Sunday Commentary: Attack Piece Targets Johansson for Being a Public Defender

Does Reisig Not Support the Right to Counsel or Public Defense?

The most telling aspect of the attack mailer that came out on this week was its source – “Paid for by Jeff Reisig for Yolo County District Attorney.”  Jeff Reisig cannot hide this time by claiming this was a third party piece.

For those wondering about the state of this race, the fact that three weeks before the election Jeff Reisig put out an attack mailer, with his own name on it, speaks volumes about how the three-term incumbent views this race.

The remarkable aspect of this mailer is that it doubles down on all of the third party attacks on Dean Johansson.

  • Was terminated “with cause” by the Tulare County District Attorney’s office in 1997 after allegations of “falsifying documents, lying, distributing confidential information…”
  • “Don’t talk to the police,” he warned as the keynote speaker at a local anarchist rally… “Police are trained to lie”
  • Now defends child molesters, rapists and other violent criminals as a long-time defense attorney.
  • Vows to reduce the number of jury trials, a cornerstone of our justice system
  • Supports law allowing those convicted of raping an unconscious person, human trafficking and domestic violence to be released early from prison
  • Refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance
  • Supported law making the crimes of theft of a gun and possession of a date rape drug less serious

It then notes “Johansson was investigated for domestic violence against his children” and republishes the 11-year-old police report we believe has been unlawfully leaked to the public.

We have already addressed the so-called scandals and in a way this is good – it means that Mr. Reisig is owning these allegations.  He cannot hide behind the fact that third parties have fired these attack ads.

While we have already addressed the situations that led to Mr. Johansson’s termination over 20 years ago, the police report from 11 years ago and the pledge of allegiance, I think the most appalling allegation is the third one listed: “Now defends child molesters, rapists and other violent criminals as a long-time defense attorney.”

I find this an appallingly cynical attack against a man whose job it is to protect the poor and those unable to afford their own counsel.

Jeff Reisig is, in fact, attacking two of the fundamental cornerstones of our criminal justice.  First, the presumption of innocence.  Every person who is accused of a crime in our criminal justice is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law or, perhaps more often, until they waive their right to that presumption by entering into a plea agreement.

Under the Fifth Amendment to the constitution, “No person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”

Under the Sixth Amendment, “The accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed…  and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

Under the landmark 1963 Supreme Court Decision Gideon v. Wainwright, the court held the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of counsel to be a “fundamental right” that is essential to the right to a fair trial, and is applied to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Justice Hugo Black, writing for the majority in a unanimous decision, stated that “reason and reflection require us to recognize that in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.”

He would add that the “noble ideal” of “fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law . . . cannot be realized if the poor man charged with a crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.”

The EFFECTIVE assistance of counsel is seen as a fundamental right embodied within our constitution.

As a deputy public defender, Dean Johansson and others in our criminal justice system are providing the constitutional duty to defend the accused in a court of law.  And render not only legal assistance, but “effective legal counsel.”

Dean Johansson does not choose his clients.  According to Public Defender Tracie Olson’s presentation in front of the Board of Supervisors, the Yolo County Public Defender’s Office represents clients in 81 percent of all criminal matters in Yolo County.  It stands to reason that among those will be people who are ultimately convicted of horrible crimes in a court of law.

But in order to defend innocent people, they must defend everyone.

As Ms. Olson wrote in column in the Vanguard to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wainwright decision, “‘How do you sleep at night doing what you do?’  This question is typically asked by the person who can’t fathom actually needing a public defender for himself, a family member, or a friend.  However, when something goes wrong in one of their lives, we are the first ones they call – and it’s only then that they truly understand.”

But that is precisely what Jeff Reisig is attacking Dean Johansson for doing – his job, in fact, his constitutional duty to defend the rights of the accused until and unless they are found guilty in a court of law.  Lord know there have been enough people even in this county who have be wrongly convicted of crimes, including those under the watch of this district attorney.

Jeff Reisig should not be attacking Dean Johansson for doing his job.  That is a below the belt blow that aims at the very fabric of our criminal justice system.  Does Mr. Reisig really not believe in due process of law?  Does he really not believe in the right to effective assistance of counsel?  Does he believe that the court was wrong in Gideon?  Or is he simply trying to cynically manipulate the public in this respect?

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Ken A

    I’m wondering if the guy that runs “Yolo Leaks” can tell us the difference between something that is “lawfully leaked to the public” and something that is “unlawfully leaked to the public” (my guess is that the real answer is that anything that shows people that Yolo Leaks supports kicking their kids would be an “unlawful” leak while a leak showing people Yolo Leaks does not like kicking their kids would not only be a “lawful” leak but would be the subject of a half dozen different Vanguard stories”…

      1. David Greenwald

        There are only two people that could have lawfully disseminated the police report. Both of them directly told me that they never even had a copy of the police report in the first place, didn’t know it even existed, and didn’t send it to anyone. I have eliminated the Davis POlice Department as a possible source, therefore the only place it could have come from was the DA’s office which would represent an abuse of power.

  2. Eric Gelber

    Reisig’s attack ad is headed “Character Matters.” Indeed it does. The ad says far more about Mr. Reisig’s character then it does about Mr. Johansson’s. Reisig clearly lacks the character to continue as the most powerful figure in the county’s criminal justice system.

  3. Tia Will

    There are many important points here. What I see as most importance is Mr. Reisig’s disregard for our constitutional rights, but also his portrayal of what Mr. Johansson said as untrue.

