DA candidates question each other at voter forum
The suspension and possible disbarment of District Attorney Jon Alexander has put the DA’s Office in a rough spot and candidates Robert Drossel and Dale Trigg both promise to bring change to the county’s top law enforcement position.
They spoke at a Tuesday forum at the fairgrounds organized by the Del Norte Tea Party. They will face off in the June 3 election.
It’s a race between the hungry newcomer and a former DA who narrowly lost in his bid to reclaim his old post in 2010.
‘Law enforcement in my blood’
Trigg moved to Del Norte in December 2012 and said the community fits his family’s lifestyle. Growing up with a Los Angeles County deputy for a father, Trigg said, “I’ve had law enforcement in my blood from the very beginning.”
On the felony drug team of the Springfield, Mo., District Attorney’s Office, Trigg said he and one other prosecutor handled 40 percent of the felony caseload in the county. He also ran a private practice in Montana for eight years, for two of which he was also a part-time judge presiding over criminal and civil cases.
“I’ve presided over criminal cases as a prosecutor, defense attorney and a judge so I’ve seen these cases from all perspectives,” he said.
Trigg is running on three issues:
• Putting away serious and violent offenders. He said there are too many plea-bargains for serious and violent felonies bogging down local jails.
• A renewed focus on Del Norte’s title as the No. 1 county for domestic violence in the state. “We have eight times the state average and that’s unacceptable,” Trigg said.
• A renewed partnership with law enforcement. Trigg touched on his endorsement from the Crescent City Police Officers Association and the Del Norte Sheriff’s Employees Association.
‘I will raise the leadership bar’
Bob Drossel already held the position of DA from 1999 to 2002 and said what he brings to the job is “leadership, experience and dedication” and the ability to provide “long-term stability to the DA’s office.”
“Last time there was no negative personal drama in the DA’s Office is when I was DA. I will raise the leadership bar and performance bar,” Drossel said.
Drossel puts a lot of weight into a mission statement that he says will guide his office: “To professionally, aggressively and timely investigate and prosecute cases with a goal to achieve justice for the victim.”
He promises to do the job in a business-like manner.
“I can get the job done because I have been a career prosecutor for 20 years, and a former district attorney, deputy DA, supervising deputy DA, assistant DA in charge of South Lake Tahoe’s DA office, and DA of Del Norte County. I have a very unique package and I can get the job done.”
Spelling out priorities
When asked what is the most critical crisis in the county in the DA’s purview, Trigg said there is a “lack of accountability” with too many cases resolved through plea bargains, while Drossel said the biggest problem is meth use and all of the crime associated with it.
Both candidates acknowledged that the vast majority of the cases in Del Norte Superior Court are criminal cases and they have the experience in that arena, as well as civil and family law. Drossel highlighted his successful prosecution of the “I-5 Strangler.”
Drossel said he has more experience running a DA’ Office than his opponent with 12 years of managing budgets, personnel matters and grants for a DA’s Office. He noted that a child health and treatment grant that he obtained is still used today.
To deal with tight DA budgets, Trigg said he would prioritize cases depending on the offender, using enhancements when appropriate.
In choosing which cases to prosecute, Drossel said there would be “no politics or favoritism in the DA’s Office” and that “the starting point has to be this: is there legally sufficient and admissible evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Drossel said the other side of the DA’s “sword of justice” is protecting the safety of the public when there isn’t sufficient evidence.
Trigg said he would deal with prioritizing prosecution on a case-by-case basis and that “one of the benefits of being new to the community is that I don’t have any ax to grind. I’m going to make decisions on the case and file and that’s it. Period.”
Drossel promised to be timely in filing cases, and said he would work with law enforcement to make sure that reports have the information the DA’s Office needs to prosecute.
Trigg said there is a disconnect between the DA’s Office and law enforcement locally and that he would develop better communication between the entities, including giving detailed explanations of why certain cases are not prosecuted and making sure an attorney is available at all business hours for law enforcement.
In response to an audience question about bad checks and petty theft, Drossel said that he implemented a successful program to deter bad check writing when he was previously Del Norte’s DA, and he would reinstate that program. Trigg also said he would start a bad check program.
Questioning each other
The forum allowed for the candidates to ask one question of their opponent and in a pointed barb, Trigg said that he questioned if Drossel was educated enough in the current law enforcement realities from AB 109 “realignment,” which shifted low-level offenders to county jails and probation departments.
“In the time I’ve been here in the county, I have not seen Mr. Drossel in court regularly in criminal cases and there has been considerable changes to the law in California since AB 109 was enacted. It has caused complete new categorization of the way certain cases are prosecuted and sentenced and what happens with split sentencing, post-release community supervision, mandatory supervision, and I’m wondering how conversant my opponent is in all those new nuances that have totally changed the landscape.”
Drossel responded: “I am up to date and here’s why,” noting that he served as a county public defender in 2011 and 2012 and thereby gained experience with the changes from AB 109.
Drossel’s equally biting question for Trigg: “As a defense attorney with limited prosecution and management experience — and not in California — how will you handle being DA with less prosecution experience than the staff that you will manage?”
Trigg’s response: “I think that’s a false premise. I don’t have less experience than everyone in the staff. I have been a prosecutor before and I’ve been a defense attorney here for the last year and a half and I’ve been licensed to practice law in the state of California for 10 years. I have experience and, as my opponent’s answer to my last question bears out, I have considerably more recent experience with the current criminal structure than he does. I’ve been in the trenches and I’ve battled these AB 109 issues.”
Taking their final shots
In closing remarks, Trigg reiterated his intent to send serious violent offenders to state prison and not negotiate charges down, his goal to decrease domestic violence in the county, and said, “I’ve been here for a year and a half. Mr. Drossel has been here for 15 years. He’s had 10 times the opportunity to get law enforcement on his side than I have, but they are backing me and not him. They want me to be their partner. They want me to handle their cases and I hope you do too.”
Drossel noted that he had law enforcement’s support when he lost by 196 votes in 2010 to Jon Alexander, as well as an endorsement from the Triplicate.
“The top DA job is not a training ground,” Drossel said. “You have to have the prosecution experience and the management experience for budgets, grants and personnel issues and I’ve done that. I think if you asked lots of people they will tell you, if somebody’s serious about being a DA in California, then why don’t you get a job in a DA’s Office, spend some significant time in a DA’s Office and work your way up the ladder. I did that. I have a proven track record. Short cuts generally don’t work, as we found out in the past, not for the DA and not for the community. ”