◼ Three candidates vie for Humboldt County District Attorney
Editor's note: A series of stories examining the district attorney candidates' views on issues including plea bargains, marijuana and the administration of the office will begin next week.
Paul Gallegos sees unfinished business
District Attorney Paul Gallegos never really dreamed of becoming a lawyer.
In fact, if not for a seemingly random suggestion from his sister-in-law, he may never have even gone to law school.
Having grown up in Northern Virginia outside Washington, D.C., Gallegos graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in economics, and was poised to return to school to get his doctorate when his sister-in-law stepped in, suggesting he take the Law School Admissions Test. Gallegos said he took the test, not thinking much of it, and wound up scoring really well.
”At that point, I thought 'why not?' and applied to law school,” he said.
Gallegos said he started law school on the East Coast, but felt something was amiss, didn't like it and eventually came out to Southern California's LaVerne College of Law. Still, Gallegos said nothing about law school grabbed him.
”I was just really unimpressed with the law school environment,” he said.
Having grown up as the ninth of 11 children, Gallegos said he was instilled with a strong sense of public service. His great-great-grandfather fought in the Battle of Bull Run near the house Gallegos grew up in. His father, uncle and grandfather are all buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
But Gallegos said he found a sense of public service, or even of morality, to be lacking in law school and -- just as he'd felt with economics -- he believed discussions too often boiled down to rules and equations. Things changed, Gallegos said, when he began clerking in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, got out of the classroom and got a taste of the courtroom.
”Once I did that, it clicked and I loved it,” Gallegos said, adding that he incorporated two of his favorite things: talking and arguing, all with an underlying value judgment about society. “That was the debate that was missing in economics.”
Once he started arguing cases at hearings, Gallegos said, he was absolutely hooked, likening the feeling to surfing in big water, feeling the surge of adrenaline and not knowing quite how things will play out.
”Once it was no longer a classroom discussion -- once I got to go to court -- the die was cast,” Gallegos said. “I loved it.”
After law school, Gallegos said, he spent some time as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles before venturing out to start a private practice. After several years, he and his new wife, Joan, whom he'd met at law school, started getting restless. Joan, who is from back East, longed to live somewhere again where she could experience the seasons, Gallegos said, describing her as a mountains-and-lakes person. Joan wanted out of Los Angeles, Gallegos said.
The couple came to Humboldt County to visit one weekend, and Joan was hooked, saying “let's move,” Gallegos recalled, adding that the place reminded him of an episode of the television program “Northern Exposure.”
The two arrived in Humboldt County for good on New Year's Eve 1994, wanting to start the new year in their new surroundings. For about two years, Gallegos said the couple kept afloat with work that would trickle in from Southern California and other parts of the state. He said he was constantly traveling to pick up cases until their local law practices gained a foothold.
Gallegos said his path changed drastically -- as many others did -- on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists brought down the World Trade Center in New York City. He said he immediately started to look differently at his life, and reflect on his family lineage in public service.
”I used to think I was just lucky, and I am,” Gallegos said, noting that he was born as a part of the baby boom generation and enjoyed privileges that many in the country -- and the world -- didn't.
But Gallegos said he also started to realize there was something more to his success than luck, and that he felt he had a natural knack for arguing cases.
”At some point, I came to the conclusion that if it's luck, it's a gift. If I didn't earn it, then it's a gift and I'd better give it back,” Gallegos said, adding that he also feared some civil liberties would be lost in a post-9/11 world and soon turned his attention to the district attorney's office.
”As a defense attorney, I had to defend bad people -- you had to stand with your clients because it was the right thing to do,” Gallegos said. “As district attorney, you make sure the protections in our laws will apply to everyone.”
In 2002, Gallegos unseated five-term incumbent Terry Farmer in the primary election. Little more than one year later, a movement was under way to recall the new district attorney.
Gallegos said he feels like much of his first term was spent changing the direction of the district attorney's office and bringing it in line with 21st century practices. Much of his energy, he said, was also spent fighting off challenges from inside and outside the office -- most notably the attempted recall, which 61 percent of county voters rejected in March 2004.
