The Los Angeles County District Attorney candidates, in alphabetical order, from top left, are: John Breault III, Bobby Grace, Alan Jackson, Jacquelyn Lacey, Danette Meyers, and Carmen Trutanich.
Voters on Tuesday will pick the first new Los Angeles County District Attorney in 12 years. Six veteran prosecutors are running to replace retiring DA Steve Cooley.
It’s one of the most powerful and influential posts in the state. And the election comes at a time when there are big changes afoot -- from a shift in housing state prisoners to a potential impending vote to abolish the state’s death penalty.
“It used to be whoever’s toughest on crime wins,” said Raphael Sonenshein, the executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs. “Now all the DA candidates are talking about rehabilitation as well as punishment and separating out the most dangerous criminals from those who can be rehabilitated.
“It’s a huge change.”
The next District Attorney will have to not only be a good manager but a politician who can work well with partners in local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to get the job done during tough economic times, experts said.
“He or she has to be a good politician and work in cooperation with the City Attorney, The U.S. Attorney and other DAs,” said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School.
The DA, which prosecutes nearly 60,000 felonies and 130,000 misdemeanors a year at 30 branches across the County, has a lot of discretion over what he or she investigates and over defendants’ fates.
With an annual operating budget of $330 million and more than 2,200 personnel, the District Attorney will manage one of the county’s largest law enforcement agencies.
The next top LA County prosecutor will have to balance the fight against corruption and white-collar crime -- which Cooley made a priority -- with the fight against violent crime.
“They have to decide where they’re going to put their attention,” Sonenshein said. “Clearly the DA has to select priorities.”
One of the biggest issues facing the next DA is the state’s so-called Public Safety Realignment Program to alleviate prison overcrowding.
The program shifts lower-level offenders -- or those convicted of nonviolent, non-serious, non-sex related offenses -- out of state prisons and into county custody.
“You’re on the edge of potential public-policy catastrophe,” Sonenshein said. “The DA’s going to have to be part of the solution because this is a huge issue.”
The next District Attorney will take a stance on California’s death penalty, which voters could decide whether to ban in November.
Candidates Bobby Grace and Danette Meyers -- both of whom have sent convicts to death row -- told the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board they’d be willing to see the death penalty go.
Candidates Alan Jackson, Jackie Lacey, Carmen Trutanich and John Breault III have said they favor keeping the death penalty.
“Attitudes still seem to be in flux at this time,” Sonenshein said. “If we end up with pro-and-con candidates in the fall, then that’ll be interesting.”