Our View: Incumbent Birgit Fladager is the right one for Stanislaus DA’s office

May 3, 2014 

  • QUESTIONS FOR THE CANDIDATES

    The Bee’s editorial board invited both district attorney candidates to answer a selection of questions. Here are some excerpts from the session:

    • We’ve supposedly weathered the Great Recession. After your eight years on the job, what is the greatest financial challenge facing the DA’s office?

    Fladager For the 20-plus years I’ve been here, we’ve been chronically underfunded. … I hope to convince the Board (of Supervisors) to free up funds. … We need more resources to do the job and do it well.

    • What prepares you to handle an office with a $15 million budget and a staff of 120?

    Carson – We’ve had 25 years of trial experience. We know how to evaluate cases and what cases are about. … How to apply the dollars you have to the best advantage. The answer isn’t just throwing more money at the problem. The DA’s office is in need of more prosecutors. … There is chaos in the office brought on by a management style that is dysfunctional. ... It’s a matter of priorities.

    • The Bee recently received a letter to the editor from a convicted pot dealer who wants to help craft laws concerning marijuana sales. How strenuously should marijuana crimes be prosecuted?

    Fladager – We’re here to enforce the law and prosecute crimes. Less than an ounce is not a big deal – they’re not even bringing those cases to us. … If you take a look at violent crime associated with many home-invasion robberies, it’s what they’re after. This is not Kool-Aid, it’s not candy bars that people are selling.

    Carson – Legislatively the people have spoken. … The smoking of marijuana is legal. … I don’t like potheads. The problem, you’re not going to fix them. … There is now no limits on the number of plants. … I have seen cases being prosecuted as we speak with plant numbers as low as 11. … In the end, they’re not going to prison anyway.

    • Frank Carson’s property has been searched in connection to the Korey Kauffman case. Some see this as a DA trying to implicate a political opponent; others see it as proof that the defense attorney is implicated. What are the political ramifications?

    Carson – My name is one of 19 or 20 who have been named. I don’t think it’s proof of anything. I do think it is political. No one should link that to anything. … It is interesting and symptomatic of what the DA is trying to do.

    Fladager It’s very difficult for me (to talk about). In terms of being politically motivated … (the search) was before there was political candidacy.

Frank Carson is an excellent trial lawyer – dramatic, flamboyant and convincing. Too bad you can’t believe everything he says.

And that calls into question almost anything he says about District Attorney Birgit Fladager.

In a meeting with The Bee’s editorial board, Carson made several accusations about Fladager’s conduct as DA, calling her office chaotic and dysfunctional. One accusation was so shocking we had to investigate. Carson said employees of the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office had complained of unfair working conditions, and that when the county sent an investigator to the DA’s office, Fladager hired away that investigator.

The intimation was that she was trying to color the report or thwart the investigation.

It is true the DA’s office was investigated after some members of the clerical staff complained of poor working conditions after the departure of their manager for medical reasons. The county’s human resources department did, in fact, send an investigator. After looking over the investigator’s report, the HR department dismissed each complaint and no action was recommended or taken.

The important part of this story is that the investigator still works for the county’s HR department. She never left. There was no attempt to inappropriately sway the investigator or color the report she brought back to the county CEO’s office.

Carson has suggested that a climate of fear and intimidation permeates the office. We don’t believe attorneys who are willing to face down gang members and murderers would hesitate to confront an unreasonable boss.

If Frank Carson becomes district attorney, many of the prosecutors would be concerned about working for someone they’ve faced in court, often acrimoniously. Investigators would wonder if they can work for someone who has openly denigrated their work. It would be, to use Carson’s term, chaos.

We did not check into all of Carson’s allegations, which he has repeated at campaign appearances. But if all his charges are as true as those we did look into, then the district attorney is far more credible than her opponent.

Instead of taking time to look into charges against her, we should consider why Carson is running. It’s no secret that property belonging to Carson has been searched in connection with the Korey Kauffman killing. No link has been made, but the case is still open.

If there is one quality we demand in a district attorney, it is trustworthiness. At this point, Carson doesn’t measure up; Fladager does.

That’s not to say we wouldn’t like a few other positive qualities in our DA – qualities Fladager sometimes lacks. The District Attorney’s Office is tight-lipped to a fault. She says that’s to ensure cases won’t be compromised and to forestall any demands for changes of venue. But we feel strongly the DA’s office could be more transparent and the DA could take a more visible role in the community without endangering anyone’s right to a fair trial. For instance, she complains that her office has been “chronically underfunded” by the Board of Supervisors. So why hasn’t she taken her case to voters as well as supervisors?

When Fladager has gotten involved, she has been an effective, if quiet, leader. Case in point: The Stanislaus Family Justice Center is a unique entity that combines elements of counseling, law enforcement and prosecution for domestic violence cases. It is considered a model for similar centers across the nation. She is also working with probation and law enforcement to ameliorate some of the effects of state prison realignment, which has shifted hundreds of inmates to county jails.

Birgit Fladager could do some things better, and we hope she will. We hope she will make her staff more available to the public over the next four years. Perhaps then an opponent’s spurious claims won’t sound at all convincing.

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