Tuesday, December 18, 2007
ADDA’s Ipsen Offers Initiative to Prevent Defense Bar From Contributing to Prosecutors’ Campaigns
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
An initiative seeking to advance the rights of crime victims by, among other things, barring criminal defendants and defense lawyers and their associates from donating to campaigns for prosecutorial offices, has been submitted to the secretary of state.
Steve Ipsen, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, filed papers Dec. 7 seeking a title and summary for “The Victim’s Rights and Protection Act: Marsy’s Law.” The attorney general has until Feb. 8 to supply the title and summary, following which supporters of the measure will have 150 days to collect the necessary 694,354 signatures to place the measure on the November 2008 ballot as a constitutional and statutory initiative.
The measure highlights several issues that Ipsen, who could not be reached for comment, has raised in his bid to unseat District Attorney Steve Cooley. Sources have said Ipsen does not intend to follow through on the challenge.
In an interview this past June, after he informed colleagues that he was running, he complained that Cooley was “the worst D.A. L.A.’s ever had,” and accused the incumbent of “selling out to the criminal defense bar” by soliciting campaign contributions from defense attorneys.
He also promised to restore the office’s relationship with the California District Attorneys Association. Cooley cut ties with the group last year after drawing a strongly negative reaction to his proposal to modify the Three Strikes Law along the lines of his office’s internal policy, which requires prosecutors to move to waive the “third strike” penalty unless the new offense is a serious or violent felony or a serious drug crime, or unless a supervising prosecutor agrees that unusual circumstances warranting the penalty exist.
Ipsen said Cooley wants to “gut” the law, and that his plan, which he laid out in his first campaign seven years ago, is an example of his coziness with the defense bar. That issue aside, Ipsen said, Cooley’s actions have hurt the office by preventing its members from attending and teaching at CDAA seminars unless willing and able to do so on their own time and at their own expense.
The “Marsy’s Law” initiative would require all counties to pay the costs of having the CDAA train their prosecutors.
The initiative is named after a woman who was brutally murdered in 1983 and is, according to the text, “written on behalf of her mother, father, and brother, who were often treated as though they had no rights, and inspired by hundreds of thousands of victims of crime who have experienced the additional pain and frustration of a criminal justice system that too often fails to afford victims even the most basic of rights.”
The woman’s last name is not given, but the brief explanation of the case in the text fits the case of Marsalee Ann Nicholas, a UC Santa Barbara senior whose ex-boyfriend, Kerry M. Conley, was sentenced to 17 years to life in prison for second degree murder in 1985.
If the measure becomes law, no prosecutor, including a district attorney or elected or appointed city attorney, would be allowed to “receive or solicit a gift, donation, campaign contribution, service, use of real or personal property, or any other thing or service from any criminal defendant, criminal defense attorney, or the immediate family, employees, or business partners of a criminal defendant or criminal defense attorney” as long as the defendant or the defense attorney has a case pending.
The measure anticipates a First Amendment challenge by providing that if the provision is held unconstitutional, the candidate accepting the donation must state in all of his or her campaign advertising that he or she is “supported and funded by criminal defense attorneys and/or criminal defendants.”
Among the myriad additional provisions contained in the initiatives 44 pages are those that would:
•Prohibit the granting of “rights, privileges, or comforts” not required by the U.S. Constitution or existing state law to inmates of prisons or jails;
•Prohibit reduction of bail “as a means of addressing jail overcrowding”;
•Prohibit the Legislature from passing any law that retroactively decriminalizes conduct or reduces penalties;
•Implement a proposal endorsed, in slightly different form, by the California Supreme Court to allow panels of the Court of Appeal to review death sentences;
•Require that victims, including those who have testified earlier in the proceeding, be allowed to attend all court proceedings open to the general public;
•Create a Department of Parole, and within it a Board of Adult Parole Hearings and a Board of Juvenile Parole, to replace the Board of Parole Hearings and other agencies now involved in the parole process. In a change from current law, board members and other department officials would be appointed by the governor without the requirement of Senate confirmation;
•Generally make release on parole more difficult to obtain, in part by increasing the wait between parole hearings;
•Prohibit a political candidate or public official from “exploit[ing]” the facts of a crime by including it in political advertising without the written consent of the victim or the victim’s family. If the provision is held unconstitutional, the measure would require the advertiser to grant the victim or victim’s family “equal time or space in the publication, at no expense to such publication;” and
•Establish minimum benefits for prosecutors, including compensatory time, health benefits, and pension rights at least equivalent to those of law enforcement officers, and allow prosecutors to join with peace officers to form collective bargaining units.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company