Upfront: The Race

Checking in with candidates for Marin County District Attorney

Unlike the current occupant of the office, each of the three candidates for Marin County District Attorney this year supports a push to proactively expunge old misdemeanor pot laws—with some small degrees of shading.

The issue was raised in the North Bay when, in December, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said that his office was moving to expunge thousands of cases in that city.

At the time, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch initially said that she wouldn’t be following Gascon’s lead, but then reversed herself shortly thereafter and said her office would be doing so. She is up for reelection this year in a county which has seen a balky rollout of Proposition 64 despite vast interest in cashing in on legalization.  

In Marin County, which has not embraced legalization, outgoing District Attorney Ed Berberian is under no such political pressure and said last month that he didn’t have the staff or the resources to take on the expunging of cases the way Gascon said he would.

Gascon, in making his announcement, said that he would look at pot charges going all the way back to 1975, the year California reclassified cannabis possession of up to an ounce as a simple misdemeanor.

Proposition 64 grants judicial latitude to expunge pot cases if the underlying rime that gave rise to the original charge is no longer a crime.

The process allows for persons to file a petition to have the charge removed from their record. According to the Judicial Branch portal, 2,700 citizens around the state had filed petitions from November 2016 to December 2017. Marin had fielded 19 of the requests over that time.

Here’s what the three candidates had to say about it to the Pacific Sun:  

Anna Pletcher views the expungement issue through the lens of a failed war on drugs. She says that she would move to expunge misdemeanor pot cases and take the extra step of bringing the process out into the community—specifically, the community of Marin City. “This is a racial justice issue in my view,” says Pletcher, a former law professor at Berkeley who used to work for the Department of Justice.

Pletcher stressed that job number one of the district attorney is to protect the public, as she said she would head to Marin City and set up a table with the public defender’s office. Around 40 percent of Marin City’s population is African-American. “The purpose in proactively expunging the cases is this: To undo the damage done by the war on drugs.”

Candidate Lori Frugoli has worked for the Marin County District Attorney’s office for 27 years, and the deputy district attorney says that she, too, favors proactively taking a whack at prior cannabis convictions in the county. “Yes, I support the expungement of prior marijuana convictions, as do the DA’s in Sonoma and San Francisco,” relates Frugoli. She emphasized, “I would want to carefully review the cases to ensure they did not involve firearms or sophisticated sales operations involving large quantities of cash or proceeds. Those cases would require more scrutiny.”

Berberian told us last month that his office didn’t have the budget or the staffing to conduct the reviews on a proactive basis. Frugoli says she would go to the Marin County Board of Supervisors to make sure she did have the staff. And she noted that the requests for expungement are starting to pile up as the public defender’s office calls up the cases. “Our public defender’s office has a robust expungement program with dedicated [staff] who research cases and file expungements on a regular basis. Often we are unable to keep up with the motions’ response dates due to the number of requests.”

A.J. Brady is also a currently-serving assistant district attorney in Marin County and says that he, too, would push to proactively expunge misdemeanor pot charges. He says Prop 64 provides an opportunity to affirmatively call up data “rather than waiting for people to file petitions.” Brady noted that it would be easier to call up more recent cases, since the county has a mixed digital and analog system, and the digital system only goes back to the early 2000s. Anything before that, he said, exists as paper files and would be more labor- and time-intensive to review. “To go back through to the ’80s—that would be hard,” he says. “And the reality is that we’ll misplace some people in the ’90s. We were in paper files then. I couldn’t commit to something that would destroy our staffing, but we could make a spreadsheet. It’s the job of the Marin elected DA to do this.”*

Take Two

By Jacob Pierce

In a field with six major candidates for governor of California, Antonio Villaraigosa, who once served as the state assembly speaker, is locked in a dead heat with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, according to the most recent polls. Last month we reported Villaraigosa’s views around housing. We recently caught up with him for a second conversation, this time on immigration, healthcare and ethics.

Pacific Sun: If you were governor right now, how would you respond to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ lawsuit against California over its immigration policies?

Antonio Villaraigosa: I’d do what Gov. Brown did. I’d say that you’re not welcome in our state when you misrepresent what we’ve done in California. There’s nothing in the California Values Act that says if people commit violent crimes, they won’t go to jail. They will go to jail. They are going to jail.

The biggest reason [Sessions] came to California is for almost a year now he has been under almost a weekly assault from Donald Trump, criticizing how he’s carried out his duties as an attorney general. He’s struggling, fighting to keep his job, so he came here to California to curry favor with his boss.

Sun: You’ve advocated for creating a public option for healthcare. How is that better than trying to build a single-payer system from scratch?

Villaraigosa: First of all, I supported universal healthcare my entire life. SB 562 is legislation that essentially articulates the goals of a state-paid-for healthcare system that would end Medicare and Medi-Cal as we know it: Eliminate all insurance-based healthcare plans, including Kaiser; require a federal waiver from Donald Trump, who wants to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid; and cost at least $200 million, assuming you could suspend Prop 98. And you’d have to suspend it each year, and you’d have to pay back to community colleges the money that would have gone to them. So it’s really a $400 million price tag. So I’ve asked Gavin Newsom, who’s tripled down on SB 562, to debate me on this issue.

The number one issue for the next government is to protect the ACA. In California, we need to do the following: One, restore the individual mandate at a state level. Two, we need to focus on prevention to a much greater degree. Three, we need to look at best practices here and around the country—Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser—where we can adopt cost-containment measures, to drive down the spiraling cost of healthcare. It’s not just a public option. It’s a public option, along with the exchange, along with what we currently have right now.

Sun: You paid fines in 2011 for ethics violations for accepting free tickets to high-profile events during your time as mayor. How can you convince voters that you have the ethical standards to be governor?

Villaraigosa: Before I was mayor, everybody on the powerful commissions—the airport commission, the port commission, the planning commission, community redevelopment—mayors used to put people in those positions that raised money for them. I signed an executive directive my first day in office prohibiting my appointees on any commission, including those powerful ones, from being able to raise money or contribute to the mayor.

What I was fined over was an issue that, prior to me, no one had ever been fined for, and I’ll tell you why. In my case, if I went to a game, a concert, and they gave me tickets, I would have to report them, and I always did. I was speaking at all these events. At every one of these events, I was speaking. Only once in a great while did I actually stay at those events.

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