The Orange County District Attorney (DA) Todd Spitzer was “unavailable” for the candidate forum on April 25 hosted by the ACLU, OCCORD (Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development), and other non-profits who do not endorse candidates. The three challenging Spitzer on the June 7 ballot attended the event that attracted over 65 people in-person at the Delhi Center in Santa Ana and 2,000 who attended via social media.
Attorney and former deputy DA Michael Jacobs, Pete Hardin, also an attorney and former deputy DA, and federal attorney Bryan Chehock, mostly avoided making personal attacks against one another while responding to questions. However, they frequently criticized Spitzer in his absence. The next day Spitzer circulated a press release about the forum, not to defend himself, but to attack one of the three candidates, Pete Hardin, for his responses to questions at the forum.
The candidates distinguished themselves in their opening statements. Chehock said he was apolitical, independent, and was not taking contributions to provide assurance he would be fair and unbiased. Hardin highlighted his service as a Marine Corps officer in Afghanistan and said he would help “solve underlying drivers of crime” and support survivors of crime. Jacobs listed the roles he fulfilled during his 30 years in the DA’s office and referred to Spitzer’s time as DA as “chaos,” claiming there are ongoing wrongful termination investigations and a case with seven sexual assault victims “destroyed” by the DA’s misconduct.
On immigration and voluntary transfers to ICE, Chehock said there are conflicting federal and state policies and executive orders, but he would communicate consequences to immigrant defendants. Hardin said prosecutors are required to consider immigration consequences and it is a “moral and public safety imperative” that immigrants feel safe to report crimes. Jacobs said that OC has been entering into agreements with local agencies to avoid conflicts between federal law and the California Values Act that does not allow local resources to be used for immigration enforcement.
When asked about people with mental health issues, including veterans, being criminalized, Jacobs said the Veteran’s Administration has failed. Hardin said he would expand access to vets’ court and mental health services that should not be delivered by police. Chehock agreed that law enforcement should not be handling mental health issues.
Hardin responded to the question of minors being prosecuted as adults, saying that the human brain does not fully develop until the age of 25, locking kids up with adult criminals leads to recidivism, and he is “committed to ending the prosecution of children as adults.” Chehock and Jacobs disagreed, saying that the criteria in Prop 57 that requires a judge to decide whether to try a juvenile as an adult strikes a good balance. Hardin clarified that in extreme cases, “we may look at prosecuting a juvenile as an adult.”
The candidates agreed on the need to protect LGBTQ people from victimization, not criminalizing homeless people, eliminating racial disparities within the OC legal system, and would hold police accountable. During rapid fire, “yes” or “no” questions, Hardin said he opposed the death penalty, cash bail, and prosecuting minors as adults and said he supports sanctuary city laws, eliminating sentencing enhancements that create racial disparities, and would decline to prosecute laws that criminalize homelessness. Hardin did not say he would defund the police, contrary to Spitzer’s day after press release.
The next forum is Wednesday, May 4 at 5pm at the Elks Lodge located at 1400 Elk’s View Lane Fullerton, CA 92835 and is hosted by the North Orange County Bar Association.
Another candidate forum will take place on May 10 at 7pm when the League of Women Voters will host a Forum for DA candidates by Zoom only with event registration from https://my.lwv.org/california/north-orange-county.
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