By Danielle Silva
The San Joaquin District Attorney sees leaving the California District Attorney Association as “an opportunity rather than as an opposition.”
Two weeks ago, Republican San Joaquin District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar left the California District Attorney Association (CDAA) after noting the organization has been opposing criminal justice reform for many years. The CDAA represents the district attorneys from all 58 counties of California and trains new prosecutors. According to The Appeal, Salazar is the first DA to leave a statewide association since Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner left the Pennsylvania District Attorney Association in 2018.
In her interview with the Vanguard, Salazar noted the CDAA’s opposition to Proposition 47, which cleaned up past criminal histories and felony convictions and changed the law where a person could steal up to $950 and get away with a misdemeanor (two separate parts of the same proposition), and Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana.
Both Prop. 47 and Prop. 64 were approved, along with two other propositions that the CDAA opposed – Proposition 36, approved in 2012, which changed the state’s three-strikes system, and Proposition 57, approved in 2016, which expanded the parole and restricted prosecutors’ broad discretion to treat minors as adults.
According to The Appeal, these propositions received major voter approval. Over the last two years, the CDAA continued to oppose similar laws that worked on providing alternatives to incarceration.
Salazar states that the CDAA continues to see reform as an “opposition” rather than an “opportunity.”
In addition to the opposition to criminal justice reform, the CDAA acts as a singular voice rather than a group of 58 different DAs. She shared how the CDAA’s declared oppositions to legislation represented all the California DAs, even if some individually opposed.
“It’s time to create change because we need all voices heard in the CDAA,” Salazar said.
Despite leaving the association, Salazar notes that she welcomes the opportunity to work with CDAA from the outside. She believes the organization does need internal change, including needing to restore credibility throughout the state and allowing an opportunity for dissenting voices within the organization to be heard.
Salazar believes the CDAA’s consistent opposition to criminal justice reform has lowered the opportunity to work with legislation and has lost the opportunity to be taken seriously and engage with the community.
She also notes there are benefits to having a state-wide association for DAs. Particularly, DAs often come across complex issues, and a state-wide organization allows a space where individuals can share innovative programs other DAs can learn from.
“It has a lot of value to the community but it has to remain in a place where the people’s voice matters, not the CDAA, and we got lost in that,” Salazar said.
The San Joaquin District Attorney also plans to join the National District Attorney Association at some point.
Salazar has also noted some programs in San Joaquin County that have reflected criminal justice reform.
“Reform is no means light on crime – it’s the most victim-centric work I’ve done,” Salazar said.
She noted the 72 percent recidivism rate for offenders, leading to the creation of more victims. Reforms like Prop. 47, which cleaned up past criminal histories, “let people doing the right thing have a chance,” Salazar shared. She states in San Joaquin County her office has been focusing on community-driven programs and paying attention to drivers of violence.
For instance, Salazar notes that the number of homicide cases remained the same from 2018 and 2019 – both years having 52 homicides. She stated that these homicides were solved from cooperation with the community and treating people with dignity.
The press release addressing the homicide rate report states, “We would like to thank the citizens of our community; social media organizations like Stockton Crime Stoppers have enabled people to provide tips without fear of retribution, fostered an acceptance of social responsibility to the community, and a sparked a realization that enough is enough. The few who are disruptive to a peaceful society should not hold entire neighborhoods hostage to their violent disregard for the law.”