DA Candidates Trade Jabs at Latest Debate

Lost Coast Outpost Ryan Burns 4/21/2014

In a rapid-fire debate this afternoon, Humboldt County’s four district attorney candidates took turns addressing complex issues in one-minute sound bites, and they found time to take a few swipes at each other.

The 45-minute debate, which was hosted by Eureka Rotary Club and moderated by the League of Women Voters, touched on some of the usual hot-button topics, including marijuana legalization, homelessness, public safety realignment and campaign donations. And while the differences between candidates were often more about style than substance, there was a distinct feistiness in the air, with candidates looking to poke at each other’s perceived weak spots.

For example, Deputy District Attorney Élan Firpo and former Deputy DA/current County Counsel attorney Maggie Fleming traded a few rhetorical elbows over their respective résumés. During her opening statement, Firpo touted “20 years of experience relevant to being the district attorney” and specifically mentioned her prior career as an executive in the high-tech industry, where she said she engineered products and managed employees all over the world. That type of experience, Firpo said, “is not a thing you learn in law school, and it’s certainly not a thing you pick up in the courtroom.”

Fleming shot back during her own opening remarks by outlining her courtroom experience, which she said involved trying “every imaginable case” and holding various leadership positions at the Contra Costa and Humboldt County DA’s offices. “So my experience of over 25 years and over 120 jury trials is both relevant and pertinent to what we need moving forward in this county,” Fleming said.

The debate questions were generated by audience members, and an early one seemed specifically crafted to benefit Firpo. It asked each candidate to name the largest number of employees he or she had complete authority over. Arnie Klein, Alan Dollison and Fleming (all former deputy DAs) referred to various oversight positions they’ve held, and Dollison mentioned his experience as an Army officer. Firpo again mentioned her high-tech job, saying she was responsible for hiring and managing as many as 50 employees while ramping up production in a Malaysian factory.

This sub-debate about experience culminated during closing remarks as Fleming again challenged Firpo, albeit indirectly. How, Fleming asked, is “being the manager for an overseas company that produces an item” relevant to “working in a small county where you have to have a collaborative team of prosecutors that handle crime?” And she challenged Firpo to name the companies she worked for, the dates of employment, her job duties and titles and her reasons for leaving.

Firpo took the microphone next and gave a few answers to what she called Fleming’s “attack” on her. She designed magnetic recording heads for computer hard drives, “which are practically like cassette tapes at this point,” she said. Firpo asserted that the experience was relevant because it showed she can manage a large group of employees.

Klein, for his part, seems to have an arsenal of folksy aphorisms at his disposal, and he deployed a few this afternoon. “If wishes were horses, beggars would be riders,” he said by way of explaining the limited resources for the DA’s office. Regarding his ambitions for the office he quipped, “I’m not going there to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.” And regarding the viability of the four candidates he said, “At this table there are no dead fish.”

Klein also aimed a few barbs at his fellow candidates. After several mentioned serving as assistant district attorney, Klein chimed in, “I also was the ADA of Humboldt County. They pass that out like they would candy.”

And he wrapped up his closing remarks with another curious metaphor: “Just because you have managed a soccer team doesn’t make you a head coach in the NFL.”

Dollison also went after Fleming by pointing out a few areas of disagreement. Namely, he has called for boosting the number of deputy district attorneys to more than 20, saying he’ll go after grants to fund their salaries. And he categorically opposes the county’s current late-night jail release policies, while Fleming has said there are legal barriers to holding every offender overnight.

All candidates agreed that marijuana legalization is just a matter of time and that law enforcement should focus on large-scale grow operations, violent criminal activity and related environmental crimes. Dollison took the hardest line against marijuana, referencing a recent study linking pot use with brain changes and saying weed “introduces youths to drug culture.” Firpo called for “vertical prosecution,” that is, assigning a dedicated prosecutor to see through all stages of marijuana prosecutions. And Fleming said she’d prefer statewide legalization to a county-by-county legal patchwork, as with Prop. 215.

Asked what is the biggest problem in Humboldt County within the DA’s purview, Dollison said it’s the “explosion of crime in Eureka.” Fleming cited drug addiction and its connection to crime. Klein said it’s public safety, and he espoused a desire to “take back our community.” And Firpo said mental health problems — and self-medicating through drugs — are at the root of many local problems.

Asked what they’d change in the DA’s office, the candidates each offered ideas for improvement. Dollison suggested that the office has been mismanaged financially and promised to seek grant opportunities and prepare budgets for the Board of Supervisors (something he said hasn’t been done the last two years). Fleming said that the office needs more oversight because young, relatively inexperienced prosecutors are being given “carte blanche” to make plea bargains. Firpo said she’d institute vertical prosecution in a variety of areas, including marijuana cases, environmental cases and domestic abuse cases. And Klein suggested deputizing office employees as civil servants so they could resolve disputes in far-flung communities, outside of the formal courtroom setting.


Death Penalty and the DA race

A Capital Question A May trial could bring the death penalty debate to the foreground in the DA race by Thadeus Greenson   March 20, 2014  North Coast Journal


As the race to become Humboldt County’s next district attorney hits full stride, a trial quietly looms in the background — the first local death penalty case in decades — with the potential to bring the issue of capital punishment front and center in the campaign.


