Robert “Bobby” Grace
Jacquelyn “Jackie” Lacey
Photo Credit: BRIAN CARTER
The editorial board of the Sentinel spoke with four of the candidates who are vying to be next district attorney of Los Angeles County. Here’s what they had to say …
What makes you the best candidate for district attorney?
I think my entire life has prepared me for this position. In the district attorney’s office, I have done every job except sweep the floor. I’ve done zoning enforcement cases, I’ve prosecuted cases where an officer has been assaulted, I’ve prosecuted a serial child molester, I have had eleven murder cases. I prosecuted the first hate crime murder case based on race.
I’m a twenty-three year veteran of the DA’s office, where I prosecuted over 40 homicide cases. I’m running for L.A. County District attorney because it’s clear that we’ve come to a point in our criminal justice system where we need a manager who has the foresight to get on board with criminal justice planning.
Here you have a lifelong resident of Los Angeles County who has always been interested in the county, who has worked, volunteered and voted consistently in county. I have the experience, the education and the qualifications to head the office.
My experience in this race brings me right to this spot. I’ve tried civil cases and criminal cases. I’ve run a big office. I’ve made a payroll, personally. I’ve run a big law office in the city of L.A. I’ve been under funded in my budget and haven’t laid a soul off.
What general changes would you make in the way the DA’s office is run at present?
I want to expand alternative sentencing. We don’t have enough money to send people to jail wholesale and it’s wrong to send people to jail for being mentally ill. There is a significant population of African Americans who are suffering from undiagnosed, untreated mental illness and they get arrested and sent into the criminal justice system.
I would like to see the DA’s office modernized. We’re still in the dark ages in the sense of how we spend money. I would like to cut costs so that we spend money on more rehabilitation programs.
What I would like to see is the DA office working together with schools and local community groups.
I’d like to address truancy in the county, which is a linchpin in our economy. If you’ve got upwards of 40 percent of kids who are dropouts or truant, they’re not going to graduate. They’re not going to be employable, meaning they’re not going to be creating or able to take the jobs that will get the county back on track.
One big area I would change is mismanagement. I would definitely not get in the way of employees trying to exercise their collective bargaining rights. That’s been where this particular current administration has paid out a lot of money for trying to stop employees from that.
You have to lift morale in the office. We have to stop the constant retaliation.
They just paid a settlement of 450,000 dollars. At the end of the day the county of Los Angeles will have paid several million dollars as a result of Steve Cooley and his top administrators violating folks. I would make changes on how we promote and transfer people.
Right now there is no criteria. People get upset when they live close to the airport then all of a sudden they’re transferred for no apparent reason to the valley.
I’ve heard that union people (in the DA’s office) have been singled out. That starts at the very, very top. The county of Los Angeles has paid out thousands of dollars to people who have had their union rights trampled on by the existing management in this office. At the end of the day, that cannot happen.
When you do things like that, you’re creating a ‘them and us’ [situation]. And, if you say something, you end up getting transferred to some place you don’t want to be. That will not happen on my watch.
What is your position on AB 109? (Governor sending prisoners from state to county to alleviate overcrowding)
I agree that California needed the change.
I believe at one point the prisons were at 230 percent their capacity, which is inhumane.
What I disagree with is how quickly he thrust this responsibility onto the county. [AB 109] was passed in less than a day; I think it only took four or five hours. When we got the law, it took a team of lawyers a month to figure out what it was about.
I also think if the governor was going to shift all of these people over here, where is the money? You can’t just give us the problems of the state without giving us the money. And the money has not arrived. [Governor Jerry Brown] is counting on you guys voting for the tax increase in November.
The federal government stepped in and said that we’ve got to reduce the number of people in the jails. I’m all for that but it should not have been done in the manner it was done. It should have been done with careful planning by all of what I call the justice partners: the judges, prosecutors, the defense bar and law enforcement.
We need to have a clear direction on how many people are we going to be able to house in the local jails, how many can we put on house arrest or work release. How much money are we going to be able to get from the state that will go to the local areas for drug rehabilitation programs and job training? To have all of these pieces working together is the only way it will work.
I agree that non-violent offenders should not be in the Department of Corrections because there’s no real rehabilitation there. I think we’re better equipped at the local level if they give us the money at the local level to (help them).
I think that the majority of people who commit crimes have drug problems. Lets try to educate people and rehabilitate the people we can get to. You’re not going to get to the serial rapist with education and rehabilitation but you can get to people who are addicted to drugs or who have mental health issues.
I think it’s a good idea. I think it’s too little too late. I think there’s more that can be done.
Last year the governor took two billion dollars from the state education fund. I don’t want two billion back. I want a hundred million, that’s five percent. But don’t give it back to school districts.
Give it back to the superintendent of public schools for one reason and one reason only. Every day, every kid in every school for thirty minutes should learn life skills (like) the value of an education, the value of staying out of gangs, the value of making good decisions.
