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From the Outside Looking In


By Alexa Llewellyn



May 28, 2003

Da DA's Race

The San Francisco Call is going to be sponsoring a forum on the District Attorney’s race on Thursday, June 5, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Italian-American Club, 25 Russia (Mission). Suggested donation is $10 but no one will be turned away at the door.

Arguably, the race for District Attorney is the second biggest race on the November 2003 ballot. (Other than the Mayor’s race, the only remaining one is for Sheriff-and incumbent Michael Hennessey is running unopposed again.)

But if you are like me, you have not given much thought to the job of the District Attorney. Perhaps your only contact with the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant (where the District Attorney’s offices are located) is when you’re paying your towing fines.

Simply put, the District Attorney is your lawyer. He or she represents the residents of the City and County of San Francisco in crimes against the state (murder, robbery, rape, domestic violence, and et al). He or she is also responsible for pursuing violations of child support, child custody, and cease-desist orders. As an elected official, he or she must pursue indictments or plea bargains to reflect the will of the voters.

So how does the crimes against other people impact you? John Dunne Said it: “No man [or woman] is an island.” Crime impacts all of our Lives -- from setting the cost of home/renter’s insurance to deciding what businesses exist within our community. It determines the safety of our children and the degree of freedom that our teenagers can enjoy. An indictment can give people a second chance -- and it can take people who constitute a threat to those around them into a protected facility.

For example, should the District Attorney pursue the fullest conviction for a woman accused of prostitution on Capp Street? What about her john? Does the District Attorney pursue the same sentence for someone who is accused of carjacking in the Marina as someone who is accused of carjacking in the Bayview? Should the District Attorney pursue an indictment of a woman who is pregnant and agree to a plea bargain for time spent in a rehabilitation center?

What about a person convicted of two felonies who, from all accounts, was found in the wrong car at the wrong time? What about the business owner who retaliated against a former partner who had stolen the accused’s life savings years before? So many stories, so many decisions.

Time is a precious commodity -- especially at 850 Bryant. Its limited supply makes us ask which crimes the District Attorney should make every effort to get a conviction for -- and which crimes he or she should drop.

The District Attorney is also responsible for pursuing possible crimes of corruption, fraud and/or malfeasance of public officials. This is a chancy thing that doesn’t usually do wonders to a political official’s career, or to the District Attorney’s career. An indictment against a political official doesn’t usually win the District Attorney any friends in high places and usually burns a lot of bridges. Even if the political official is found innocent or the charges are dropped, a brown cloud now shadows that official’s reputation. The same cloud darkens the relationship of the official (and his/her friends and supporters) with the District Attorney and his office.

Yet communities want all corruption in public life to be stamped out. They demand it. So the District Attorney has to figure out what accusations to investigate and what accusations to leave alone.

The job of District Attorney is a difficult job. The reason that it is an elected position is that it impacts the very fabric of our lives within the City and County of San Francisco. That is also the reason why you need to be aware of the candidates running for the position and how they would run the District Attorney’s office.

For this reason, the San Francisco Call is sponsoring a forum on Thursday, June 5, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Italian-American Club, 25 Russia (Mission). Donation to the SF Call of $10 is suggested, but no one will be turned away at the door. Randall Knox, senior attorney and formerly a member of the District Attorney’s office, and Teresa Caffese, chief attorney at San Francisco’s Public Defender’s Office will be the moderators. The forum will be in an interview format, with the moderators asking the three declared candidates to present their views on key issues surrounding the District Attorney’s office. All three declared candidates in the race -- Bill Fazio, Terence Hallinan, and Kamala Harris -- have accepted the invitation to participate in the forum. For more information, call (415) 386-2706 or email llewellyn840@hotmail.com.