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.