Drama and controversy have surrounded the last two Del Norte County district attorneys, with each bringing a set of his own headlines and distractions.
From left, Del Norte County prosecutors Annamarie Padilla, Katherine Micks, Lisa Specchio-Wolfe and Todd Zocchi. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
Still, the District Attorney’s Office has continued to function with the aid of its staff of deputies, laboring quietly in the background — until now.
Meet Interim District Attorney Katherine Micks.
While the title is temporary, Micks has been a fixture in the DA’s Office since 2005. She became assistant district attorney in 2008.
She has weathered tumultuous times in the office, from a former DA being asked to take a leave after behaving erratically to the current situation of potentially having the first DA in California to be disbarred.
Micks will be acting as interim DA until the Board of Supervisors makes a decision on whether to appoint a DA. That decision, however, is unlikely to come soon, as the supervisors are awaiting the conclusion of the pending disbarment District Attorney Jon Alexander. Alexander filed for a review of his pending disbarment Tuesday, which could take several months.
Micks recently sat down with the Triplicate to discuss her transition into the top spot and how the office will move forward.
“I want to strive to keep politics out of the office,” said Micks. “I’m going to take that seriously and not let a particular agenda drive the office.”
Micks said it has been an easy transition — despite returning from maternity leave for her first child just a week before Alexander was suspended.
“In an office where the attorneys have come and gone, I’ve been a fixture,” said Micks. “It’s not just the cases I’m up to speed on, it’s all of the administrative components as well.”
She recently met with heads of many of the local law enforcement agencies to hear their concerns or suggestions.
She said she wants to improve on the strong foundation of communication she already has built with the agencies over the years. She has scheduled a time in the week when officers can meet with her and the other prosecutors in the office.
The charging policy of the DA’s Office is going to be tweaked, she said.
“With this changing shift, the District Attorney’s Office will be able to run efficiently and effectively and we will be able to operate with the staffing level we have,” said Micks.
Alexander focused on crimes related to methamphetamine and used meth problems in the county as a major theme in his 2010 campaign for DA.
Since then, however, California’s realignment plan modified penalties for people convicted of nonviolent drug-related crimes.
“Historically, we have been sending people to prison for drug crimes and now with realignment we can’t do that,” said Micks. “I think there has to be a shift in prosecutorial theory because of realignment.”
That shift includes looking at cases from a long-term point of view; whether someone needs to be sent to jail or would be better served by rehabilitation, Micks said.
Then there is the problem of sending people to jail only to have them be released after serving a fraction of their intended sentence due to capacity issues as a result of realignment, Micks said.
The office is down one position as a result of Alexander’s suspension. County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina had previously stated it would be possible for Micks to hire another deputy district attorney, but she did not include that in the DA’s Office budget for the next fiscal year.
Micks has three other attorneys working with her.
Deputy District Attorney Lisa Specchio-Wolfe joined the DA’s Office in 2007 and she now primarily handles criminal cases related to Pelican Bay State Prison and juvenile crimes.
Before moving to the North Coast, Specchio-Wolfe practiced law in Southern California for 20 years, specializing in insurance fraud and insurance litigation defense. She relocated to be closer to her family in Brookings and pursue criminal prosecution.
Deputy District Attorney Annamarie Padilla moved to Crescent City in 2011 to join the DA’s Office. She now handles sexual assault, domestic violence and marijuana-related cases and has reinstituted the asset forfeiture program. Previously, she was a deputy district attorney in San Benito County where she also reinstituted the asset forfeiture program and handled narcotic and domestic violence cases.
The newest member of the DA’s team is Todd Zocchi. He began prosecuting in Del Norte in March. He previously served as a gang and homicide prosecutor for Tulare County since 2004.
“I am very pleased with the deputies, they all have experience and work really well together,” said Micks.