By David M. Greenwald
During my nearly 15 years at the Vanguard, Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig, first elected in 2006, has not been a force of progressive change in Yolo County, but rather the opposition to it—whether it was his attack on Public Defender Tracie Olson after she raised the issue of racial inequities in the jail, his mean-spirited prosecution of an immigrant mother fleeing an abusive relationship, or his position as Vice Chair of the California District Attorneys Association, Jeff Reisig has been on the side of tough on crime rather than progressive reform.
So, while I was pleased to see that Mr. Reisig did the right thing in the case attorney David Pfaff discussed involving his client, an examination of the entire body of work leaves a lot to be desired.
In a letter to the Enterprise, that looks like the start of an endorsement letter for the 2022 campaign—if there is one—Pfaff writes: “I would like to thank Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig and his team for their enlightened and truly compassionate treatment of my client Manuel P. It is one of the finest exercises of prosecutorial discretion that I have seen in my 18 years as a practicing attorney and deserves to be recognized by the community.”
Back in 1995, his client pleaded guilty to a felony involving the furnishing of marijuana, he had a prior conviction out of LA and the judge failed to advise him “of the immigration consequences of his plea, as required by law.”
Thus when he entered his plea, “Manuel had no idea that he would later be banned from becoming a lawful permanent resident.”
According to Pfaff, the man married and departed to Mexico but tried to come back to the US because his wife, a US citizen, could get chemotherapy for her cancer.
Pfaff writes: “l filed a motion and soon learned that Mr. Reisig has a standing policy directing his deputies to follow the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Padilla v. Kentucky, requiring prosecutors to consider immigration consequences in handling criminal cases.”
The man had been crime free since 1995 and the DA indicated that his office would not oppose the motion filed by Pfaff.
They went further, “connecting me with Rose Cairn, of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a nationally recognized expert in the field of immigrant post-conviction relief and an advisor to Los Angeles DA, George Gascón.”
He concludes: “Yolo County is fortunate to have such a progressive, compassionate DA’s Office, dedicated to ensuring justice for all.”
That is a gigantic leap from Mr. Reisig’s commendable but limited actions involving someone who has not committed a crime in 25 years, got a bad deal at the time (by Reisig’s predecessor and a local judge) and whose wife is suffering from cancer.
The problem is, this case is really an exception, not the norm.
A more typical case was that of Nan Hui-Jo, in 2014-15, the young mother who fled this country with her young daughter several years before being arrested when she landed in Hawaii, had her daughter taken from her and was prosecuted for parental abduction (see our coverage from 2015) despite pushback from immigration advocates and international human rights groups. The DA in that case—pre-2016 mind you—gave no consideration at all to the immigration consequences, and even though Judge Rosenberg ultimately reduced the case to a misdemeanor over the objections of the DA and released Jo on time served, ICE was tipped off to the release, grabbed her as she exited the jail.
Ultimately it was the Yolo County judge—reducing the charge—and the immigration courts doing the right thing over the objection of Reisig’s office that finally brought justice for all involved in this case.
Where was the compassion in that ordeal where every other part of the system worked hard to do the right thing—despite, not because of, Jeff Reisig and his office?
Where was the compassion when the DA viciously attacked Tracie Olson last June after she dared to point out that the Yolo County jail was filled with a disproportionate number of Blacks—28 percent in a county with a 3 percent Black population.
Jeff Reisig’s response was not to look into ways to reduce the disparity but rather to demand to Tracie Olson’s bosses that she apologize to him (apparently for telling too much truth).
There is work being done by true reformers in the system to reverse Trump Era Immigration policies. A month ago we covered a press conference involving public defender groups across the country calling for ten specific reforms—to my knowledge Jeff Reisig has not signed on to supporting these efforts, which include, among other things, calling on changes to drug charging policies.
“We must change policies that unduly punish immigrant families for the societal problem of addiction that has touched us all,” one of the planks reads.
In the meantime, Jeff Reisig is the Vice President of the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA). That’s the organization that has fought almost all of California’s reforms, including Prop. 47 that turns drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor—a measure Reisig bitterly opposed in 2014 and continued to fight in 2020.
San Joaquin Republican DA, Tori Verger-Salazar, last January resigned from the CDAA.
“We looked at what the CDAA was doing, and we just felt that they were in opposition to almost all change that the voters of California had asked us to enact,” Salazar said at the time.
Salazer resigned from the group and helped, along with several of her progressive colleagues, to form the Prosecutor’s Alliance. Jeff Reisig remains on the board of CDAA and is in position to become the President in a year or two.
Last week we talked with Cristine Soto Deberry, who had previously been chief of staff for two progressive DAs in San Francisco—Chesa Boudin and George Gascón. Now she is executive director of the Prosecutor’s Alliance.
She told me during our conversation that will be broadcast on Monday as part of our weekly podcast series on criminal justice reform—Everyday Injustice—that this is a reform organization.
Meanwhile, the CDAA has been focused on “status quo approaches to crime and punishment,” she said. “That is not really reflective of the entire spectrum of people in law enforcement, particularly the progressive prosecutor movement that has grown around the country.”
In short, then, there is a group of progressive prosecutors, but Reisig is not part of them and is instead part of the voices of the CDAA—disproportionately weighted to smaller more rural counties.
Ironically, the CDAA has been investigated and subjected to an audit and potentially an Attorney General investigation into improper handling of restrictive monies. Jeff Reisig, the old stalwart for law and order, has been uncharacteristically silent on his own organization’s malfeasance.
I am glad that Reisig did the right thing in the case involving David Pfaff’s client, but I wish Pfaff would have looked a bit further before publishing such disproportionate praise for an aberration from what we have observed over the course of the last 15 years.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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