With little attention or fanfare, Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos is seeking the death penalty against Jason Anthony Warren in a case scheduled to go to trial in May. If a jury ultimately convicts and condemns Warren, it would be the first time Humboldt has sent someone to death row in nearly 25 years….


During the first debate in the race to replace Gallegos next year, the four candidates — Allan Dollison, Elan Firpo, Maggie Fleming and Arnie Klein — were asked for their thoughts on the death penalty.


Dollison, a former deputy district attorney and a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, said he supports capital punishment in limited cases. “It should be on the table,” he said.


Fleming, also a former deputy district attorney now working in County Counsel’s office, generally agreed, saying it’s a “most-extraordinary punishment” that should be reserved for certain cases. Fleming noted that, in her decades as a prosecutor, she never once felt it was appropriate for a case she was handling.


On the other end of the spectrum, Firpo said plainly she’s against capital punishment. “I don’t think civilized societies kill people for killing people,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”


Klein, who has a 40-year history in criminal law including 20 years as a prosecutor, offered a scattershot answer. First, he said he used to believe in the punishment, noting he was a young prosecutor who felt he had God on his side and believed cops never lied. But, Klein said, he’s “evolved” and now prefers pursuing a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. He also noted that in California, “we don’t really have a death penalty, so seeking one doesn’t make sense.”


Klein’s last point referenced the federal government’s halting of California executions in 2006 due to flaws in the process.


For the entire article: http://www.northcoastjournal.com/humboldt/a-capital-question/Content?oid=2516452

Arcata Mad River Union KHSU Debate Highlights

Will Houston/The Times-Standard Posted:   03/21/2014

With District Attorney Paul Gallegos not seeking reelection after 12 years in office, the four candidates — former county deputy district attorneys Allan Dollison, Maggie Fleming and Arnie Klein and current Deputy District Attorney Élan Firpo — began the forum by addressing changes they would implement in the office if elected.

Dollison said that the district attorney’s office’s low budget and minimal staffing can be addressed by obtaining more funding through the county and grants. ”It is creating a very dangerous situation,” Dollison said. “Attorneys are overworked, there are too many cases that are coming into the office and it is affecting justice … After that, I’m going to look and search for every grant possible.”

Agreeing with Dollison on staffing concerns, Firpo also said that she would assign deputy district attorneys to each law enforcement agency in order to build up relations and promote “transparency” with cases. ”Law enforcement needs to work with the DA’s office to be justice partners,” Firpo said.

Describing the current district attorney’s office as a “young career office,” Fleming said that she will also seek to bring in more attorneys and “mentor” those with less experience. ”It is critical to try cases in order to understand how to evaluate a case, but also how to effectively put to trial in front of a jury,” Fleming said.

Though Klein said that more staffing would benefit the office, he said that he would also implement change despite the limitations. “I can make a difference whether we make the money or not,” Klein said. “… I’m going to prioritize what we’re going to go after.”

On the topic of marijuana grows, all four candidates held a common ground with each other by stating they would focus on large grows that damage the environment and endanger the community.

When the topic of plea bargains arose, the attention shifted to the recent plea deal made by Firpo for the fatal stabbing case of Arcata resident Douglas Anderson-Jordet, who was killed in November. In the plea deal made in February with the district attorney’s office, Anderson-Jordet’s killer — 35-year-old Juan Joseph Ferrer, of Arcata — pleaded no contest to the charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Dollison said that if elected, he would “require that we consult with the victims and their families.”

Firpo, who has since been reassigned from the case per her request, said she knew she would be “under scrutiny” as the only practicing deputy district attorney. Firpo defended her decision at the forum and criticized candidates for using it as political ammunition. ”What had been a tragedy has become a travesty,” Firpo said.

Fleming said that with “90 percent” of cases ending in plea bargains, she would “oversee all of the cases and oversee all of the offers” if elected. ”I think that if there is to be justice, there has to be oversight,” Fleming said.

As the most outspoken on the plea deal, Klein criticized Firpo on her lack of experience and said it contributed to the plea deal being struck rather than the case being taken to trial as Anderson-Jordet’s family had requested. ”In order to evaluate a case, you have to have some experience,” Klein said. “How many cases has Elan Firpo tried?”

First District Attorney Debate

North Coast Journal – Posted by Thadeus Greenson on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 3:15 PM

The four candidates vying to become Humboldt County’s next district attorney gathered for their first debate Thursday.

The candidates — Deputy District Attorney Elan Firpo and former prosecutors Allan Dollison, Maggie Fleming and Arnie Klein — spent the better part of two hours in the Eureka Veterans Building, answering questions composed by the hosting Humboldt Tea Party Patriots. The evening featured a number of lively responses touching an array of issues. If there was an underlying theme of the evening, however, it was that the district attorney’s office is currently mismanaged and woefully underfunded, leaving prosecutors overworked and often ill prepared.

