While Del Norte County’s Superior Court judge and sheriff races are likely to go to a runoff election in November, the county’s new district attorney will be decided on Tuesday.
On paper, former Del Norte District Attorney Bob Drossel has much more prosecuting experience than current Del Norte public defender Dale Trigg. Drossel has 20 years of prosecuting experience compared to Trigg’s year and a half as a prosecutor.
But the employee associations of the Crescent Police Department, Del Norte Sheriff’s Office and Pelican Bay State Prison that have worked with both DA candidates in the past (and Trigg in the present) have all chosen to endorse Trigg.
“As officers we’ve all seen both of them in the courtroom and we basically just see Mr. Trigg as more competent in the courtroom; more competent and quick-minded,” said Robby Clarkson, president of the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Employees Association.
Justin Gill, president of the Crescent City Police Officer Association, said that both Drossel and Trigg are sufficiently competent and ethical to hold the DA position, but that “Trigg is a real go-getter” while Drossel is “retired and stepped away from the courtroom for quite a while,” Gill said.
“Trigg is not looking to get into the position to retire; he really wants to make a difference,” Gill said.
While both employee associations acknowledge Drossel’s extensive experience, Clarkson said that the group feels that the “fresh perspective” in Trigg’s platform is preferred over Drossel’s knowledge of what has “worked before in the past,” Clarkson said.
“We think this office needs to be rebuilt from the ground up,” Clarkson said.
Drossel argues, however, that his DA office experience makes him better positioned to rebuild Del Norte’s DA office, which is smaller than the South Lake Tahoe DA’s office that he managed for eight years.
“I’m looking for an overhaul,” Drossel said. “My overall goal is to make Del Norte County the best run DA office in California — not just to get it up and running.”
Drossel said he is not “someone who has just got ideas” and accuses Trigg of making campaign promises that cannot be backed up with a track record.
Trigg said it doesn’t matter that his 15 years as a criminal trial attorney have been mostly spent on the defense side, because “any good attorney, regardless of practice area, will prepare both sides of every case in order to be an effective advocate for their client,” Trigg said.
“The evidence and the law applicable to that evidence is the same regardless of which counsel table you are working from in the courtroom,” Trigg said.
But Drossel argues that it’s not just courtroom experience that matters, but also the experience managing the budgets, grants and personnel issues of a public agency, which Trigg does not have.
“I have extensive experience in that arena and someone coming in flat is going to have to learn the hard way, and I don’t think that’s good for a small county,” Drossel said.
Trigg said that “the bottom line” is that law enforcement has seen both candidates work, and the associations ultimately endorsed Trigg.
Drossel said that he had the law enforcement endorsements in 2010 when he lost by 196 votes to Jon Alexander, and when he was collecting signatures in lieu of a filing fee, many of those that signed work in law enforcement.
“There are people in law enforcement who are going to vote for me,” Drossel said.
Those law enforcement individuals haven’t come out publicly though, Trigg pointed out.
One of Trigg’s arguments against Drossel has been that Drossel is less familiar with issues related to AB 109 public safety realignment (the shifting of low-level offenders from state to county responsibility) than Trigg is, who has become more acquainted since working as a public defender in Del Norte since 2012.
Drossel said that he has an equal amount of AB 109 experience since he worked as a public defender for 16 months in 2011 and 2012 when the public safety realignment program was first getting started.
“I was one of the first attorneys in Del Norte County handling the AB 109 issues,” Drossel said.
Drossel believes that Trigg should get a job in a DA office and work his way up the ladder before being elected to the top DA position in Del Norte.
“Shortcuts, as we know, don’t work,” Drossel said, adding that he questioned how much Trigg has moved around in his career, working in four states and an island in the Pacific.
“Most people I have spoken to like the idea of having someone relatively new to the community who will bring a new and fresh perspective to the DA’s office rather than the same old way of doing business,” Trigg said.
Drossel questioned the fresh perspective argument and said:
“Trigg is saying he’s a fresh piece of meat. Well, fresh meat doesn’t go down well until its seasoned properly with experience, and by golly I have the experience to make it happen.”
Election day is Tuesday, June 3.