If we start at pre K basically when they are blank sheets of paper, by the time they reach 9th grade that’s a thousand hours of life skills training. Our prison population will go down just on the basis of education. We need to start thinking that way as a society if we’re going to fix this crime problem.
What is your position on the Death Penalty? Can it be reformed?
I think the biggest fear, morally, of the death penalty is that we do not want to execute the wrong person. I think we need checks and balances in place. Under my administration, (the DA’s) office would make absolutely sure the evidence points to the right person.
One of the reforms we have to do is streamline the appeals process. It suffers from a lack of training for lawyers to handle those appeals. Although I’m a prosecutor who has been on the side of seeking justice by seeking the death penalty, I believe everybody has the right to a fair trial.
I don’t think the answer is to do away with the death penalty because I believe after looking at some cases that it’s just the appropriate punishment.
I do not have a moral objection to the death penalty. But, to be honest with you, the death penalty is not working in the state of California.
We’re spending millions of dollars on a system that’s broken. The death penalty cannot be reformed. It takes 5 to 7 years for anybody on death row to get an appellate lawyer. I’m in favor of the safe initiative coming up in November that says there will no longer be a death penalty but life without the possibility of parole.
Reform would be talking about how to get lawyers to these people more quickly and that’s going to take hundreds of millions of dollars to get done when you already have a nineteen million dollar deficit.
Of course, you know the initiative, which will hit the November ballot… I am voting for that initiative. I’m not morally opposed to the death penalty. There are certain crimes that to me, society can say, ‘you know what, that person is just bad.’
So, my idea is that if the initiative doesn’t pass then there are 22 death qualifiers in California. I think that five encompass the worst of the worst. Those are multiple murders, prior murders, the torture and rape of a child, killing a judge, police officer or witness or robbery murder.
The others can sit in jail for the rest of their lives. That’s [essentially] what’s going on now. The appellate process takes about 25 or 26 years. That’s costly to the taxpayers. It’s less costly to have life without the possibility of parole. For example, a death row inmate has to have a single cell as opposed to housing multiple criminals in one cell.
I don’t think that system is going to be reformed because there are too many people on death row. You have 700 folks and a limited source of lawyers who can take on the appellate process.
I know that people want the death penalty to be done away with. I know it’s very expensive. But then you see guys like (serial killer) Rodney Alcala who are animals. Just knowing that they have to wake up every morning, thinking that someone’s going to pull the plug on them, for me that’s okay.
My criteria would be that [their guilt] has to be absolute.
I would ask the governor to convene a committee on reform. I would ask the county of Los Angeles to be able to appoint a number of people to it. I would seek the appointment of lawyers from the D.A.’s office who handle death penalty (cases).
If elected, what can L.A. County residents expect from you as D.A?
What they get in me is a woman who understands that people are human, who has come from the Crenshaw district. I’m an ordinary woman attempting to do an extraordinary thing. I think I am the kind of person you need.
I’m not ego driven. I understand my place in the world. I understand that the criminal justice system needs someone who can make tough decisions, who can look people in the eye and tell them the truth. I’m here to serve.
They can expect that I will protect the safety of Los Angeles County’s 10 million residents, which is the district attorney’s primary responsibility. I will never have to apologize how I handle the administration of justice. People won’t have to knock on my door or hold a protest to make sure we are holding people accountable for doing what they’re supposed to do.
They’ll never have to worry about me making sure that thorough investigations are being done within the county of Los Angeles. They should know that I’m the most innovative candidate in terms of having a policy for managing resources and having a clear policy for criminal justice management.
I have a new vision for the office and that vision is that we’re honest and uniform in how we prosecute crimes. The guy in Compton who commits a crime is going to get the same thing as the guy in the valley. Additionally, access to justice is sorely lacking because courts are closing.
I have a broad perspective on that because not only have I dealt with criminal justice; I’ve dealt in the civil system as well. Many folks have civil disputes and theirs are just as important as criminal disputes but criminal takes precedence over civil. I want people to know that I get that.
If you’ve got a million dollar claim against your employer, you want that litigated.
I’ll be honest, I’ll be fair, I’ll be just. My door will always be open. I will continue to meet with the community. I will go where I’m invited. I will talk about my decisions openly.
I’ll give the community what they don’t have now, which are an open forum and an opportunity to confront me and talk to me about decisions that we make.
The Los Angeles Sentinel thank the members of the editorial board: Attorneys Areva Martin and NAACP’s Leon Jenkins; Denise Hunter of FAME Dev. Corp; Rev. Eric Lee of SCLC; Joy Childs, L. A. WattsTimes contributing writer; Brandon Brooks Ass’t. managing editor of the Sentinel; and Yussuf J. Simmonds, managing editor of the Sentinel.