Newly appointed ADDA President Donna McClay opened the event by introducing Lacey and Jackson, as well as LA Weekly's Gene Maddaus, who moderated the debate with a mix of his own questions as well as those submitted by ADDA members.
|ADDA President Donna McClay introduced Lacey and Jackson|
and set the ground rules for the debate, moderated by LA Weekly's Gene Maddaus
As the Los Angeles Times published their account of the debate focused on the topics of most interest to voters, this post will concentrate on candidates' responses that will be of most interest to Deputy District Attorneys.
The first question unsurprisingly challenged the candidates as to how they would change the promotion process. With 290 Grade III Deputy District Attorneys currently eligible for promotion to Grade IV, moderator Gene Maddaus asked why it was that few of that number will actually be promoted?
Lacey answered that question by noting that Grade IV promotions can only be made when current Grade IV's either retire, promote or obtain judicial appointments. Because of the success of the DA's Office in terms of job satisfaction, Grade IV positions rarely open up, thereby limiting promotional opportunities. One change Lacey would implement when making promotions would be to broaden the criteria for promotion. Trial experience has historically been the benchmark criteria for promotion, but Lacey stressed that her administration would recognize those who excel in non-trial assignments.
Lacey went so far as to criticize the practice of promoting trial deputies to management positions, as the qualities that accomplished trial attorneys possess, often makes them a 'difficult fit' for management. Lacey pledged to make those who achieve in 'every segment' of the office eligible for promotion, but cautioned that she was not giving false hopes; ultimately the Board of Supervisors limits the number of Grade IV positions, and so while she would ensure that more DDAs have the opportunity to promote, there was little she could do in terms of increasing the number of promotions. Lacey also promised to increase 'transparency' in the promotion process so that DDAs have a better understanding of how and why promotions are made.
Jackson pledged to increase 'participation' in the promotion process by giving the ADDA the opportunity to provide input in the exam process. Jackson noted that while the Board of Supervisors requires an exam process, the Board does not dictate the content of the exam. The exams are 'onerous,' he said, especially where DDAs in some assignments have a better opportunity to prepare for exams than others who are often 'jammed' with the demands of their particular assignments. It's an indication, perhaps, that Jackson would favor less demanding exams, such as the Grade II exam format, to give all DDAs an equal chance to be considered for promotion.
Relationship with ADDA:
Maddaus stated that it's no secret that the current administration has not enjoyed a good relationship with the ADDA, how would the candidates change that?
Lacey said that once elected, she would want to 'sit down and talk' to the ADDA. She noted that she was the only candidate who has interacted with the ADDA, and that in the past year, she has seen the relationship with the ADDA improve.
Jackson took the opportunity to take a swipe at the administration in response to this question; he believes the relationship is 'broken' and that the ADDA should support his candidacy as one offering 'change.' He said he understood the 'frustration' of the ADDA in being excluded from participation in the assignment, transfer and promotion process. He also referred to the federal injunction and said that it 'has to be gotten rid of.'
Morale in the office:
Maddaus asked what the candidates would do to improve morale in the office?
Jackson rhetorically asked the audience if they would like to have Blackberrys, and noted that while most DDAs have cellphones capable of receiving email, he was confounded by the administration's reluctance to allow DDAs to send and receive office emails on their own smartphones. He also said that he would seek to expand the availability of 9-80.
Lacey's response was to question whether giving DDAs Blackberrys would actually improve morale. She noted that in her experience, giving things like Blackberrys does not improve morale and that in any case, the current budgetary constraints of the Office made that unlikely. Lacey reminded the audience of what she did when, in December of 2000, she became Director of Central Operations. At that time, she noted, there was a long line of DDAs begging to get out of Central Operations. Lacey detailed how she 'got to work' to improve morale by making leadership changes, changing filing and case settlement policies, and improving 'teamwork.'
Lacey stressed that 'it's relationship, not equipment' that improves morale, noting that in her four years as Director of Central Operations, her weekly meetings with managers turned Central Operations around, citing a 15% improvement in jury trial successes and that the line of DDAs seeking to get out of Central soon changed to a line of DDAs seeking assignments in Central. Many in the audience were 'in the trenches' of Central Operations when Lacey took over, and few would disagree that he did indeed improve morale.
'Open Door' policy:
Maddaus commented that it has been said that District Attorney Steve Cooley does not have an 'open door' policy, preferring DDAs to go through a military style chain of command rather than bring their concerns directly to him. Would the candidates change that?
Jackson stated that in his current assignment as Assistant Head Deputy of the Major Crimes Division he has an open door policy and he would continue that as District Attorney.
Lacey said that she had always had an open door policy, and that a number of DDAs routinely 'drop in.' But Lacey also stressed that she also sees the need to empower Head Deputies and others in management to be able to 'handle issues.'
Maddaus asked the candidates what management changes they would make if elected as District Attorney.
Jackson said that he would not make any changes for at least six months, while he evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of the Office. He said he would involve the ADDA in the process of making management changes.
Lacey said that she would make changes, without naming names. She understood that highly accomplished trial attorneys do not necessarily make the best managers, and stressed that as she now has twelve years in management, she already knows what changes need to be made.
Performance Evaluation - Steve Cooley:
Maddaus ended the evening with the six million dollar question; What was the candidates' biggest disagreement with Steve Cooley's management?
Lacey declined to give specifics, however, she did state that she was often put in the position of being the person others would go to with their concerns. 'I'm the one they go to,' she said. They tell her 'You go in there and talk to him.' and she does, and he listens. But, she stressed 'He is the person the people of Los Angeles elected, and he gets to make the call.' Lacey added that she would hope to surround herself with people who will challenge her, she doesn't want 'a bunch of nodding heads.'
Jackson answered the question by criticizing Steve Cooley over his relationship with the ADDA, and in particular with the ADDA's former President Steve Ipsen. Jackson thought it was regrettable that the relationship had deteriorated to the point where lawsuits had been filed, and that he felt that the pending litigation could have been avoided.
In a rare request for rebuttal, Lacey countered that it is always 'tough managing prosecutors' who are, by their very nature 'opinionated and reluctant to concede that they might be wrong.' But on the specific issue of Steve Ipsen, Lacey said that the administration had 'tried its best' to resolve the issues. It just wasn't possible.
The ADDA District Attorney Candidates' Forum ended with Lacey and Jackson shaking hands after what had been a very fast moving 90 minutes, thanks to Gene Maddaus' moderation.
The ADDA's forum provided DDA's with a glimpse of what to expect from their next DA. Whoever wins in November will have a very tough job ahead of them, not only living up to the legacy left by Steve Cooley's record three terms as DA, but also with the very serious budgetary challenges that face the Office and the people of Los Angeles County as we struggle to meet the challenges of realignment.
ADDA President Donna McClay has to be given kudos for what was a tremendously successful and very professionally organized event. It is unfortunate that more DDAs did not attend this event, but she too has a hard task ahead of her to redefine the ADDA's role and relationship with its members. This was a good start.
Former District Attorney Robert Philbosian was in the audience, and with his characteristic brevity of words, he cut to the chase and made his point with two questions; 'How many DDAs are there?' and 'How many were here tonight?' The answers; 1,000+, and about 100.