Two candidates for Los Angeles County District Attorney came to speak at a meeting of the Democratic Club of the Santa Clarita Valley Thursday night. Republican candidate Deputy District Attorney John L. Breault III knew he was in enemy territory.
“Don’t stone me. I’m a Republican. I know it’s a cuss word here, but I am,” said Breault.
Democratic candidate Senior Deputy District Attorney Danette Meyers was welcoming, but would give no quarter.
“There may be some good Republicans out there. I like John a lot. But as my philosophy is, even the best Republican doesn’t beat the worst Democrat,” said Meyers.
Although Meyers characterized their differences along the lines of her mission statement their shared professional experience allowed some points of agreement.
One of those agreements was of the erosion of discretion under current District Attorney Steve Cooley. Discretion allows Deputy District Attorneys to use their experience to consider rehabilitation, alternate sentencing and community service work for non-violent, non-serious crimes instead of mandatory jail sentences.
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Breault, with 43 years of experience in the District Attorney’s office, doesn’t like the micromanaging under Cooley.
“You can’t run a big office second guessing,” said Breault.
Meyers, with 26 year of experience in the District Attorney’s office, agreed.
“We need to stop running up to the office saying ‘Let me check and see if we can do this’. Because what it does is reduces or power in the courtroom,” said Meyers.
Meyers pinpointed the problem to how Head Deputies, the ones who run branch offices, are selected. She suggests current Head Deputies should not be selected based upon who gives money to the District Attorney’s political campaign, who the DA goes out drinking and eating with or the DA’s friends. Instead, the position should go to people based upon their experience and what they’ve done while in office. That would justify giving more discretion to the branch offices.
“Head Deputies, if they’re chosen correctly, if they’re chosen appropriately, you should be able to make those decisions. If you’re running an office you should be able to determine if you should strike a strike, to determine if a murder is manslaughter,” said Meyers.
Both candidates were asked about the de-emphasis on environmental crimes under Cooley. They agreed the Environmental Crimes division was important, but not on its future.
“I don’t know enough about the monetary make-up of the office right now. I would have to look at that, but I thought that was a mistake,” said Breault.
Breault was challenged on his belief that the de-emphasis was due to budget cuts, not policy or priority.
“Whether it could be reinstituted or not the issue will be funding,” said Breault.
Meyers said the Environment Crimes division hasn’t been abolished; they just haven’t done anything under Cooley’s 12 year tenure. She said growing up in Compton and seeing environmental abuses has inspired her to rejuvenate the division.
“I’ve watched how folks have dumped toxic waste all over. How nobody cares about that. How they’ve built large trucking firms in that city, next to schools. Nobody cares about that. Well, as the next DA of LA County I care about that,” said Meyers.
The candidates were also asked a pointed question about how much money out of the state budget is spent on the Department of Corrections:
“What will you do to take the hand of the prison industrial complex out of my pocket?”
Breault said he wasn’t legislating for anything. The DA’s job as he sees it is to enforce the laws the legislators enact. In his 43 years of service Breault says he’s seen those laws change and his job is to change with them.
“When I started possession of marijuana was a felony. I sent someone to state prison for possession of marijuana. It’s now an infraction. I think it should be legalized, but as long as these rules are on the books the DA’s job is to enforce that and prosecute them,” said Breault.
Meyers sees the cost to taxpayers as a result of prison overcrowding.
“We are wasting our money with this continual flow of money into the Department of Corrections, because people keep coming back and back and back. We are not resolving anything,” said Meyers.
She sees AB 109 (the realignment or transfer of lower level offenders, adult parolees and juvenile offenders from state to local jurisdictions) as an opportunity for Los Angeles County to redirect funds from prisons to educational programs and rehabilitative programs.
Under her plan, money given to community groups, faith and non-faith based organizations would end recidivism and empty out the prisons.
“I’m so tired of hearing about the closure of schools. Let’s talk about the closure of prisons because they’re not overcrowded any more. Shouldn’t that be our philosophy?” said Meyers.
One candidate is a Democrat and the other a Republican. However, they both agree the decision on who will be the next District Attorney is an important one.
“I try to tell the voters throughout L A County. Guess what? The DA affects your everyday life. And no other office in the County of Los Angeles will affect the lives of individuals more than what happens in the District Attorneys office,” said Meyers.
District Attorney Candidates Alan Jackson, Jackie Lacey, Carmen Trutanich and Bobby Grace did not attend the forum.
The election is Tuesday, June 5, 2012