Incumbent District Attorney now faces challenger from within her own office

Stanislaus County Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne is pictured Wednesday morning (08-16-17) in the Modesto Bee photo studio.
Stanislaus County Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne is pictured Wednesday morning (08-16-17) in the Modesto Bee photo studio.

After three successful campaigns, Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager will have to face a challenger from within her own office in the June 2018 election.

Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne on Wednesday filed his intent to run for District Attorney and unseat his boss. Fladager already has announced she’s seeking re-election for a fourth term.

It’s now a three-candidate race with Modesto attorney Patrick Kolasinski in late March launching his campaign to become the county’s top prosecutor.

When asked if this election will divide the District Attorney’s Office, Mayne said “My intention is to unite the office. The attorneys are outstanding professionals and are dedicated to the mission.”

I have the support of my colleagues. They’ve trusted me, and they believe I have the courage to do the right thing.

Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne

Fladager has beaten two other challengers before; she ran unopposed in her second election. But this is the first time she has faced a challenger who works for her.

“Obviously, I would hope that everyone who works in the office might share the same vision in fighting to ensure the proper administration of justice, but it’s an inherent fact of life for an elected official that someone from within might challenge you,” Fladager said Wednesday.

Kolasinski said Mayne’s candidacy shows how much change is needed in the DA’s office, since Mayne was a big supporter of Fladager in her first campaign. He hopes Mayne will take votes away from Fladager, since their background and experience are similar.

“He may even pick up votes from people who weren’t going to vote at all,” Kolasinski said about Mayne. “It’s certainly a new dynamic entering the race.”

Kolasinski believes he has the management skills needed to run the office the other two candidates lack. His primary practice is immigration law and criminal defense, and he has no prosecutorial experience.

Mayne said several attorneys in the DA’s came to him and urged to run for office. He said they asked him to “fix this,” referring to what he described as a high turnover rate within the office.

Mayne said other prosecutors already have “voted with their feet” by leaving the office for other jobs with similar or less pay. “The extremely rapid turnover means we are constantly short of people because we have unfilled positions,” he said.

We are highly sensitive to this issue and have been working with the attorneys’ union and the county to focus attention on pay comparisons statewide so that this can be addressed.

District Attorney Birgit Fladager said about prosecutors leaving for other jobs

Fladager says Mayne is wrong about the recent departures. She said like any government agency, the DA’s office has employees who start their careers there and find more attractive pay, benefits or location with other jobs.

They choose to follow paths that lead to quicker advancement or more compensation, she said. Many prosecutors leave for higher paying jobs throughout the state, she said, including San Joaquin County.

“We are highly sensitive to this issue and have been working with the attorneys’ union and the county to focus attention on pay comparisons statewide so that this can be addressed,” Fladager said.

Mayne says the office will have about a third of its deputy district attorneys in their first year after the current hiring is complete.

“We continue to hire excellent young prosecutors, but we can’t keep them,” Mayne said.

Right now, these prosecutors with less experience are forced to handle serious, violent criminal cases up to and including homicide cases, Mayne said.

It’s certainly a new dynamic entering the race.

Modesto attorney Patrick Kolasinski

Fladager said those in their first year are not prosecuting murder cases. She said she would never assign a deputy district attorney to a case he or she is not suited for.

Fladager said she hopes and expects the county will recognize the need to pay competitive salaries for all employees. She also said it’s important to recognize modern incentives and professional environments are key for a changing workforce.

“This includes equipping employees with technology that makes their jobs easier and providing training that allows them to grow professionally,” Fladager said.

Fladager said she doesn’t expect the election to divide her office and affect their work as prosecutors.

“We have chosen this profession because we put ethics above political partisanship, and I would expect nothing less during a time when it directly affects this office,” she said.

If we continue to lose attorneys at this pace, the office will no longer be able to function effectively.

Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne

Mayne, 51, lives in Modesto with his wife, Pamela Mayne, who works as a math teacher at Savage Middle School. He has worked as a prosecutor in Stanislaus County for the past 16 years. He says he has sent dozens to prison for life and has dismissed cases, when he was convinced “there was substantial doubt” about the defendant’s guilt.

Mayne is known for prosecuting the case against Doug Porter, the former minister convicted in 2008 after killing and defrauding Hickman rancher Frank Craig four years earlier. Craig’s family ultimately recovered about $225,000 of the $1.1 million the prosecution could document Porter took from Craig.

He also handled the prosecution against Brandy Lee Rose Devine, who in 2013 was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Stephanie Torres. The little girl with cerebral palsy was left by her mother in a room without giving her water or food for nearly three days, while her mother smoked methamphetamine with an unknown man in another room several feet away.

Mayne is currently the lead prosecutor in the case of David Machado, who is accused of gunning down Stanislaus County sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Wallace on Nov. 13. The case has been put on hold while the court determines whether Machado is mentally competent to face criminal charges in the deadly shooting.

Fladager said Mayne is a very competent deputy district attorney. “We haven’t seen him in the role of supervisor or manager up to this point, so I can’t speak to that,” she said.

Mayne has never declared his candidacy or held public office before. He believes he’s well qualified to become the top administrator at the District Attorney’s Office.

“I can handle a budget,” Mayne said. “But more importantly, I can lead the many fine employees of our office who share the goal of doing the job right.”

He said the office needs to find ways to hire more attorneys and give them the time and resources to effectively prosecute murders and other serious criminal cases. He said attorneys prosecuting homicide cases often have a crushing load of other cases to handle.

He said the solution to this problem starts with retaining the experienced attorneys, so the DA’s Office isn’t consistently running short of prosecutors.

Mayne said he chose to run against Fladager because of the encouragement from his colleagues, family and friends.

“I’m not a politician, but I’m very well respected in the legal community,” Mayne said. “I know it will take a lot of time and resources to do this right. I did not make this decision lightly.”

Rosalio Ahumada: 209-578-2394, @ModBeeCourts

Stanislaus County Elections: District Attorney

▪ June 2006

Mike Cummins: 28,275 votes, 45.63 percent

Birgit Fladager: 33,401 votes, 53.90 percent

Write-in: 295 votes, .48 percent

▪ June 2010

Birgit Fladager: 53,547 votes, 98.32 percent

Write-in: 913 votes, 1.68 percent

▪ June 2014

Frank Carson: 14,739 votes, 28.85 percent

Birgit Fladager: 36,190 votes, 70.85 percent

Write-in: 151 votes, .30 percent