Now, Gallegos said, he feels he still has unfinished business.
”We've accomplished a lot, but there's a long way to go,” Gallegos said.
For more information on Gallegos and his campaign, visit www.votepaul.org.
Paul Hagen's challenge: A new direction
Even while attending law school, district attorney candidate Paul Hagen never really envisioned being an attorney.
”I did not go to law school to be a lawyer,” said Hagen, who studied political science as an undergraduate. “I just came to the realization that a law degree is the most flexible of advanced degrees.”
In fact, it wasn't until about a decade after law school that Hagen said he started viewing practicing law as a profession.
Born and raised in Rockford, Ill., Hagen grew up with an older sister and two younger brothers. His father was an electrician and his mother a registered nurse -- both the children of Scandinavian immigrants.
While Hagen said his background is distinctly blue collar, he said he always knew a white collar profession lay in his future.
When he attended Northern Illinois University, Hagen said he was drawn to politics, studying political science, interning in Congress and serving in student government, which he notes was a paid position with paid staff. During his time at the university, Hagen said he also traveled to Washington twice to lobby Congress on behalf of student governments.
After school, Hagen said, he spent a year driving a garbage truck before heading to the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis in 1979. After earning his law degree, Hagen said he decided to leave Illinois to head to California, which he'd visited several times.
”I was always enamored with the West,” Hagen said. “So, I loaded up my 1975 Honda Civic station wagon and headed for San Francisco.”
After arriving in the big city in March 1985, in a period Hagen deems the “B.C. years” -- before children and before career -- Hagen said he spent a handful of years in the city working odd construction and temporary jobs, living in the Mission District and enjoying life.
”I think life is an adventure,” Hagen said, adding that he's always felt the more experiences someone has, the better.
After stints working with an open space district and a water board, Hagen said, he got the opportunity to work as an environmental analyst at Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro, which at the time was the biggest law firm in California. During that time, Hagen said he taught environmental law classes at night and was ultimately admitted to the California State Bar in 1993.
In January 1995, Hagen put on his first environmental law conference and found his passion. After watching the lawyers at his firm, Hagen decided that he wanted to be a practicing attorney.
A short time later, Hagen applied for an environmental prosecutor job in the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office. He worked in the office for about four years prosecuting cases when he was contacted by the Environmental Circuit Prosecutor Project of the California District Attorneys Association, which was designed to bring environmental prosecutors -- generally a niche field -- to rural areas of California. Hagen was hired to work environmental cases in a number of North Coast counties, including Humboldt.
Hagen said he soon moved his home-base to Humboldt County at the invitation of then-District Attorney Terry Farmer and became a full-time circuit prosecutor for Humboldt, Del Norte and Lake counties.
In the following years, Hagen said he put on training for law enforcement officers on how to build environmental law cases, facilitated environmental law conferences and tried a wide variety of cases in the three counties.
In talking with Hagen, one quickly notices that his passion lies with environmental law. He talks excitedly about his law conferences on the subject, and often becomes animated when discussing his environmental prosecutions.
When speaking about a case he tried in Del Norte County in which two men tore up a protected wildlife area with a pickup truck before demolishing the truck and lighting it on fire, Hagen's voice rose as he gestured adamantly with his hands. When discussing another Del Norte case in which someone was caught smuggling animals into the state, Hagen went so far as to get on the floor to mimic one of the bear cubs found in a small crate in the man's truck.
After being let go from his post with the California District Attorneys Association, Hagen signed on with the local firm of Bragg, Perlman, Russ, Stunich and Eads, where he's done a wide variety of work. He said his clients have included the city of Trinidad, the Shelter Cove Resort Improvement District and the California Teachers Association.
In the last few years, Hagen said, he's started to feel a pull back to public service. Seeing a growing discord with the local district attorney's office, Hagen said he started thinking about running, believing he can make the changes he thinks are necessary to win back the public trust he feels has been lost.
Going door to door in this campaign, Hagen said he's repeatedly heard from people who feel the current administration is mishandling plea bargains, that the office isn't well run and that medical marijuana -- and its impacts -- have grown completely out of control. Hagen said he thinks he can make a difference.
