Tuesday, October 26, 2010
STEVE COOLEY is the obvious choice for attorney general.
We endorsed Cooley in the primary for the Republican nomination. He was the only one of the three candidates with credentials for the post, and the only one who did not run a campaign founded on deception.
We endorsed Kamala Harris for the Democratic nomination. She was the best of seven contenders—indeed, the only worthy one in the pack.
It’s now a race between Cooley, district attorney of Los Angeles County, and Harris, district attorney of San Francisco. Both have leadership qualities and prosecutorial backgrounds. Both are intelligent and able.
We endorse Cooley, by far the worthier of the two.
ooley's fitness for the post is established by his performance in his present position. Without forgetting one particular slip-up—his senseless raid on a newspaper office (ours)—we cannot help but conclude that his service as DA has been otherwise exemplary.
To an extent unprecedented in the history of the Office of Los Angeles County District Attorney, he has gone after corrupt local officials. This has been a long-term, ongoing effort, unlike the current attorney general’s bid to grab headlines in the wake of the City of Bell scandal. At the outset of his initial administration as DA, which commenced Dec. 4, 2000, Cooley created the Public Integrity Division. In the first year, alone, 21 prosecutions were launched based on alleged crookedness of local politicos. And Cooley, through the past decade, has not let up.
His organizational skills have proven admirable. Terming himself the “functional equivalent” of the late Evelle J. Younger, he has, like Younger in the 1960s, revamped the office, boosting efficiency to a high degree.
Like another recent predecessor, Robert H. Philibosian, DA during the early 1980s, Cooley has recognized that success in prosecuting crimes requires a strong link with law enforcement agencies, and he has formed a bond. Harris, by contrast, does not enjoy the trust of local police in light of her stances, and police organizations statewide are backing Cooley.
In years gone by, there have been district attorneys in this county who have feuded with LAPD chiefs of police. Too, there was Ira Reiner, DA from 1984-92, who demeaned other public officials with regularity, his apparent aim being to advance his own political future (and fortunately there was none) by establishing himself through illusion as the valiant slayer of office-holding dragons. Cooley has been a party to no feuds, no bickering. Rather, he has maintained harmonious relationships with other officials in the county—including the public defender, Michael Judge, with whom he has acted as a partner in seeking betterment of the criminal justice system.
Under Gil Garcetti, the DA whom Cooley defeated in 2000, a deputy, Richard Ceballos, drew punitive treatment based upon having shared with the defense his fact-based suspicion that a deputy sheriff had lied in his affidavit in support of a search warrant. The action by Ceballos would have been mandated under guidelines promulgated by Cooley soon after his election. Cooley sought to effectuate the commands of the U.S. Supreme Court in Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U. S. 83. As the Oakland Tribune pointed out in endorsing Cooley, “Harris has had to deal with a judge’s ruling earlier this year that her office has violated defendants’ constitutional rights because it had no formal process for informing defense attorneys of past misconduct by officers called as witnesses, known as the Brady disclosure,” while Cooley’s “guidelines for prosecutors to follow to determine what evidence must be shared with defense lawyers” stands as “a model for other district attorneys’ offices.”
Cooley has striven to tap all that current technology can provide in aiding the cause of discerning guilt or innocence, being in the vanguard in use of DNA evidence.
So strong has been Cooley’s record as DA, that he draws support even from those who would, ordinarily, be backing the Democratic nominee. The Los Angeles Times, moving ever to the left, finds a philosophical affinity with Harris—yet endorses Cooley, saying:
“Were we searching for an attorney general in whom we would find ideological kinship or visionary leadership, Harris would be it. But what the next four years require most of all in the office is strong, capable, nonpartisan, professional supervision. Steve Cooley has delivered it to Los Angeles County. He is what the state needs now. He deserves to be California’s next attorney general.”
hat Harris personally disfavors the death penalty—which Cooley supports, and the majority of the populace supports—surely is not, in and of itself, a sufficient cause to reject her candidacy.
