My View: The DA Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

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DA Wants a Fair Shake for a Budget Increase but Only Knows Attacks; This Time He Attacks Saylor for Asking Tough but Reasonable Budget Questions

During times of COVID and budget cuts and decreasing crime rates, the Yolo County DA is proposing a $23.8 million budget for 2020-21, an increase of $5.6 million or 31% over 2018-19 actual spending of $18.2 million.

“I believe the substantial increase in proposed funding is worthy of scrutiny. The questions I have raised are appropriate matters of inquiry and within the reasonable scope of exercise of my responsibility as a member of the Board of Supervisors,” Supervisor Saylor wrote in an op-ed based on questions he sent DA Reisig that generated a 29-page response.

Now Deputy DA Matt DeMoura has written an op-ed in the Daily Democrat in response, attacking Supervisor Saylor for publishing what he calls “a misleading, disingenuous letter in the press attacking the Yolo County District Attorney’s budget request and a supposed lack of transparency by the Yolo DA’s Office.”

DeMoura writes, “We anticipated answering questions and justifying our budget, we had not expected to be singled out in an unfair or politicized way.”

He explains, “On July 10, Saylor sent a lengthy list of budget related questions to our office, questions that required detailed answers and evidentiary support. We prepared our response, in earnest; we knew that a failure to provide completely thorough justifications would hurt our budget efforts. On Aug. 21, Saylor demanded our report by Aug. 26. Our office informed Saylor that we needed until Sept. 1. With great effort, and working many extra hours, on Aug. 31 we produced a 29-page, data-intensive response to Saylor’s questions; we did so on Aug. 31 — a full 30 days prior to the Board’s final budget decision on Sept. 29.”

DeMoura argues that “no other county department” was “grilled” in this way about their budgets.  He adds that “the list of comprehensive questions was the work of Saylor alone.”

He asks, “Why not involve the other supervisors? And why not pose a list of challenging budget questions to every County department?”

DeMoura’s answer: “Saylor is manipulating the recent calls for reform to set the stage for his own political performance.”

Let us start by taking both these questions straight on.  First, Don Saylor is an elected official.  He has a vote on the budget.  He is entitled to ask any questions he wants if he has them.

The DA’s office asks why other departments were not grilled, but it is not clear that any other department is asking for that level of budget increase during a time when the county’s budget is likely to face huge cuts, with a collapsing economy and COVID.

It therefore seems rather prudent to ask those kinds of hard questions.  Perhaps if other supervisors don’t have those kinds of questions, the real question should not be why Saylor is asking tough questions, but rather why aren’t the other supervisors asking them.

But there is a second level to this.  The DA continues to respond disproportionately to any alleged offense.

DeMoura continues: “Saylor first promoted his one-man show when he took actions outside of the boardroom by writing a letter attacking the DA’s Office and publishing it in the media on Aug. 30. Disingenuously, this letter claimed that the DA’s Office lacked ‘transparency’ for failing to answer his questions — even when Saylor knew that the very answers he sought would be produced in two days.”

DeMoura is actually wrong here —we published Saylor’s comments first, on August 28, received on August 27, and it wasn’t clear at that time if and when the DA would have answers to those questions.  Moreover, the op-ed he sent to the Vanguard was hardly an attack and more along the lines of questions that needed to be addressed.

DeMoura continues: “The letter also professed that the DA’s Office was asking for significantly more budget this year than what was spent in earlier years, knowing full well that less was spent because of a hiring freeze and employee departures, and more is being requested now because of things beyond our control like increased PERS contributions.”

But that leads us to a bigger question—why is the modus of the DA’s office to attack?

On June 8, Tracie Olson made a comment on the news about the disproportionate rate of incarceration for Blacks in the Yolo County Jail.  That comment, which did not mention the DA’s office, triggered two press releases brutally attacking the public defender.

If you read the commentary from August 28 in the Vanguard from Supervisor Saylor, it hardly reads like an attack.

Indeed, he lays out the request and then writes, “While these strategies may be laudable, they are not described in any manner or linked to any budget detail.”

He concluding paragraph notes, “I believe that a full and transparent response is a reasonable expectation of any elected official.  This is especially reasonable, given the stated strategy of the Yolo County District Attorney to ‘Become more transparent to the Citizens of Yolo County.’”

