Dumanis talks re-election bid, won’t release more Padilla papersAround the City Thursday, May 22nd, 2014
No one can say that District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is anything if not determined, tenacious and tough as nails. She rose through the ranks from a clerical worker in the DA’s Office to the top spot in San Diego County law enforcement.
After a disappointing showing in 2012’s mayoral race, Dumanis, the County’s first openly lesbian district attorney, is asking San Diego voters to give her a fourth term as chief prosecutor.
With a 94 percent conviction rate and until recently very high approval ratings, Dumanis would seem like an undefeatable candidate. However, chinks in the DA’s armor have recently been put on display as KPBS revealed that Dumanis was at least mistaken in saying that her office did not have documents the local news organization had requested regarding a corruption case against Chula Vista city officials.
It’s alleged that the district attorney used her prosecutorial powers for political retribution in the case. Even former San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye, who got the ball rolling to dethrone former Mayor Bob Filner last year, is weighing in with accusations of inappropriate politicization of the DA’s Office.
As reported in San Diego LGBT Weekly’s interview with Bonnie Dumanis’ opponent (April 24, issue 145), local attorney, Bob Brewer also accuses the district attorney of acting too much from a political angle rather than from a purely law enforcement point of view.
Undaunted and true-to-character, Dumanis was direct and unwavering – and some might say, surprisingly candid – in answering our questions about these and other issues as the primary election draws near.
Following is LGBT Weekly’s interview with DA Dumanis (remember, Election Day is June 3):
San Diego LGBT Weekly: District Attorney Dumanis, you’re going into the upcoming election having endured some negative news reports as well as sharp attacks from other campaigns. Yet you maintain a strong position in the race. Why do you think so many voters seem unmoved by the less-than-positive information that has been reported about you and your office recently?
Bonnie Dumanis: Voters are smart. They know that in the weeks just before an election, unknown candidates often attempt to raise their visibility with distortions and exaggerations. The people of this region know me, trust me and understand that I have an unyielding commitment to justice. My team and I have a 94 percent conviction rate, regional crime rates are at historic lows and San Diego is one the safest urban counties in the nation.
Will you win this election; if so, by how many percentage points?
I’m not a betting person so I’ll leave that to the pundits. The only poll that matters is Election Day and I’m honored by the strong support I have in the community.
One of your opponents has leveled charges that you went back on your word and betrayed voters by deciding to run for mayor after promising not to. Is he right; is that what happened?
I’ve spent my entire career in public service. I love San Diego and I stepped up at a time when I thought I could serve the City and make a difference. I never promised not to seek another office and both of my opponents supported my candidacy. Public safety has always been my passion – no matter what job I’ve had. It would have been the same had I been elected mayor. But the voters sent me a message loud and clear that they like the job I’ve done as district attorney and want to keep me in that position.
Should a public servant be given a little more latitude than Bob Brewer has been willing to allow you for changing your mind about running for higher office before completing a term of office you were already committed to?
Whenever my community has called on me, I’ve answered. My primary motivation has always been administering justice, first as a deputy district attorney, then as a municipal court judge, a superior court judge and now as district attorney. My opponent is a multimillionaire who spent the last 30 years defending criminals. His motivations are obviously very different than mine.
The lawyer for an aide to former Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla said he never would have agreed to a misdemeanor guilty plea in a corruption case that came out of an investigation against the entire Chula Vista City Council, which some say your office launched suspiciously soon after you allegedly asked Chula Vista’s then mayor, Padilla, to appoint one of your aides to a vacant seat on the council – if he and his client had been aware of the alleged conversation about the requested council appointment.
If you’ll pardon the expression, was there any element of “pay-back-time” in the initial investigation that might have partially driven your decision to green light a sweeping investigation at the particular moment it was launched?
Our office does not pursue cases for political reasons. We never have and we never will. We follow the evidence and the law, and we do the right thing for the right reasons in every case we file.
On the other hand, is it feasible or even ethical for a DA to hold off on an investigation already in the works (if that was the case) just because the timing could make some wonder if there was an impure motivation?
Public integrity investigations are extremely sensitive. People’s lives and reputations are at stake. My office is aware that candidates often make accusations during an election cycle to gain political advantage, and we go to great lengths not to allow it.
Lastly on this subject, will you release the documentation of the alleged conversation with former Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla that KPBS has asked for and that your office originally said didn’t exist, but which was recently revealed to be in your possession after all?
The prosecutor assigned to the case, who is supporting Mr. Brewer, took the unusual step of keeping some documents in his personal files rather than properly placing them in the criminal case file. After a careful review, our office has released all documents related to this issue that are appropriate to make public under the law. I’ve long been a champion of transparency and good government, and will continue that commitment in my next term.
Looking forward with the understanding that people and institutions evolve across time, how differently and how similarly would “Dumanis 4.0” operate compared to your first three terms in the district attorney’s chair?
I’m so proud of what our team has already accomplished. We’ve improved diversity in the office and it essentially mirrors the community we serve. We implemented a Business Management Plan to make sure we’re getting the most out of limited taxpayer dollars. And we’ve brought all stakeholders to the table, improving communication across law enforcement. This has allowed us to respond effectively to emerging crime trends. That’s what an innovative, modern prosecutor does and I will continue to do.
What do you foresee as the next big challenges in terms of prosecuting street crime and other types of crime during the DA’s next term of office?
