by David M. Greenwald
It has been two years since both the Davis Enterprise and Sacramento Bee declared that Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig was one of if not the most progressive prosecutor in the state. The good news is that even the DA’s office now acknowledges that fiction is not true. I suppose it is progress.
Jonathan Raven instead attempts to carve out new ground with Reisig as a “mainstream” DA who innovates. So let us judge him on his own terms. Rather than compare him to San Francisco’s Chesa Boudin, let us compare him with Santa Clara’s Jeff Rosen and San Joaquin’s Tori Verber Salazar—who would seem to be “mainstream” comparables.
Writes Reisig’s Chief Deputy: “Many would consider Yolo County’s DA Jeff Reisig, to be ‘mainstream,’ yet we have numerous innovative and progressive programs. I started thinking about our innovative and progressive programs and wondered ‘are we really “mainstream”?’”
He continues: “What the media and articles don’t report is that many ‘mainstream’ prosecutors are doing ‘progressive’ things. While the media reports on newly elected progressive prosecutors, they miss the many innovations by prosecutors labeled ‘mainstream.’”
He adds, “But back to that’mainstream’ label; our DA might not agree with San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin on some issues, [but] they are like-minded on many others.”
I actually agree that it is not fair for us to compare Jeff Reisig to Chesa Boudin. Yolo County, after all, had a chance to elect its own version of Boudin in 2018 with Dean Johansson and Johansson fell close but short of winning.
I think a more realistic place to hold Jeff Reisig to is Jeff Rosen, the Santa Clara DA who, like Reisig, has been under attack for responses to criticism. In June, Jeff Reisig attacked Public Defender Tracie Olson after she was critical of the jail population and the disproportionate Black population in particular, and Jeff Rosen was under fire for his handling of a blog post by Sajid Khan.
Jonathan Raven puts forward a few programs including the Neighborhood Court, the Transparency Dashboard Portal, a homeless program, race-blind charging, implicit bias training, and the multi-cultural council.
In July, Jeff Rosen of Santa Clara put forward a bunch of reforms he termed the “Bend the Arc” Social Justice Reforms.
The headliner was that they would not longer seek the death penalty, but they also agreed to end cash bail, automatically expunge the criminal record of those who are eligible and have successfully completed probation, create a Law Enforcement Integrity Team to investigate criminal misconduct of police officers, and require his line lawyers to attend jail and prison tours.
The Santa Clara DA formed a Conviction Integrity Unit in 2013—one that worked specifically with the Northern California Innocence Project and earned an award in doing so, and they helped to free several wrongly-convicted people.
Yolo County created one, but last time I checked, they had investigated eight cases and found zero to move forward to the next level.
When we talked to Mark Godsey from the Ohio Innocence Project at the event on Thursday, the key for Conviction Integrity Units is to staff them externally and give them independence so that they are not battling internally with people that have a vested interest in the outcome. The evidence-based approach is to hire a former defense attorney or innocence attorney to run the unit.
While Yolo County is a small department, there is no independence in their CIU and that is why they have yet to exonerate anyone, even though the Vanguard has identified 14 potential wrongful convictions in the last 15 years.
Jeff Rosen has clearly gone much further with reforms than Reisig, but Rosen clearly doesn’t go far enough.
In a recent blog post, Sajid Khan writes, “Rosen instituted some tangible, discreet measures that, although long overdue, were welcome like ending the pursuit of the death penalty and requiring his line lawyers to attend jail and prison tours.”
But Rosen also falls short, according to Khan. “But there were glaring omissions of substantial, revolutionary reforms to meaningfully address systemic racism in Santa Clara County. Rosen refused to stop prosecuting children as adults, to cease the inhumane pursuit and imposition of LWOP (life without the possibility of parole) sentences or to end racist felony gang enhancements.”
We can also learn a lot from San Joaquin District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar. She is a Republican in that conservative county, but she made national news in January when she left the statewide DA’s Association over its failure to back criminal justice reforms—that’s the same DA’s Association of which Jeff Reisig is now president.
In an interview with Danielle Silva of the Vanguard, she noted as a reason for leaving the CDAA’s opposition to things like Prop. 47 and Prop. 64.
She believes that the CDAA continues to see reform as an “opposition” rather than an “opportunity.”
Indeed, Salazar left the CDAA over stances that Jeff Reisig has strongly and publicly supported over the years—opposition to Prop. 47, opposition to the death penalty termination, opposition over resentencing reforms.
These are all measures that were supported by the majority of voters, both in California and Yolo County as well as in the state legislature. Are we to understand from Jonathan Raven that these are “revolutionary”?
Salazar recently teamed up with the progressive prosecutors Boudin, Diana Becton (Contra Costa) and George Gascón on attempting to limit the ability of DAs to accept money from police unions. And this is a “mainstream” DA, a Republican from San Joaquin County.
Concludes Jonathan Raven: “We are very proud of our achievements.
“So, can a prosecutor who is not newly elected support restorative justice? The answer, we believe, is ‘yes.’ The point is: progressive evolution can take place without revolution,” he argues. He asks: “Are we a “mainstream” office? You be the judge.”
In the end, I don’t think Jonathan Raven is being honest about the record of his boss.
I think this quote from Bryan Stevenson that Sajid Khan used in his piece on Jeff Rosen applies here as well: “I think it’s really important that people understand that if you’re genuinely engaged and recovering from human rights abuses, you have to commit to truth-telling first. You can’t jump to reconciliation. You can’t jump to reparation or restoration until you tell the truth. Until you know the nature of the injuries, you can’t actually speak to the kind of remedies that are going to be necessary.“
Jeff Reisig wants to be seen as “innovative” but acknowledges finally that he is not among the “progressive” prosecutors.
The problem is his reaction to Tracie Olson pointing out the racial inequalities in Yolo County. Here he has failed to tell the voters the truth. He has failed to “to tell the truth about his office’s significant, undeniable role in perpetuating systemic racism in this country and in” Yolo County.
His reaction to Tracie Olson—who never even mentioned him or his office—was one of defensiveness. He didn’t offer any sort of apology or show any contrition if his policies or the policies he continued contributed to systemic racism and mass incarceration of people of color in this county. Instead, he argued that Tracie Olson was in the wrong to even raise the question and demanded that she go before her bosses to explain herself.
That doesn’t sound like a reformer and it certainly does not sound like it is any longer even in the mainstream in this county. Jeff Reisig is not in the mainstream here—he has long opposed measures that passed by more than 60 percent, sometimes more than 70 percent in this county.
Signed, “The Blogger”
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