During the campaign for Yolo County District Attorney in 2018 that Jeff Reisig won by a surprisingly narrow margin, he and his supporters played up the progressive achievements of the district attorney.
His chief deputy, Jonathan Raven, for instance called Mr. Reisig “a visionary who is constantly looking for innovative and progressive ways to best serve the public.”
The Enterprise in endorsing him wrote: “Despite efforts by those opposed to him to portray him as something that he is not, Reisig is, in fact, one of the most progressive district attorneys in the state.”
The reality is that wasn’t true in May 2018 and it is definitely not true now.
When Chesa Boudin was elected district attorney in San Francisco two weeks ago, he announced a transition team that brought together some of the leaders on the forefront of progressive reform in the state.
That included James Bell, the president and founder of the Burns Institute, a group dedicated to building equity in the justice system. Also included was Kate Chatfield, who helped to draft SB 1437 – felony murder reform. And Anne Irwin, the founder and director of Smart Justice California. Among many others.
While Chesa Boudin brought in the drafter of SB 1437 to help guide his transition, Jeff Reisig actively opposed SB 1437.
Last year it was Yolo DA Jeff Reisig, Sac DA Anne Marie Schubert and the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) that “called on Gov. Jerry Brown to veto the bills that would rewrite laws on felony murder and how juveniles under 16 suspected of homicide and other serious crimes are tried and sentenced.”
The California District Attorneys Association said the two bills – 1437 and 1391 – go too far.
Sean Hoffman, legislative director of CDAA, told senators on the public safety committee that, while “we recognize that there’s room for discussion on this concept of some level of reduced liability for individuals who are not the actual killer or major participant in one of these offenses,” the group still had problems with the bill.
Chief among them: that foreclosing the possibility of charging with murder for “those who are not the killer or a major participant” in the crime would not be in the interest of public safety.
And, as we know this week, the DAs across the state, including in Yolo County, continue to legally challenge 1437 – and that challenge has continued despite the fact that both the AGs office and the 4th District Court of Appeals have rejected their arguments.
In fact, Jeff Reisig’s office has continued to oppose SB 1437 even after the 4th District Court of Appeals ruling that SB 1437 was constitutional.
Last week, Yolo County Deputy DA Ryan Couzens – a supervisor in Jeff Reisig’s office and a leading lieutenant in his campaign last year, pushed back during a 1437 hearing arguing that, while AB 991 was unanimously passed as clean up language for SB 1437, “SB 1437 was never legitimately passed in the first place.”
He noted that while the 4th District ruling is binding on the rest of the state, the 3rd District Court also has it “under submission” and “if the (Yolo) court rules that it’s constitutional, they would seek a writ on that and stay the proceedings.”
Compare that to a ruling from Placer County where the judge there ruled: “Not only is this court bound to follow the decision of a higher court on the issues presented here, this court finds the reasoning of the higher court to be a valid and a proper interpretation of the law.”
That judge was retired Placer County Judge Richard Couzens, a retired judge who came back to rule on the SB 1437 case where he had been the trial judge.
To make matters even more ironic, Judge Couzens is the father of Deputy DA Ryan Couzens.
The 4th DCA ruling follows the briefing by the Attorney General’s office, even prior to AB 991, that SB 1437 does not conflict with Prop. 7 or Prop. 115.
This is the view of the appellate court as well. The court stated, “Senate Bill 1437 did not amend Proposition 7 because it did ‘not reduce sentences for first or second degree-murder.’ [and] did not amend Proposition 115 because it did not ‘in any way modif[y]’ the predicate offenses on which the first degree felony-murder liability may be based.”
Indeed the court noted, “At our request, the Attorney General filed an amicus curiae brief on the issues presented in the petitions. In its brief, the Attorney General urged us to deny the People’s petitions on grounds that Senate Bill 1437 did not amend Proposition 7 or 115.”
But the Yolo DA’s office does not agree with those rulings, nor it would appear the view of Judge Couzens.
This would be an interesting side note were it not for the fact that DA Jeff Reisig has opposed every major criminal justice reform effort in the state. He opposed Prop 47. He opposed two measures to end the death penalty. He opposed SB 1437. He opposed various juvenile justice reform measures, including SB 1391 and Prop. 57.
He even was one of just four DAs in the state to oppose Prop. 64 which legalized recreational cannabis. He has even tried to take credit for following the law – AB 1793 – by expunging marijuana convictions.
There is a progressive prosecution reform movement across the state and around the country – but Jeff Reisig is not part of that. He continues to fight it every step of the way, as he has with SB 1437.
—David M. Greenwald reporting