Read the commentary for yourself: There is no attack there.

Yet the response from DeMoura once again is not only over the top, but disproportionate to the comments made by Supervisor Saylor.

Writes DeMoura: “How could someone so vilify an agency in their public comments and then sit with an open heart and mind when conducting official duties? Here, not only did Saylor write a letter in the press singling out one county department, not only did he act alone and before hearing all the facts (like an angry, misguided TWEET), but also omitted key facts and told the public the DA has not provided something that he knew he would have in 48 hours.”

DeMoura continues: “Citizen comments during the supervisors’ meeting on Sept. 1 showed Saylor’s letter had the intended effect. At least two citizens specifically referenced the misleading letter. The Daily Democrat, in a recent front-page article, also relied on Saylor’s shenanigans. The Democrat, unaware of the background, also suggested that another supervisor was frustrated with the DA over the 29-page report.”

Is this really how the DA should conduct himself?  The supervisor has questions, wants to alert the public to the issue of the budget request, and the DA has one of his deputies blast the supervisor in a local paper?

Concludes DeMoura: “If Saylor wants to find a prosecutor’s office to be his political punching bag he should look elsewhere or, better yet, focus on the value the DA’s Office brings to the county.”

As Shakespeare once wrote, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

Show me where in the article did Don Saylor attack the DA’s office or ask an unreasonable question?

—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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5 thoughts on “My View: The DA Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks”

    1. Eric Gelber

      Odd doesn’t come close to describing this response to  a member of the Board of Supervisors’ questions about an agency’s budget request—particularly one seeking substantial increases. What Don Saylor did is called doing his job. The op-ed was disrespectful and inappropriate.

      In my time working in state government—both in the Legislature and the Administration—I never heard of such a hostile response to an information request to a department from a legislative budget committee or committee member. I hope the board does not reward the DA’s office for its arrogance.

  1. Scott Ragsdale

    Is the Yolo County Board of Supervisors prepared to ask the DA’s Office to revise its budget?
     
    There is no need for hyperbole here.  The request to the Board to approve a 31% increase to the public District Attorney’s office does not go unnoticed.  The article by Margherita Beale, (Daily Democrat September 5th) makes it clear that Saylor is not all alone in questioning the DA’s office budget.
     
    There is a difference of opinion among Yolo constituents concerning the wisdom of State allocation, and County discretionary budgets provided for law enforcement prosecution, arrest and incarceration.

    As the spokesperson for the DA’s office, Matt De Moura, and his 32 DA office employees point out, the budget review “should be measured, dispassionate, circumspect and fair to due process.” 

    That’s the point isn’t it?  That our Yolo community recognizes that we must re-prioritize how we prosecute the law – namely to make it less prosecutorial.   That armed law enforcement and arrest be measured in a fair and dispassionate method against other forms of prevention and remedy in order to best apply the law and improve outcomes for every person? 

    Review the DA budget response for yourselves.  I found a great amount of what we all have reason to be proud of in the response.  I also found very little in the way of basic budgetary analysis – such as year over year FTE actuals and projections  –  and that is the kind of dispassionate information that is needed right now.

    Without other assurances, that the just interests of the County are being served by placing the County in debt to meet the increases in the DA offices 2020-2021 budget, the Board has an obligation to refuse the budget increase and instead offer a budget schedule in line with all County offices.

    Are the Supervisors prepared to make this sensible request?

  2. Tia Will

    I have been attending the distanced BOS meetings on a regular basis during the pandemic. That is the source of the information which has led me to the following impression. Mr. DeMoura has left out a very important factor in the discussion. The reason for Supervisor Saylor’s list of questions was not because he was singling out the DA’s office for punitive harassment, but rather because other departments had submitted highly detailed requests, the DA’s request was by comparison cursory and superficial. I have no specifics to add having not reviewed any budget request myself so I cannot substantiate this impression but felt it was relevant and not mentioned by Mr. DeMoura whose technique of attack may be simply a distraction or may represent a targeted attack on Supervisor Saylor as they chose to do with the observations of the public defender.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I think you raise a good point Tia – even their 29 page explanation, I was unimpressed with their analytics. They really need to upgrade that department. Back in February, I attended a talk by Larry Krasner, the Philly DA, and he explained their grant funding and how they’ve update their data analytics to understand better the criminal justice system and what their office needs to do.

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