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Should the Movement to Oust Bad Prosecutors Go After Judges Next?

[ – 6/1/18]

Four public defenders think so, but critics worry they’re turning criminal justice reform into an assault on the judiciary.

Major cities across the United States are getting swept up in a movement to replace tough-on-crime prosecutors with reform-minded outsiders. Last November, Larry Krasner, a former federal public defender turned civil rights lawyer, was elected district attorney in Philadelphia. He rapidly set about changing business as usual, refusing to prosecute low-level marijuana offenses and instructing his deputies to begin plea negotiations from the minimum rather than the maximum penalty. (Disclosure: After Krasner was elected, my sister Dana took a job as a policy adviser in his office.)

Similar challenges by self-described reformers have sprung up all over the country. On May 8 in North Carolina, Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols was toppled by Satana Deberry, who promised to bring “a culture change in the prosecution of crimes by addressing racial bias.” Like Krasner, Deberry has no prosecutorial experience. In California, incumbent DAs are being challenged by public defenders and civil rights lawyers in races in Oakland, San Diego, and Stanislaus County. Other bids are in the works in Charlotte, North Carolina; Dallas; Baltimore; and St. Louis.

But while prosecutors wield enormous power, they’re only part of the reform equation. State court trial judges preside over everything from murder trials to traffic ticket disputes. Because only a tiny fraction of these cases are appealed, their rulings typically go unchallenged. And yet there hasn’t been a similar movement to replace them. Until now.

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  1. Eric

    Prosecutors are immune from being held accountable fro unethical behavior, and that should definitely be addressed. If they lie or mislead or withhold evidence they should be held to criminal charges. They play with human lives to build their careers and should be held to the highest ethical standard. My prosecutor lied through her teeth and had to sit there and listen and couldn’t do anything.

    • no name

      You can file a complaint against any lawyer with their state bar association for unethical behavior.

    • Katharine

      I couldn’t agree more. The prosecutor at my friend’s trial lied about a small but meaningful detail. It was actually one of the few things that both my friend and his false accuser agreed on in their respective versions of events, but still the prosecutor had to lie about it in order to make my friend look worse. As a consequence, I now never believe a word a prosecutor says.

    • David

      Judges aren’t innocent either. While discussing a possible plea bargain, the judge in my case told me in front of both attorneys, “If I seat a jury and if this goes to trial and you are found guilty, I will make certain you get the maximum sentence possible.” That certainly sounded like a threat to me…… so I accepted the plea under duress. (I hadn’t realized the judges are on the prosecution’s team.) 😡

    • NPS

      Au contraire…our DA resigned last year due to ethics violations and faced 13 felony charges before copping a plea and getting only probation (and I’m sure he was disbarred).

      Right now, it is a super tight race for Contra Costa County’s DA. I’m really pulling for Diana Becton to win. She is definitely pro-prison reform and her opponent Paul Graves pulled the “she supports sexual predators” card. When I saw that in my mail, I trashed it and marked Becton as my choice. As it stands, Becton has 49.59% of the vote. She needs 50% plus 1. There are still 80,000 ballots left to count, so my fingers are crossed.

      Graves also heads the sex assault unit, so I’m sure he would be no friend to RCs when petitioning for removal once the tiered registry is implemented.

      • Tim Moore

        Sounds somewhat like the DA race hear in San Diego, pro hang them all candidate vs. pro let’s give people an honest change candidate. The hanger looks like she won, sad blow for those fighting mass incarceration. We are too much like Orange county down here.

      • Wesley Tourneau

        It looks like in California in all the DA races where it was sought that the replacement of the DA be with a more pro-prison reform one it only happened in one county, Contra Costa County.

        • NPS

          Alameda County, too. Nancy O’Malley coasted to victory. She is pro-prison reform. She also voted in favor of the tiered registry. Alameda and Contra Costa are SF Bay Area counties, where there is a tendency to lean more toward prison-reform and pro-rehabilitation rather than punishment. Both counties are deep blue. In fact all 9 Bay Area counties are.

          Santa Clara County, however, is starting to think “more punishment” especially with the Judge Persky recall. Santa Clara has always been a bit more conservative than the other counties.

  2. David Kennerly, The Government-Driven Life

    They finally got rid of Bonnie Demonic only to get another demon for a D.A.

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