Monday, November 9, 2009

How to Judge a District Attorney

[Note: I revised the last two paragraphs to update facts relating to Vahid Hosseini's prosecution.]

Shouldn't the main factors used to judge a D.A.'s success be 1) winning trials; 2) managing costs, i.e. winning cases without overspending taxpayer monies; 3) not prosecuting unwarranted cases; and 4) promoting settlement when non-violent crimes, such as drug possession, are involved?

On these four factors, where is the evidence that Santa Clara County D.A. Dolores Carr has failed? Where is the evidence that challenger Jeff Rosen will do a better job than Attorney Carr on these four factors? [Update: at this point, I had not met Mr. Rosen. Having met Mr. Rosen, I can tell you that he seems very motivated to bring a new culture to the D.A.'s office.]

I don't have a dog in the D.A. race, but I am curious why the SJ Mercury dislikes Attorney Carr so much. Scott Herhold, one of my favorite local columnists, trashed her in a recent column. See here. He also wrote, "I personally like to think I'm near the top of her enemies list." (Wow.)

I know Attorney Carr's husband was involved in an ethics issue, but I haven't heard of the D.A.'s office botching any major cases (Maybe I've missed something--and I consider the DeAnza case to be more of a tragedy than a missed opportunity to prosecute). I know prosecutor Benjamin T. Field allegedly committed ethical violations, but that wasn't necessarily Attorney Carr's fault.

Bottom line: the legal profession is monolithic enough as it is. District Attorneys tend to be hyper-aggressive, egotistical men with Superman complexes. (See here for further explanation.) I like the idea of having a female D.A., even though I realize gender has nothing to do with competence. Plus, I don't know much about challenger Jeff Rosen, and it seems to me that the devil you know is better than the devil you don't.

At the same time, I am a harshly judgmental voter. Some readers may remember that the Santa Clara County D.A.'s office transferred the prosecution of Vahid Hosseini's alleged killers to the state AG's Office (Attorney Geoff Lauter?). The D.A.'s office may have transferred the case to avoid making Attorney Carr the centerpiece of an "O.J. Simpson, 'local law enforcement is corrupt'" defense strategy. If, however, the AG's Office fails to convict the killer and his alleged accomplices, I may vote against the incumbent D.A. Is that unfair, given that Attorney Carr's office is no longer responsible for the Vahid Hosseini case? Perhaps. But to me and many others, not putting Vahid Hosseini's killer(s) in jail would be a monumental failure worthy of widespread blame.

[Update on November 10, 2009: One person has questioned my comments regarding the transfer of the Vahid Hosseini case. Apparently, Attorney Carr's office would not have had to transfer the case to the AG if the Mercury News hadn't raised issues about a possible conflict with Attorney Carr's husband being hired by Mrs. Hosseini's civil lawyer. (Mrs. Hosseini hired Attorney Carr's husband to investigate protocols used by bank security personnel in a separate civil lawsuit.) In short, Attorney Carr may have transferred the Hosseini case not because she had to do so, but because she wished to avoid the appearance of impropriety.]

Updates on June 22, 2010 and April 7, 2011: Mr. Rosen won the D.A.'s race by a razor-thin margin. More here on his swearing-in ceremony and an important change in the prosecution's procedures.


lowbludsugah said...

I generally agree with and applaud your post. One problem: You talk about assuming Carr's referral of the Hosseini case to the State AG's Office was to avoid the Simpson effect, etc.

In fact, it was because of the Mercury News and their designated candidate's allegations of conflict because Carr's retired-cop husband was hired by Mrs. Hosseini's attorney on the civil side of the case to determine whether or not the bank security people used proper protocols.

Carr passed the case on to the AG only because she felt she whould have asked her husband not to take this job (for which he gave the money back), and her desire to avoid any appearance of impropriety even at personal and professional costs.

Don't vote against her--she is an upright human being who, as you pointed out, has proven herself time and time again. Rosen, who Mrs. Hosseini won't even talk to because of her dislike for him and his tactics, is in my view a self-serving jerk. Allowing him to sit in the DA's chair would be a seat-soiling of classic proportions.
November 10, 2009 1:16 AM

Anonymous said...

I will add that I agree with you about Hosseini's killer(s). Given the impoverished state of our prison system these days, I think that after their convictions, they should be marinated in a vat filled with a slow-acting but deeply painful and inevitably deadly acid bath. They so needlessly ended a fine and valuable human life who had brought and given so much to so many. They created so much sadness and loss in its wake. And I apologize for not saying here what I really think should be done to them.