Crime is at historic lows in San Diego County – violent crime is the second lowest it’s been in 30 years. However, the biggest threat to public safety continues to be prisoner realignment, which sends prisoners to local jails instead of state prison. In some cases, they’re being released earlier with less supervision. I’ve been a vocal opponent of this law from day one. But we have to respond to the reality that it is the law. My law enforcement partners and I have managed to hold the line against a potential surge in crime with increased monitoring, job training and other measures designed to break the cycle of repeat offenses. Other crimes where we are seeing an increase include human trafficking, cybercrime and elder abuse. My team is increasing our work to prevent and prosecute all three of these crimes.
Where do you give yourself the highest marks in your career thus far as DA?
A district attorney is only as good as the team around her. I’m so proud of the nearly 1,000 gifted and talented people committed to justice in our office. I’m also honored to have the endorsement of the deputy district attorneys, investigators and others in my office; they are supporting me and remain 100 percent committed to the incredibly challenging work we do together to maintain a 94 percent felony conviction rate.
And where do you see yourself wanting to improve your job performance?
Back in 2010, we sounded the alarm on the uptick in sex trafficking. Despite our strong efforts to prosecute traffickers, local street gangs have entered the picture, and are now selling girls and women the same way they used to deal drugs. I remain committed to fighting the issue of human trafficking. We successfully changed the law to add pimping to the list of crimes that qualify as gang-related activities and we’re educating teachers about recruitment on school campuses, but there’s a lot more to do and we can’t let up.
You’ve partnered with private-sector organizations, local governments and law enforcement agencies to create innovations, such as prescription drug disposal days and public awareness campaigns warning people about the risks of committing workers’ compensation fraud. But does all of that public outreach take resources away from the nuts and bolts of prosecuting?
We balance prosecution with crime prevention to protect public safety and keep crime rates low. Every returned bottle of an unused prescription drug reduces the chance of a young person falling dying from an overdose. Workers’ compensation fraud costs every Californian about $500 a year. These efforts save money in the long run because they ultimately result in fewer prosecutions.
Through the years, you’ve recommended and supported a great deal of legislation intended to prevent recurrences of tragic cases your office has prosecuted. Do you think those efforts are part of what cause some to say you’ve “over-politicized” the office of the district attorney?
Desperate opponents who are down in the polls take this tired tactic because they certainly can’t criticize me on substantive issues like our 94 percent conviction rate and the fact that crime is at historic lows. Being the region’s top law enforcement officer means tracking emerging crime trends and making sure Sacramento gives us the tools and the flexibility we need to attack problems before they get bigger. I’ve pushed for state and local legislation to make this region safer and if voters re-elect me, I’ll continue to fight legislatively to give law enforcement the resources we need to get our job done.
Most recently, you secured an endorsement from the state of California’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer, Attorney General Kamala Harris. Yet, as your opponent, Bob Brewer is never shy about mentioning, some of your own deputy district attorneys have given money to his and another candidate’s campaign. Why do you think that is, and does it matter?
Anyone who runs a large organization made up of nearly 1,000 people knows that you can’t please everyone. The bottom line is that the Deputy District Attorneys Association and the District Attorney Investigators Association both support me. Law enforcement unions may be unhappy that I’ve prosecuted misconduct by law enforcement officials. But nobody is above the law and I’m unwilling to budge on that point.
What would San Diego’s LGBT community lose if we did not have you – an out lesbian as our DA? Can any of the other candidates serve the LGBT community with the same insight as someone, such as yourself, who is LGBT?
As the nation’s first openly-gay district attorney, I’m proud to have shattered that glass ceiling and I’m deeply touched whenever others tell me I’ve given them the courage to be their authentic selves. Being gay gives me a unique perspective that my opponents will never have. For example, it increases my sensitivity to preventing and prosecuting hate crimes and cyber bullying. It also sends a message to victims of crime from the LGBT community; when we see ourselves reflected in government and law enforcement at the highest levels, it gives us increased confidence in the system.
Is your party, the GOP, going to soon formally and officially come to be the acceptance, equality and tolerance party that the Democrats and a lot of independents have been celebrating with LGBTs and our allies for years now?
I can’t speak for any political party. I’m doing what I can to lead by example when it comes to equality. That means speaking out against intolerance, as I did during the fight against Prop. 8. It means living our lives out in the open no matter what party we belong to. I strongly believe that by having the courage to be ourselves we continue to change hearts and minds one person at a time, no matter what their political affiliation.
Anything new in your outlook on medical marijuana and how dispensaries are operated in San Diego; or would you like to restate your position for our readers?
The District Attorney’s Office has not, and will not prosecute a legal, legitimate patient who uses medical marijuana. I have long been on the record in support of the legal and legitimate use of medical marijuana. However, our office has filed criminal cases against illegal drug dealers who are hiding behind the compassionate spirit of the law. I believe we need better clarification on the law so legitimate patients can get safe access, while still protecting public safety in our neighborhoods.
How have your wife and family held up during these last few years of seemingly endless campaign seasons?
We both know that that when you choose to work in a public office, you cannot complain about the increased level of scrutiny that comes with it. For both of us, the satisfaction of public service outweighs some of the inherent challenges of campaign life. We are fortunate to have an incredibly loyal and encouraging group of friends and supporters who inspire us every day.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I am so proud to be a part of the LGBT community in San Diego and to be counted among the growing ranks of openly gay elected officials who represent us. It has an incredibly positive affect to have so many LGBT officials in highly visible public office. I realize that not every decision I make is going to be popular with everyone in our community. But I also know that people understand I have an ethical duty to make decisions that protect public safety for all San Diego County residents.
I’ve been so honored to serve as your district attorney and represent the LGBT community at the same time. I believe it sends a powerful message on a daily basis when elected officials like the district attorney, City Council president, County supervisor, and Superior Court judges are seen as leaders across San Diego County. I’m honored by the support I have in our community. It continues to be a privilege to serve as your district attorney.
Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=47905