    Starting with the latter:

    1. He quotes Mr.Johnasson as saying “Don’t talk to the police”

    It is our constitutional right to not speak with the police without a lawyer present. Is Mr.Reisig suggesting that people should not be informed of this right?

    “The police are trained to lie”. This is a factual statement according to information provided by the Citizen’s Academy sponsored and in part presented by Mr. Reisig himself. So why is he including a truthful statement as a negative when pointed out by Mr. Johansson?

    2.”Now defends child molesters, rapists and other violent criminals as a long-time defense attorney.”

    Is Mr. Reisig suggesting that being a public defender is not an honorable job? Is he unconstitutionally suggesting that accused ( not convicted, but accused) individuals should not have a right to representation? Or is he suggesting that everyone in the role of public defender is somehow morally objectionable?

    3. “Vows to reduce the number of jury trials, a cornerstone of our justice system”

    I am unaware of any magic perfect number of jury trials. Mr. Reisig’s comparative rate of acquittals would suggest that he has not found that optimal number. If a more just solution can be found outside of the cumbersome, time and money consuming trial system, would we not want to explore other options?

    4. “Refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance”

    I fail to see any relevance of this choice to the position of DA. Is Mr.Reisig suggesting that Mr.Johansson’s religious choice should be surrendered in order to fulfill the position of DA? Does he believe that everyone’s religious practice should conform to his own?

    Everyone who has read any of my comments knows that I favor Dean Johansson in this race. Until now, my concerns have been about Mr. Reisig’s actual job performance. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt with regard to the “hit pieces” against Mr. Johansson. It was conceivable that he was not the source of the negative campaigning. This campaign piece has, as David has pointed out, done away with that possibility. The question I would pose to anyone who remains undecided is: do we support a DA who does not appear to respect and possibly would not adhere to the principles of our founding documents?

    1. David Greenwald

      One other thing on the Flag Salute – the irony is if you watch the video – he is standing, he has hand on his heart, and it appears he doesn’t move his lips. That’s what they are talking about it.

      1. Howard P

        Yeah, the “pledge thing” is so lame… Johansson showed respect… he took an oath of office similar to the Governor, and the President of the United States… he has not disawowed that…

        1. Ken A

          I agree with Howard that the “pledge thing” is lame and would be happy if I never have to hear (or pretend to care about) the pledge ever again.  With that said there are still some conservatives (even here in Yolo County) that get bent out of shape if people don’t go to church every Sunday (or wear white after Labor Day) there are a LOT of people that consider the “pledge thing” a big deal…

  4. Tia Will

    I have included this opinion piece for your consideration, not because I know who factually committed these murders, but because I see it as a graphic example of why a vigorous defense is the right of all accused. The very suggestion that someone might be unfit for the job of prosecutor because they currently hold the job of public defender is repugnant and as Eric pointed out, says much more about the character of Jeff Reisig than it does about the character of Dean Johansson.

  5. PhilColeman

    We’ve had Riesig criticized for performing the duties of his role. Virtually all critics have no idea or appreciation of the complexity of his role, or the limitations and constraints of his assigned duties. Most of the criticisms were categorically untrue, half-true, distorted, or irrelevant. He’s been charged with neglect and indifference for matters for which he has no authority, responsibility, or resources to address.

    Now we have his opponent being similarly attached for doing his job and those assertions meet the same disgusting standard of propriety and relevance. Johanssen’s critics don’t know (or ignore) the limitations he must accept and endure to perform his sworn duties to the public. He can’t rationally be blamed for every crime committed in Yolo County.  But his critics can imply that he is.

    In so many ways, these bitter opponents are actually kindred spirits, being attached with the same sharp sword by persons who also share something: judgment seriously flawed with personal prejudice and ideology that has little or nothing to do with the office being sought.




    1. David Greenwald

      I appreciate most of Phil’s post – I will point out however that Reisig has a much greater amount of discretion over what cases to try and what to charge them with than Johansson has description on what cases to take and who to defend.  Johansson has basically no control – particularly as a deputy public defender.  Reisig has almost full discretion.  And frankly it is that discretion that is what this entire election is based on – the question for the voters will be the degree to which they prefer the status quo charging policies to a reform agenda.

  6. PhilColeman

    “And frankly it is that discretion that is what this entire election is based on  . . .”

    Frankness, sometimes comes at a cost. If we are to base the entire election on the exercise of discretion, consider the following: The DA challenger has no history of exercising any discretion in the public sector at the executive level.

    All of Johanssen’s public service has been in a subordinate (deputy) position. Riesig has many years exercising his discretion in a high public profile environment.  Johansson has none, he can only promise.



    1. Matt Williams

      Phil, many in March and April many NFL football teams had a choice between (1) Nick Foles, who had just led my beloved Philadelphia Eagles to victory in Super Bowl LII, and (2) any one of four college quarterbacks who had no history of leading a NFL team at all, much less to a Super Bowl win.  Foles has many years/seasons successfully quarterbacking NFL teams … the four college quarterbacks have none, they can only show promise.

      In March and April, promise was chosen over experience four times out of four.

      1. Ken A

        Matt if most NFL teams picked young college players who had only played on the defensive squads for their new quarterbacks (and if NFL quarterbacks were not forced to retire decades before a the typical DA) you would have a point…

  7. Tia Will

    The DA challenger has no history of exercising any discretion in the public sector at the executive level.”

    This was equally true of Jeff Reisig when he first assumed the position of DA in 2007. It appears that did not disqualify him in the eyes of his supporters.

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