted effort to hold Governor Brown to his promise to give the County of Los Angeles the financial resources he originally promised, so that the problem can be tackled within the state.

Both candidates agreed on their opposition to Proposition 34; a ballot initiative to repeal the death penalty. Notwithstanding their agreement, Lacey noted that Jackson had previously not been so unequivocal in his comments to the LA Times. Jackson responded by pointing out that in his most recent prosecution he had unequivocally sought and obtained a death penalty conviction. Lacey responded by indicating that it was her chairmanship of the Death Penalty Committee that gave Jackson the authorization to prosecute the case as a death penalty case.

Lacey and Jackson differed as to their support for Proposition 36, an initiative that will see DA Steve Cooley's policy on Third Strike prosecutions become statewide law. Jackson opposes Prop 36 because it denies prosecutors the discretion to pursue a 25-to-life sentence in appropriate non-violent third-strike offenses. Lacey countered by saying that if Jackson had management experience he would know that it takes written approval to seek a 25-to-life sentence in such cases, and few, if any, have been sought or granted. Lacey criticized Jackson for saying that he approves of Steve Cooley's policy, but is reluctant to share that policy on a statewide basis.

When it came to Medical Marijuana, both candidates agreed that under City Attorney Carmen Trutanich's tenure, the City of Los Angeles had 'lost control' of limiting the number of dispensaries in the city, noting that there were now more dispensaries in Los Angeles than Starbucks. Lacey claimed the credit for encouraging the Federal authorities to intervene and enforce the law. But while Lacey stated her position that state (and federal) law prohibited any dispensary from engaging in 'over the counter' sales, Jackson seemed inclined to accept that over the counter sales were permissible as long as they were 'not for profit.' It's a fine distinction and one that seemed to have garnered Jackson the endorsement of 'Weed Tracker,' a web-based medical marijuana advocacy group.

Relations with the nascent Deputy District Attorney's union, the ADDA, also saw both candidates committing to a less troubled relationship, however, while Jackson promised to 'clear the decks,' Lacey questioned how he would achieve that. Lacey pointed out that she had been actively meeting and working with the ADDA, while Jackson had not joined the organization until forced to do so under the ADDA obtained 'Agency Shop' status. Lacey also countered Jackson's accusations of 'union busting' by reminding the audience that she has the endorsement of almost every organized labor group in Los Angeles, something she would not have if the 'union busting' accusation had any merit. Lacey added that the ADDA had, in fact, voluntarily dismissed her from their lawsuit against the DA's Office.

The hour and a half debate passed quickly and left little time for questions from the audience. Both candidates gave short closing statements, with Jackson going first. Perhaps underlying Jackson's ability to state the obvious in a disarming fashion, he thanked LA COPS and the audience for allowing a 'very robust discussion.' Jackson reminded the audience that it was Lacey who had once stated that if she was faced with one of those 'nightmare' decisions as to how to prosecute a case, she would call on Alan Jackson for the answer. He concluded by saying that given all the problems and challenges faced by the DA's office it was 'time for someone with a spine of steel.'

Lacey's closing contained something of a bombshell. She stressed her qualifications by reminding the audience that she had many significant endorsements including the LA Times and Steve Cooley, and then she added that she also had the endorsement of State Attorney General Kamala Harris. It was, of course, Harris who defeated Steve Cooley in his bid to become Attorney General, and it probably presents something of a first to have the dual endorsements of Cooley and Harris given their prior relationship. Lacey also stood by her choice of Jackson for the 'nightmare' case saying he was a good trial lawyer, but that was not the qualification for DA. For that, she said, 'you need someone without an ego.'

For more on what was undoubtedly a 'spirited' debate, see the LA Times and KPCC reports.

Also, ABC Ch 7 News carried this report in their nightly news.



Anonymous said...

This description of the debate is not totally accurate. Jackson focused on the issues and his own qualifications while Lacey handled the questions poorly and repeatedly resorted to personal attacks against him -- calling him naive, inexperienced, etc. Jackson never called Lacey names and certainly was not the one to draw first blood.

Second, Jackson has always advocated for a comprehensive approach to deal with realignment that includes a renewed focus on alternative sentencing, enhanced monitoring, and, as one component, permitting the county to contract with out-of-state facilities, should the need arise. The LA Times has already reported that LA County is considering doing exactly that -- they've written articles about Baca's efforts to transfer inmates to facilities in Kern County, among others. And since we need to ensure that LA receives the appropriate funding under realignment, I would much rather have that effort led by the office's most talented and effective advocate - Alan Jackson - rather than a mediocre and relatively obscure deputy DA like Lacey who just happened to latch onto Cooley's coatstrings when he first ran for DA.

