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DA Morse leaves office in a few weeks. Here’s where he’ll be working next

Merced District Attorney Larry D. Morse II answers questions from media during a press conference to announce the arrests of Mai Moua, 45, of Merced and Zang Her, 50, of Merced, at the Merced County District Attorney’s Office in Merced, Calif., on Thursday, May 3, 2018. The two were arrested in connection with a fire that destroyed an Asian market in the 600 block of West Main Street on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016.
Merced District Attorney Larry D. Morse II answers questions from media during a press conference to announce the arrests of Mai Moua, 45, of Merced and Zang Her, 50, of Merced, at the Merced County District Attorney’s Office in Merced, Calif., on Thursday, May 3, 2018. The two were arrested in connection with a fire that destroyed an Asian market in the 600 block of West Main Street on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

On the heels of an unsuccessful run for re-election in Merced County, outgoing District Attorney Larry Morse II has snagged a job with the California District Attorneys Association, officials confirmed this week.

Morse will be the association’s legislative director beginning on an undetermined date in January, the association’s spokesperson Jennifer Jacobs said. He will act as the chief lobbyist on behalf of the elected prosecutors in California, she said.

“Larry brings a wealth of experience to the job. In addition to spending several decades as a career prosecutor, Larry has been co-chair of CDAA’s Legislative Committee for more than 10 years and has also served on the CDAA Board of Directors,” association CEO Mark Zahner said in a statement. “He is well known in the Capitol and has many years of practical experience in the Legislature, including serving as Press Secretary/Legislative Aide to Congressman Bob Whittaker and Legislative Director for state Senator Milton Marks.”

The California District Attorneys Association is the source of continuing legal education and legislative advocacy for its membership, according to its website. The association has pulled down state and federal grants for projects like the Environmental Circuit Prosecutor Project, High-Tech Crimes Project and Violence Against Women Project, to name a few.

“I’ll be working with prosecutors across California making sure we do our very best with the California Legislature and governor to enact policies we believe make lives better and ensure the safest communities,” Morse said Wednesday.

The veteran attorney, who has been district attorney since 2006, lost in the June primary election to Kimberly Helms Lewis, a government attorney and prosecutor who made her first bid for office.

Despite being a controversial figure in the past few years, he was an accomplished prosecutor. He secured the death penalty conviction of Cuitlahuac Tahua “Tao” Rivera, who is on death row for the April 2004 murder of Merced police officer Stephan Gray.

In the past three years, Merced County law enforcement has also brought the murder rate down significantly. From 2005 to 2015 the county averaged 27 homicides a year. There are 12 so far this year compared to 20 last year, and nine in 2016.

“We’ve really made a difference, especially with gang violence, which just a few years ago seemed out of control,” Morse said. “We’ve made an enormous impact in reducing gang violence. That’s the most important thing for any prosecutor is to make your community safer.”

He has also been credited as a major force behind Merced County securing funds through the Violence Interruption/Prevention Emergency Response program. VIPER was also touted as a key role in Operation Scrapbook, raids throughout Merced and Stanislaus counties in May 2017 netting more than 50 arrests, at least 70 guns, $225,000 cash, 21,000 rounds of ammunition and 6.5 pounds of methamphetamine, authorities reported.

Morse was heading the District Attorney’s Office when the county first got its Gang Task Force. When he took office, the prosecutors were also scattered into multiple downtown offices that the county leased at about $350,000, and consolidating into a single building was a savings.

The building they are in now cost the county about $7 million to buy and $3.4 million to remodel, according to archives. The work was paid for with tobacco tax funds designated for improvements to county facilities.

The outgoing District attorney was also known to preach the importance of education and created Project 10%, a program in middle and high schools aimed at getting more young people to finish high school.

“Kids who drop out are more likely to end up in the system,” he said. “Anything we can do to keep kids in school is a huge benefit to public safety and the community at large.”

Morse said he takes pride in the health of Merced County District Attorney’s Office as he leaves. “I will have the fondest memories of every day I served as district attorney,” he said.

The landslide victory Helms Lewis’ pulled off followed a bumpy year for Morse. Her candidacy was announced just weeks after the Sun-Star reported allegations from three former prosecutors who said Morse inappropriately kissed a married subordinate employee and made sexual comments to women in the office. Morse denied any wrongdoing and said the allegations were incidents taken out of context.

In August, a county-funded investigation into Morse “sustained” the allegations as “more likely than not” that Morse sexually harassed a married female employee, the report confirmed.

Helms Lewis takes over at noon on Jan. 7, according to the registrar of voters.

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