◼ 'To seek justice' ... Honesty comes into question in the Humboldt County district attorney's race
If honesty is the best policy, Humboldt County might be between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the race to become district attorney.
As the campaign storms into its final days, supporters of both two-term incumbent Paul Gallegos and challenger Allison Jackson have been hurling allegations of dishonesty back and forth. Some have alleged that Gallegos has repeatedly misrepresented his résumé, claiming credit for work done by others and aggrandizing his employment history. Others allege that Jackson has made false claims about court cases, county policy and other things.
As Election Day draws near, the two candidates' support groups are also solidifying, with some very distinct lines being drawn in the proverbial sand.
While the truth is often the first casualty in any political race, most experts agree that honesty is a vital attribute for a good district attorney. The position holds the tremendous power to punish the guilty, protect the innocent and -- if wielded carelessly or vindictively -- to destroy people's lives through false accusations. Consequently, one would hope candidates vying for the office would play slow and tight with the facts and make a conscious effort not to distort the truth, said David Levine, a professor at the University of California Hastings School of Law.
That arguably hasn't been the case in Humboldt County.
Jackson, who served as a deputy district attorney for 10 years before becoming a partner at Eureka's Harland Law Firm, has drawn criticism from detractors -- and from Gallegos -- for allegedly distorting the truth for her political gain.
When the subject of marijuana has come up during debates and interviews, Jackson has repeatedly laid much of the blame for the proliferation of marijuana grow houses and other problems at Gallegos' feet, and has repeatedly referred to a “99-plant-get-out-of-jail-free card.”
While criticism of Gallegos' handling of the marijuana issue may or may not be valid, some contend that Jackson's comments have misrepresented the county's policy and Gallegos' role in crafting it.
Gallegos said a 99-plant threshold was, in fact, a part of his medical marijuana guidelines, but notes it was only one of three criteria -- the other two were 100 square feet and 1,500 watts -- used to determine whether a grow operation exceeded the limits allowed for medical cultivation.
But those guidelines haven't been in effect for more than six years -- since the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors enacted a policy that dropped the watt and plant number limitations, leaving only the 100-square-feet threshold in place.
Recently, the incumbent has fallen under fire for stating in his ballot statement that he “established” the district attorney's office's Investigative Unit, Child Abuse and Adult Sex Crimes Unit, the Domestic Violence Unit and Vertical Prosecution Team and its Bad Check Program.
”Those all started long before he took office,” Jackson said in a recent interview with the Times-Standard.
County records reportedly indicate that funding for the Domestic Violence Vertical Prosecution Team began in 1998, that the Child Abuse Services Team started in 1996 and that a Bad Check Program had been running since long before Gallegos took office, but was essentially contracted to an outside agency.
Gallegos was adamant in a recent interview that he did, in fact, “establish” those units.
”I advise them to show any evidence those units existed before I came here, because they didn't,” he said.
A moment later, Gallegos said there was an investigative unit in the office before he arrived, but said the unit only assisted attorneys in court. Now, he said, under Chief Investigator Mike Hislop's direction, the unit goes out and investigates crimes, solves some of its own cases and helps bolster prosecutions by doing follow-up investigations of other agencies' cases.
As to the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Unit, commonly known as CAST, Gallegos said it has similarly been revamped under his direction.
”Did we have attorneys assigned to CAST (prior to my arrival)? Yes,” he said. “Did we have a group of people only assigned to working child and adult sex crimes with an investigator and (a member of) victim witness? No. That's something I've developed over eight years.”
As to domestic violence, Gallegos similarly said the county had a grant in place for a prosecutor, but said there was no team in place until he established one. With the Bad Check Program, Gallegos said it was contracted out to a company, but is now handled through an in-house program, noting “it simply wasn't done here in Humboldt County before.”
Jackson disputes that, saying that Gallegos' ballot statement “took my breath away.”
”It wasn't embellishing -- these were things that were simply not true,” Jackson said of the statements in question.
Gallegos has also drawn fire recently for an answer he provided to a Humboldt County Tea Party Patriots questionnaire asking about the last time he read the Constitution. In his answer, Gallegos stated that he was a “professor” at Humboldt State University, only to later revise the answer to read that he was a “lecturer.”
Reached Wednesday, Gallegos said he taught at HSU for more than two years and didn't realize there was a distinction between lecturers and professors, when in fact lecturers are not on a track for tenure, are not required to have a Ph.D. and are essentially temporary instructors.
”I thought of myself as a professor, and I think my students did as well,” Gallegos said. “I didn't realize there was a job category that says, 'you are a lecturer.'”