”Government is all of us,” he said. “If you really want to help everyone, government is the way to do it.”
For more information on Hagen and his campaign, visit www.hagenforda.com.
Allison Jackson: Fight for victims' rights
For district attorney candidate Allison Jackson, law is something that's in her blood.
”I come from a really long line of pretty incredible women,” Jackson said recently, sitting in her office of Eureka's Harland Law Firm, where she is a partner.
Jackson said her grandmother was the first woman admitted to her law school but, after graduating first in her class, was not allowed to join the state bar association. So, Jackson said, her grandmother worked primarily doing legal research and that, as a girl, she often spent summers in her grandmother's office, reading through her reports.
Jackson said she also accompanied her grandmother to meetings of the Queens Bench Bar Association, which was formed by a group of female lawyers who were frustrated at the reluctance of their male counterparts to welcome them into the legal fold.
It was these summers with her grandmother, Jackson said, that laid the foundation for her legal career, but she wouldn't know it for some time.
When Jackson was 21, intent on becoming an anthropologist, she traveled to Africa to study. While she was away, tragedy struck when her mother and stepfather were killed in a car accident after a drunken driver racing down the street careened into their vehicle, Jackson said.
Jackson said she was shocked when she was frozen out of the legal process and wasn't even allowed to speak at the sentencing of the man who had killed her parents. The experience, she said, cemented what would be a life-long interest and passion for victims' rights.
While working toward a master's degree in social sciences, Jackson said she started avidly studying victims' rights issues and soon set her sights on becoming a prosecutor, believing it was the one place where she could work to uphold state law, uphold defendants' rights and protect victims' rights all at once.
After stints working in the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco, interning at the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and working at the Santa Cruz District Attorney's Office, Jackson said she got a call from then-Humboldt County District Attorney Terry Farmer offering her a job.
Jackson said she liked the idea of working for a small office and loved the area, as she had a passion for horses, vegetable gardens and, perhaps most of all, fishing. She decided to come give the place a try, with the ultimate plan of moving back down south after she got six years of work experience under her belt.
She never left, ultimately hooked on the good people of the area, the work she was doing and wonderful outdoor experiences, like drift fishing on the pristine Smith River.
Jackson said she also soon fell into a niche in Farmer's office prosecuting what she calls special victims crimes -- cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and crimes against the elderly.
”I found that particularly satisfying -- to take on the good battle and also protect our most vulnerable,” she said, adding that she also loved the challenge of taking on the cases.
“They're exceptionally hard to prove. There are no bodies and few witnesses. You have to work very hard to put together a good case.”
Jackson said she found the role tremendously rewarding, but was ultimately let go by the district attorney's office in June 2004 by incumbent Paul Gallegos, who beat out Farmer in the 2002 election.
A short time after hanging up her prosecutor hat, Jackson joined the Harland Law Firm, where she remains to this day, litigating civil cases representing child victims, nonprofit groups and victim advocate groups.
Her proudest moment, she said, came when she defended an elderly couple in a civil case brought against them by a man who had been accused of neglecting their daughter in a dependent-adult abuse case. After an appellate court's decision resulted in the man's acquittal, he turned around and sued the deceased woman's parents.
”So, I picked up my sword and my shield and represented them,” Jackson said, pointing to a framed letter on the wall from the parents thanking Jackson and telling her “your parents would be proud.”
”I don't put many of those on my wall,” Jackson said, “but that's one.”
Jackson said she finds her practice wonderfully rewarding. She said she loves her beautiful Eureka office and is well compensated for the work she does. In short, she said she wasn't looking to make any drastic changes.
But she said she kept running into people telling her they needed her to be the county's next district attorney. In court, at restaurants and in the line at the grocery store, Jackson said she kept running into people she'd never met, urging her to run. She said people kept telling her that the system is broken and that victims' voices aren't being heard.
”I would not be doing this if I hadn't been asked by so many people,” she said. “It got to the point where it's so much bigger than you.”
For more information on Jackson and her campaign, visit www.ajforda.com.
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or
Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard
Posted: 05/22/2010 01:21:21 AM PDT