By David M. Greenwald
Woodland, CA – In 2018, District Attorney Jeff Reisig held off a tough challenge from Deputy Public Defender Dean Johansson to win a fourth term as the chief prosecutor in Yolo County. Now it appears he will have another challenge from a public defender, as Cynthia Rodriguez announced to the Vanguard her candidacy for district attorney.
“I have a real vision for what a DA’s office ought to mean to a community,” Rodriguez told the Vanguard in a phone interview on Thursday. “I think a district attorney’s office has an opportunity to bring a community together to provide essentials such as safety and healing and resolution to community issues in a way that our communities today are just crying out for.”
She said, “I have a history and a future in criminal justice.” She added, “In many ways I feel like I’ve been headed towards this a long time.”
Rodriguez said that she is no stranger to legal administration or the failings of our prosecutorial system.
“For far too long we’ve pursued ways of solving community problems that haven’t worked,” she said. “We need to go to the ways that do work, both because the community must definitely have those kind of resolutions and because it’s a clear mistake to keep doing the same thing and expecting something different to happen.”
Cynthia Rodriguez has been an attorney for nearly 40 years and has been at three different public defender’s offices—Orange County, Solano County and the State Public Defender’s Office. At the latter she was involved in felony appeals and death penalty appeals.
She also served as deputy director and general counsel for the Department of Mental Health for eight years which later became the department of state hospitals. There she worked heavily in the criminal justice system and with CDCR.
One of her duties was holding correctional officers and prison guards accountable when charged with misconduct.
“Ninety-six percent of the people at mental health are there through a forensic commitment,” she said. “I have a lot experience there with what the outcome is, about how we pursue criminal justice.”
She said “with that litigation and criminal justice experience, I feel like I have the exact right combination of expertise and viewpoints to help bring a DA’s office in line with what the community is looking for.”
Rodriguez naturally is critical of the current DA’s office.
“I feel like the current DA has been there quite awhile and had lots of opportunities to show us how he’s going to handle all of the issues that are present,” she said. “I don’t feel like he’s in any way clearly addressed them.”
She cited recent announcements about a transparent portal for information—through the non-profit, Measures for Justice—but she pointed out, “Many years have passed since he’s come in and he’s never worked with any transparency.
“There continues to be the same divisive and inappropriately biased use of power to have statistics for who we’re prosecuting and the types of resolutions we’re seeking,” she said.
Rodriguez noted that “he talks about progressive issues like mental health treatment but he isn’t completely using his power to address those issues,” she said. She noted that, while he has mental health court, it is just a handful of cases out of thousands of prosecutions a year. Thus he has failed “to offer the kind of mental health care that residents need and that might change the outcome for the community in terms of safety and security.”
She is also critical of various stances the DA has taken which has diametrically opposed the community’s position on issues like Prop. 47 and other reform measures.
“He has gone against what people have said when they have voted for propositions, he has continued even after their passage to fight against them and scold us for voting as we have voted in Yolo County,” she said. “I think it’s time that Yolo County is heard.”
Among the issues that she is looking at is transparency, as discussed previously, in terms of statistics and information.
“What the office is doing, how it’s spending its money, what it’s sending to the legislature and what it’s doing in terms of pursuing policy and what folks really want here,” she said. “There needs (to be) considerably more transparency about who the DA is and what he wants.”
Secondly, she said, “I would really like people to understand DA discretion.
“I don’t think the DA has made it clear how many things he is doing because that’s what he wants to do and not because it’s mandated,” she said. She said, “I want to be clear that I want the advice and consent of the public to make those decisions.”
She said that the public is crying out for pursuit of these issues “and not just the same old words” which are repackaged and re-positioned “from previous positions.
“I think to me that’s the major issue with this particular district attorney,” she said. “He continues to approach the DA’s work from an old school, 50-year-old DA process, that has never been successful before in making communities successful and more secure.”
In a release, she said she “looks forward to engaging with the community on the issues facing Yolo County and hopes to earn their vote in this important 2022 election.”
The campaign announced that they will be holding a Virtual Meet and Greet on May 15 at 2 pm over Zoom. (Meeting ID:875-6839-4932 Passcode:983622).
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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