Gallegos said when issues were raised over his use of the term “professor,” he contacted HSU, learned of the distinction and immediately corrected his response to the Tea Party questionnaire.
Criticisms have also been levied recently at Jackson for the way she has represented some criminal cases in criticizing the performance of Gallegos' office.
Most recently, and perhaps most publicly, Eureka attorney Patrik Griego submitted a letter to the editor to the Lumberjack newspaper accusing Jackson of misleading the public about a case he defended.
In the letter, Griego states that the case involved a college student involved in a “theft-related incident” but, reached later by phone, Griego declined to discuss the case any further, or offer the defendant's name, without his client's permission.
”Allison Jackson's campaign used the result in this case as an example of why she should be district attorney, claiming Mr. Gallegos' office lacked judgment,” Griego wrote. “Ms. Jackson's campaign misstated to the public that the young man had committed numerous prior thefts he did not and implied that she would have sent him directly to prison. Ms. Jackson's campaign also stated that the young man received just probation, neglecting to tell the public he received six months in jail. Ms. Jackson's comments were extremely misleading and based on misinformation in the police report and an attitude that a district attorney should always maximize punishment.”
Jackson said she can't figure out what case Griego is referring to as it does not match any of the ones she has discussed publicly. Consequently, she declined to comment.
Griego's last point seems to touch on a concern some have with Jackson's candidacy in general. There is the perception among some that while a district attorney must work diligently to protect the rights of the people, victims and the accused, Jackson is focused too much on victims and would take a win-at-all-costs approach to prosecutions.
Jackson's campaign website has a particular line that has jumped out to some, including at least one letter writer to the Times-Standard. Speaking of what she would do in her first days in office, Jackson states “reach out to re-establish communication with law enforcement agencies to let them know that when they bust 'em, we won't let 'em go.”
Gallegos said he finds the statement to be troubling.
”I hope it would be to everyone,” he said. “That is counter to every principle of criminal law. It is completely counter to the most basic constitutional protections of every citizen of this county.”
Jackson said she would hope that anyone troubled by that line on her website would simply continue reading, noting that later on the website she states: “This county deserves a DA who not only understands that the rights of those accused of crimes can also not be compromised, but insists that those rights be consciously enforced and followed.”
A letter endorsing Gallegos was recently sent out by a group of lawyers in Humboldt County and specifically states that part of the reason for the endorsement is that Gallegos works independently of law enforcement.
”Our justice system requires a Humboldt County district attorney who represents the people, not special interests -- who acts independently from the police to seek justice, not vengeance, and acts with reason, not anger,” states that letter, which was signed by 64 members of the 120-member Humboldt County Bar Association and includes a host of well-known names like Bill Bragg, Russell Clanton, Greg Rael and Neal Sanders.
Jackson, on the other hand, clearly enjoys an outpouring of support from community law enforcement as she carries the endorsements of just about every police union in the county and those of a host of individual officers.
In nearly identical press releases, the Eureka Police Officers Association and the Arcata Police Association endorsed Jackson, saying “quality of life, community safety and victim's rights are all at stake in this election.” Both releases cite cases the agencies feel ended with unjust dispositions.
The Humboldt County Sheriff's Association PAC has also been far and away Jackson's largest campaign donor, having pumped $18,500 into her campaign coffers since the beginning of the year.
Jackson has said her support by law enforcement stems from a belief in her abilities and a deep dissatisfaction with Gallegos' administration.
Gallegos said he didn't solicit the law enforcement unions' endorsements in this election and never will. He said law enforcement agencies are akin to the military in that they serve a civil society.
”'To protect and serve' is an unfinished statement,” Gallegos said. “The finished statement is: 'To protect and serve the people,' and they speak through the ballot. As long as I'm district attorney, I will not solicit (law enforcement unions') participation in this (election) process.”
The American Bar Association describes the function of a prosecutor simply as “to seek justice,” and a 1935 U.S. Supreme Court decision describes what a prosecutor should be.
”(They are) are in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape nor innocence suffer,” the ruling states. “(They) may prosecute with earnest vigor -- indeed, (they) should do so. But, while (they) may strike hard blows, (they are) not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much (their) duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.”
Humboldt County voters will decide on Election Day who is the best candidate to seek justice.
For more information on Gallegos, visit www.votepaul. org.
For more information on Jackson, visit www.aj4da.com.
Editor's note: This is the last of three stories taking a closer look at the race to become Humboldt County's top law enforcement official.
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard
Posted: 10/28/2010 01:23:16 AM PDT