by Robert J. Hansen
This is part II of the Yolo County District Attorney debate. It is highly encouraged that readers have read Part I
The Yolo County District Attorney’s debate, hosted by the Yolo County Taxpayers Association, last few topics were on Prop 47 and the contrasts between the two candidates.
Q: “Jeff, in 2014 voters passed Prop. 47 which reduced small, nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. One of the reasons voters passed Prop. 47 was the potential savings of millions of taxpayer dollars. Why hasn’t Yolo County conformed with Prop. 47? Ms. Rodriguez, would you comply with this law and why?
Reisig: “That doesn’t make any sense. Because what happened is, in 2014, voters of California passed an initiative called Prop. 47. It changed the law. And what it did was decriminalize the possession of hard drugs—heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, fentanyl, ecstasy, whatever, from felonies to misdemeanors. Before Prop. 47 if someone was arrested with methamphetamine, for example, they would be arrested on a felony, taken to court and the first thing we try to do is get them into drug treatment. That’s a fact. Well, when Prop. 47 changed it from felony to a misdemeanor what we’ve seen across California is a rapid drop-off in people wanting to participate in treatment at all. The reason is there’s no consequence. It’s a misdemeanor, it’s a ticket. It’s no different than walking down the street with an open beer. The other thing that Prop. 47 did was raise the threshold to $950 so you can steal up to $950 a day and it’s a misdemeanor. That’s what’s fueling, along with the addiction crisis, this rampant increase in retail theft. This is what my nephew does, by the way, he steals every day to support his habit. Everything he does is a misdemeanor. He can have heroin in his pocket, he can walk into the store and steal, it’s a misdemeanor. They write him a ticket, if he doesn’t show up at court, nobody’s going to come for him. And the cycle continues and continues. This is what’s happening. I charge these crimes, I charge them all and about 60 to 70 percent never show up. This is what Prop. 47 did. It was well-intentioned, they wanted to get more treatment for people. They wanted to reduce the penal consequences for drug use. I don’t disagree with that. But we can’t continue to allow people to use, steal and live on the streets.”
Rodriguez: “Yolo County has a right like every other area in the United States has, to dictate its future. In Yolo County, 61 percent of voters voted in favor of Prop, 47 and 68 percent of voters voted in favor of Prop, 57. Both of those are about the elongated prison sentences people were serving. For various reasons Yolo County voted in favor of changing those laws so that citizens could not be confined for simple possession like distributing or selling. Just a couple of years ago Yolo County and the rest of the state had an opportunity to change their minds and they did not, they voted against Prop. 20 because they were still not interested in these lengthy, extremely expensive and guild-served sentences of incarceration. It does not work. I’ve been to a talk that our DA did where he explained how people in Yolo county were just wrong. They didn’t understand what it was, they didn’t get why Props 47 and 57 weren’t great deals and so he was gonna help us with that by filing lawsuits against them despite the heat can you devote in that way year after year. I do not believe we are making mistakes in voting for those things. There will always be problems with legislation, but longer prison sentences will not make these things better. Mr. Reisig is wrong, I have appeared in Yolo County, and additionally, when I was in Solano County as a public defender. We heard notoriously about Yolo County, how many counts were charged against each defendant. Judges would tell us you guys are lucky here because your clients don’t get half as much as they get in Yolo County for this stuff. It was often a joke. I think what people want is an end to this bloated present system that doesn’t make anybody’s life better. Prison is a necessary thing. There are levels of violence and death that are unacceptable and people will have to go to prison for that but they don’t have to become warehouses for people who don’t have a good lawyer or for people who have committed a minor crime or people who have a medical issue. Addiction is a medical issue—no matter how much we want to be angry at those folks, we have to understand that medical issues need to be treated medically and that’s the only way we’re gonna get ahead on that.”
Q: “You recently refused to speak to the deputy district attorney’s association when asked if you wanted to seek their endorsement. How do you plan to lead the employees at the office if you won’t speak with them?”
Rodriguez: “Any deputy district attorney is welcome to speak with me whenever they want to. I was invited with little notice to a meeting where they informed me they were going to vote to endorse me or Mr. Reisig. It didn’t seem very likely that people that work under him currently were going to decide it was a good idea to inform him they weren’t going to support him. I didn’t think that exercise was productive for me or them. I’m not going to let that stand in the way of me forming an excellent office. There are people who I think can be taught the right skills to do the right thing and see results that they are happy with. I’ve led very large attorney’s offices in the state and 97 percent of the people said they felt they were doing important work. I’ve come in where other people stayed in the office when I became the leader and they stayed because I created an atmosphere of respect and appreciation for people doing hard work. I’m more than happy to speak to any deputy district attorney and I know my relationships in this county will be positive because that’s what I know works.”
Q: “Please tell us, specifically, what you plan to do differently than our current DA?
Rodriguez: “From day one is to increase the number of programs that are available, particularly for first-time offenders and youth to not end up with criminal records that destroy their future, their ability to get licenses, apartments, jobs. We all know that once you have a criminal record, statistics tell us overwhelmingly that you have a much higher chance of going back to jail or prison. And we know our prison system has a ridiculously high rate of return. Somewhere between 64 and 67 percent. We need to change those things. I want to increase diversion programs. I want to set up shelters for the homeless. I also want to make sure that people are being fair in how they present offers. I won’t do overcharging. Those are some really fast, early things.”
Reisig: “Ms. Rodriguez has never practiced law in this courthouse, she’s never been a DA, she’s been a public defender in another county. I don’t think she has any idea what we’ve been doing here the last 16 years. The things that you’re talking about I’ve already done. I’ve made model programs for the state and the nation. I started a mental health program that is a model of reform, adopted by DAs across the state. I’ve started addiction intervention programs. We’ve been all over that. We’ve been all over the diversion path. Again I would urge Ms. Rodriguez to do her homework.”
Rodriguez gave her closing argument, correcting Reisig of his claims that she has not created any programs.
“I’ve done all those things. I’ve worked at very high levels at the state and county and I’ve seen programs that aren’t here that work well and there’s no good reason we don’t have them. I want to speak with you all, as I said. I’m happy to give out my phone number tonight for anyone to call me to share their ideas.”
“When you look at the changes we’ve made in the last ten years … you can look at the numbers. They’re on our website. Thousands of people have gone through our programs … with all due respect, I don’t think Ms. Rodriguez has any idea what we’ve been doing in Yolo County. The two candidates are opposites. I pride myself on being a balanced prosecutor with a deep streak of innovation and reform,” Reisig said.