Finally, Lacey sounds more like a kindergarten teacher than the District Attorney. Her idea of "leadership" is breakfast buffets and street-named corridors? Seriously? Meanwhile, Jackson's idea of leadership is to prosecute gang crimes in Compton for 5.5 years and then use his experiences to write the manual on prosecuting gang crimes that is used by this office and many others across the country.

I predict that after last night, Lacey will be too scared to get onstage and debate Jackson again.

Anonymous said...

Jackson came across as mean-spirited and I thought it was a low blow to use the low blood sugar thing. Trying to call Jackie a union buster is also dishonest. AJ knows very well that the problem is not with unions, it's with the ADDA crazies who have hijacked the ADDA for their own purposes. Jackie won my vote last night, and I suspect the votes of many viewers based on her response to AJ's attacks.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Jackson's managerial credentials, he is inexperienced.

Regarding Jackson's policy proposals, he is naive.

He won't win with TV commercials showing him signing papers in a fake courtroom.

Anonymous said...

AJ must have had a low blood sugar moment to come out of the box swinging at Lacey. It is way too early to start a negative campaign, he will run out of material in a month. The clever move would have been to wait until a couple of weeks before the election and THEN attack. Lacey is no Trutanich, with loads of missteps, 'f'ups and lies. There was only one card to play, the union busting changed testimony card, and AJ played it. He should have waited instead of giving Lacey a chance to respond. Now AJ is looking like an angry white guy and Lacey is looking like a victim. How could AJ get it so wrong? I guess that's the inexperience that Lacey was talking about.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Carmen the Clown, it seems that you freaked him out about it being National Clown Week, so he is not going to announce the stat studded line up of his reelection committee until next week. The official reason for the delay is that his mother is still unwell.

Anonymous said...

8:40pm you need to keep in mind that with SEIU and Longshoreman endorsements in Lacey's pocket, the "union-busting" card is going to look like a deuce, not an ace. It doesn't help that the past two ADDA presidents have embarrassing scandals to their names. Alan is a good guy with serious policy positions that make him better than Jackie. He would do well to avoid "slumming" with lowlifes.

Anonymous said...

10:27PM So true. As soon as Alan started talking about the ADDA lawsuit he made himself look like one of the crazies. The ADDA lawsuit is falling apart like a cheap suit according to the Met News. Judge Anne Jones has already thrown out a previous ADDA 'Victory' over PE reports, and the scandal about certain ADDA Board Members having ex-parte communications with the ERCOM hearing officer will almost certainly result in the union busting 'Victory' going down the crapper too. Jackson is clearly completely out of touch with ADDA issues and needs to brush up on what is really going on. It is very different from the BS that the ADDA is putting out. Another sigh of inexperience I suppose.

Anonymous said...

For the record, the moderator asked Lacey the question about her committing perjury and trying to bust up the ADDA and then blaming her low blood sugar. Lacey pathetically fumbled her response, and then AJ was given a chance to respond to Lacey's confused ramblings. It was the moderator, not AJ, that brought all of that up.

Besides, if Lacey wants to be the DA, she has to learn how to deal with tough questions about her propensity to lie under oath and to abuse her power within the office by threatening to retaliate against other DAs. It sounds more and more like Lacey is playing the Trutanich card - that is, thinking she's too special and too powerful to be expected to answer inconvenient questions about her record.

Anonymous said...

10:10am I didn't go to the forum/debate. I did hear the audio on KPFK. They didn't play the portion of the exchange where the issue was raised. They did play Alan's comments, which were rather harsh and accusatory.
You're right, Jackie needs to be more direct. But - just my two cents - we all need to remember that this is an all DDA candidate field. Thiis election is quite an intramural struggle.
The vitriol in the discussion is troubling. I remember the same vitriol back in 2000 when Cooley beat Garcetti. Nothing good comes of it. Cooley wound up adopting a management style that actually motivated DDA's to form a union (way to go). Then the guys involved with that outfit got so frothy with vengeance that they managed to meander from one screw up to another.
We (in the office) need to keep in mind that we all need to work with each other. We need to get along with each other. Regardless of who wins, we're all still DDA's the day after the election.

Anonymous said...

Such a shame that Carmen Trutanich failed to make it into the run off. He would have been such easy prey for either of the real DAs in this forum. Instrad we had to witness the two of them attacking each other and dredging up the old ADDA crap that never had any merit at all. What Lacey was guilty of, make no mistake, was trying to save a friend from ruining his career by associating with a bunch of self-serving malcontents who make a career out of being under-performing failures. If Jackson was right about one thing it is the need to clear the decks - clear out the ADDA crazies who do nothing but embarrass the office and sacrifice the interests of the rank and file for their own self interests. AJ gets my vote if he stays true to his word to clear the decks of the ADDA dross.