A telling point on the staffing issue came when the moderator asked the candidates how many deputy district attorneys they feel are needed to handle the almost 5,000 misdemeanor and felony cases that come through the office every year. Fleming said she’d like 13 or 14 attorneys; Firpo said she wants 20; Dollison said 20 to 25; and Klein said, “how many people? As many as we can get.” Currently, the DA’s office currently has 12 full-time attorneys (candidates offered varying figures Thursday), and that includes District Attorney Paul Gallegos and Assistant District Attorney Kelly Neel, both of whom see the bulk of their duties fall outside the courtroom.

The funding issue came up again and again Thursday. Fleming said there were 14 deputy district attorneys when she started at the DA’s Office in the mid-1990s, adding that, even then, all of them took work home every night and weekend to keep up. “It was nonstop, and we all did it,” she said.  Firpo said she has a plan to pursue grants to nearly double the current staffing level of prosecutors. Dollison said grants ultimately aren’t the answer because they have a tendency to “go away,” and that he intends to lobby the board of supervisors for additional funding. “If they think the General Plan fight of 2014 is something, well wait until they see the district attorney funding fight of 2015,” he said.

Klein also pledged to lobby the board for additional funds. “I’m going to tell the board of supervisors, ‘there is a public safety crisis and if you can’t give me the men, I can’t protect the people,’” he said.

While there were a few head-scratch-inducing questions asked Thursday — perhaps most notably whether the candidates believed the sheriff should be the county’s chief law man or its chief law enforcement officer — the local Tea Partiers came through with some timely ones of special interest to local voters.

The candidates were asked about the Humboldt County jail’s policy allowing inmates to be released in the middle of the night, when few services and transportation options are available. Dollison called the policy “despicable,” Firpo said the policy is a problem that can and should be solved and Klein lambasted the policy with a reference to the recent slaying of St. Bernard’s Pastor Father Eric Freed.

But Fleming offered a decidedly different take. Noting that the policy is currently under review, she said it has worked well for a lot of working folks arrested for being drunk in public, noting that the late night releases allow them to get home, get cleaned up and get to work in the morning. She also pointed out that folks released in the late-night/early-morning hours aren’t forced to leave the facility. “There is a lobby there — it is well lit, it is dry and you have access to a bathroom,” she said.

Asked about whether they would support the legalization of marijuana, all four candidates essentially dodged the question and instead focused on the impacts of illegal marijuana and the potential consequences of legalization.

Fleming said she accepts the fact that a majority of California voters support legalization, and that she thinks it’s important that it come with a state-wide framework for regulation. Klein said marijuana enforcement would be his lowest priority as district attorney, but said he would work to make sure growers are operating in a “responsible way.” Dollison said legalization is ultimately a state and federal decision, but said if legalization does come he would support a regulatory framework similar to Colorado’s. Finally, Firpo said legalization is coming and needs to be planned for. Generally, she said, marijuana is not the problem. “It’s not the marijuana, necessarily, it’s the crime that goes with it,” she said, referring to home-invasion robberies, cartel activities and environmental degradation.

Asked how they would combat Humboldt County’s drug culture, all the candidates basically said they would work to put dealers behind bars and to keep them there as long as possible and that they would support treatment and education for addicts.

 The full debate is set to air on Access Humboldt in the coming weeks.

KHSU to host DA Forum March 20th

KHSU will broadcast a forum with the four Humboldt County District Attorney candidates on March 20th beginning at 7 p.m. and ending at 8:30 p.m.

The forum will be held at the Arcata Community Center and the public is welcome to attend and to take part in the discussion. Thursday Night Talk co-host and Mad River Union Editor at Large Kevin Hoover will moderate.

The forum is sponsored by KHSU, the Mad River Union and the Arcata Police Association.

Gallegos Endorses Firpo!

Or, maybe not.

It is well known around town that Paul Gallegos was the one who convinced Elan Firpo to run for Humboldt County District Attorney. Convinced her she would inherit his mantle and electoral base. Then the funniest thing happened. Late last year a news story is published where he says he has decided not to endorse anyone, leading  her planned campaign kickoff announcement, which was scheduled for December 4, to be quickly canceled.

Then, a few weeks ago, Richard Salzman, the brains behind Paul’s first and continuing election successes, sent out an email blast which, among other things, states that Paul and Joanie Gallegos will be having a house party for her.

Sound confusing?

House parties are held by supporters of a candidate. Otherwise, why would you have one?

Paul should just come out of the shadows and quit being coy.

Deputy Sheriffs’ Organization Endorses Fleming

It was confirmed (http://johnchiv.blogspot.com/2014/02/deputy-sherriffs-endorsement-for-maggie ) that the Humboldt Deputy Sheriffs’ Organization (HDSO) has endorsed Maggie Fleming as their choice for the next District Attorney.

The Humboldt Deputy Sheriffs Organization (HDSO) consists of front-line law enforcement officers in Humboldt County. HDSO members are deputy sheriffs, probation officers, investigators in the district attorney’s office, deputy coroners, and welfare fraud investigators.


And while this endorsement is one of the bigger ones and was done unusually early, the organization’s track record in backing winning candidates is somewhat spotty. Current District Attorney Paul Gallegos NEVER got their backing or endorsement and won three elections while also surviving a recall attempt.