John Van de Kamp opposes capital punishment, yet, as attorney general in the 1980s, he was able to put aside personal feelings and do the job of defending death sentences—and before that, as Los Angeles County district attorney, in seeking them. Edmund G. “Pat Brown” as the state’s lawyer in the 1950s, was likewise able to put professional duties over personal convictions.
Harris, on the other hand, would apparently have considerable difficulty in seeking or defending a death sentence, if not a paralyzing compunction against doing so.
● San Francisco Police Officer Isaac Espinoza was gunned down by a gang member on April 10, 2004. Four days later, the slayer, David Hill, was arraigned on a charge of first degree murder, with special circumstances. The District Attorney’s Office publicly announced that a death sentence would not be sought. That decision was consistent not only with the DA’s personal philosophy, but her commitment. The Associated Press quoted Harris’s spokesperson as saying of San Francisco’s chief prosecutor:
“She promised the voters when she was elected that she would never seek the death penalty. She was consistent on that throughout the campaign and was elected on that philosophy and will hold up that commitment in all circumstances.”
There was an uproar over the decision not to seek the ultimate penalty for Hill. Even liberal U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was appalled.
● Here is a district attorney who has, effectively, abolished capital punishment in the city-county in which she serves, for the duration of her tenure (just as her irresponsible predecessor had). Yet, the death penalty is provided for under California law. It is not a matter of local option.
Moreover, the death penalty is in existence because the people of this state, through initiative, have proclaimed their right to the protection of such legislation. On Feb. 18, 1972, the California Supreme Court interpreted the death law as contravening the state constitutional proscription against “cruel or unusual punishments”; on Nov. 7 of that year, the electorate, by a 67.5 percent vote, rebuffed the high court’s interpretation. It is in Art. I of the state Constitution—that is, under the portion relating to “Declaration of Rights”—that §27 was inserted, reading:
“All statutes of this state in effect on February 17, 1972, requiring, authorizing, imposing, or relating to the death penalty are in full force and effect, subject to legislative amendment or repeal by statute, initiative, or referendum.
“The death penalty provided for under those statutes shall not be deemed to be, or to constitute, the infliction of cruel or unusual punishments within the meaning of Article 1, Section 6 nor shall such punishment for such offenses be deemed to contravene any other provision of this constitution.”
The people broadened the death penalty in 1978 through the Briggs Initiative, expanding the number of special circumstances (the finding of which is necessary to a death verdict). The electorate has passed death provisions since then.
It is the clear will of the people that slayings, under especially egregious circumstances, should result in capital punishment. Yet, Harris pledged to San Francisco voters, in seeking her present post, not to do what the voters of this state expect of district attorneys—that is, to charge them with special circumstances where they exist, and then to follow through by seeking the death penalty.
Her defiance of this expectation did not lead to a rejection of her bid for office in the ultra-liberal enclave where she presently serves. Yet, her refusal to conform to a statewide popular mandate is hardly excusable. It is true that for some purposes, a district attorney is a county officer. However, it has been repeatedly held by our appellate courts that “[t]he district attorney acts as a state officer when prosecuting crimes.” A state officer, taking prosecutorial actions in cases of crimes proscribed by state law, acting in state courts in the name of the People of the State of California, is derelict if, as Harris has done, local or personal views as to what the law should be take precedence over state policy.
● Now, running statewide, Harris insists that, if elected, she would put aside her personal views against the death penalty in defending sentences on appeal. “The reality of it is I am personally opposed to the death penalty,” Harris said during her Oct. 6 debate with Cooley, adding: “but I will follow the law.”
This is the same person who just last year ruled out seeking the death penalty in the case of Edwin Ramos, an illegal alien who allegedly fatally shot a father and his two sons as they were driving home from a family gathering, possibly mistaking them for rival gang members.
Her assurance that she would not seek to thwart implementation of the death penalty as attorney general is simply not good enough. Her instincts are to the contrary.
Taking all relevant considerations into account, the conclusion is clear as to which candidate for AG should be elected: Cooley.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company