Monday, April 2, 2012
There are six candidates for Los Angeles district attorney in the first race in 46 years in which the incumbent is not running. Of those six, two are clearly worthy of the office: Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson and Chief Deputy Jackie Lacey. Our choice is Jackson.
T MATTERS WHO’S ELECTED. The Office of Los Angeles County District Attorney is the largest prosecutorial agency in the nation, with a staff of 2,256, including 1,056 deputy DAs.
Under the incumbent, Steve Cooley, it has pioneered in the area of forensic evidence, particularly DNA evidence. It is looked to nationwide as the exemplar.
Moreover, it has served the residents of this county well, quite well, operating with efficiency. There are high conviction rates. There is a pride among deputies, an esprit de corps. There is a smooth working relationship with other agencies in the criminal justice system, including the Office of Public Defender.
The leader of the office sets the policies and the tone.
Throughout the 20th Century, there were able district attorneys, but few of them. One DA went to San Quentin for his bribe-taking, another was indicted for crimes but acquitted, yet another probably should have been criminally charged but wasn’t. There have been DAs who, though not crooks, were sorely lacking in the requisite qualities.
We need a district attorney who is able, who has integrity, maturity and judgment, and who will enjoy the confidence of deputy district attorneys and other staff members. And it must be a person who will be able to maintain harmonious relations with state and local government.
Jackson and Lacey fit the bill.
LAN JACKSON HAS BEEN a deputy district attorney since 1995. He has not simply been one among many. He has excelled.
There was one high-profile celebrity case he handled which brought him international attention: the successful murder prosecution in 2009, on retrial, of record-producer Phil Spector.
While the prosecution’s success in that case is widely attributed to Jackson’s skillful presentation of the evidence and stirring address to the jury, that’s a single case out of dozens he’s tried. Is Jackson fit to be DA because he won in that one particular widely covered case? On that basis alone, no. Would he be unfit to be DA if a dense jury had disregarded the evidence and voted for acquittal? Again, no. An attorney cannot be viewed as vicariously responsible for what a dozen folk from varying backgrounds do in performing an unfamiliar task, sometimes clumsily.
What counts is not what the outcome was but, rather, Jackson’s demonstration in that case, and others, of a keen awareness of how to go about presenting a case to maximize the prospects of victory—while staying within the bounds of strict ethical standards imposed on prosecutors.
Prosecutors are, of course, not assigned cases based on random selection or on a rotational basis. It was not by chance that Jackson got that case. It went to him as a member of the Major Crimes Division—an elite corps handling cases that are in the public’s eye. He would not be there if he had not proven his worth as a prosecutor, in case after case.
It’s a position where the deputy is certain to be confronted by reporters with notepads, cameras and microphones. The prosecutor must be one who can be trusted to provide, on the spot, comments that will not breach legal ethics, will not embarrass the office, will not jeopardize the defendant’s right to a fair trial, yet will, succinctly, within these bounds, provide information which the public has a right to receive.
Evidenced by his assignment, Jackson, who is assistant chief of the Major Crimes Division, is held in exceedingly high regard by his office. In fact, in his 2009 evaluation of Jackson, Patrick R. Dixon, who then headed that division (and now oversees Special Operations), says:
“Mr. Jackson may be the finest trial lawyer in the office. In this rater’s opinion, a conviction in the Spector case would not have happened without his skills and leadership. He is completely dedicated to the mission of this office. His work ethic is beyond exceptional. His trial skills and professionalism are at the highest levels. He is leader among his peers. Mr. Jackson is an important asset to this office with a great future ahead of him.”
We are hopeful that his great future will include ascension to the office of Los Angeles County district attorney, with his term beginning on Dec. 3.
ACKIE LACEY HASN’T had a formal performance evaluation in the past 11 years. That’s because she’s been in management. Yet, her performance has most certainly been assessed, and found by the district attorney to be at the highest level.
A year ago, Cooley promoted her from assistant district attorney—the third highest position in the office—to that of chief deputy.
This reflects the positing of utmost confidence in her. As No. Two in the office, Lacey is in charge of day-to-day operations.
Cooley has endorsed her for election as his successor, saying: “Los Angeles County residents could not be better served than to have someone of the caliber, the quality, and the temperament of Jackie Lacey.”
We do not doubt that she has administrative abilities, intelligence, and solid judgment. She was an ideal appointee as chief deputy, and we do not question that she has the capacity to lead the office.
Lacey is a person it would difficult to dislike. People say she is “nice.”
Indeed, she is a “nice” person, with a gentle touch, who is quite good at what she is doing. The problem is that she is lacking in aggressiveness.
Lacey’s campaign has been anemic. She is described by some as lacking fire in the belly.
A quiet, able person can function successfully in the second spot in the DA’s Office. However, the leader of that office, the spokesperson for the office, must be more than “nice.” That person must be dynamic.
Jackson is—and that’s where he has the advantage over Lacey.
She would not be at all as effective as Jackson in fighting for the interests of the office in the Legislature or the Board of Supervisors.
WO OTHER DEPUTIES in the office have had glowing performance evaluations: Bobby Grace and Danette Meyers. Each is an outstanding trial lawyer.
Grace is affable, collegial, and exceptionally hard-working. It could be that he has the makings of an superb district attorney. What isn’t known is whether he has leadership skills. Grace has been offered low-level managerial spots and turned them down.
Given his personality and his determination to get the job done right, he might well be suited for election to a public office—but not as district attorney, not this year.
Meyers is a seemingly angry person. She is strident and polarizing. While she is effective in a courtroom, she is not suited for the post of district attorney.
HERE ARE TWO ADDITIONAL candidates, neither of whom should be running. They are John L. Breault III, whose candidacy is pointless, and Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, whose candidacy is ethically foreclosed by his ironclad pledge to voters that if elected to his present post, he would not seek higher office.
Breault filed to run for the office on Feb. 29 but has mounted no campaign. In fact, he spent the month of March on vacation, out of the country. Breault paid the $3,017.31 filing fee, will have his name on the ballot, and is an invisible candidate. What’s the point of it? He is, by the way, the office’s longest serving deputy, with a 43-year tenure.
Trutanich—whom this newspaper endorsed for city attorney—has been a huge disappointment to us, to many. He bullies, he alienates, and, time after time, he lies. His ballot designation, being challenged in a writ proceeding instituted by Jackson, is “Los Angeles Chief Prosecutor,” implying that he is the incumbent. “Nuch” is a loud-mouth, denominated by some as “Carmen the Clown.” Though seen as the front- runner, he is the candidate least fit, among the six contestants, to be district attorney of Los Angeles County.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company