The four candidates for district attorney all have significant experience prosecuting criminals in Del Norte County. Their resumes qualify them for the office, and they stated their cases with conviction at The Triplicate's candidate forum.
Unless one of them receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the June 8 primary, the top two finishers will advance to a November runoff. So you'll likely be hearing about this race for months to come. Odds are, you've already been hearing about it, especially because of personal issues involving two of the candidates, incumbent Mike Riese and challenger Jon Alexander.
Since all four candidates are qualified, those personal issues loom large in making a choice. Bottom line: If we can elect a good DA who doesn't have personal distractions, we should.
That is why The Triplicate endorses Robert Drossel for Del Norte County district attorney. Drossel already filled that role from 1999 to 2002, when he lost the position to Riese. Drossel returned to the DA's Office as a volunteer during a prosecutor staffing shortage in 2008 and 2009. He also worked as an assistant district attorney for eight years in South Lake Tahoe and was a lead attorney for the Butte County Narcotics Task Force for two years.
Being DA in a small county such as Del Norte means personally trying some high-profile cases. But other aspects of the job are equally important, such as being a strong leader, administrator and yes, even a mentor of less-experienced prosecutors. The DA must also be a budget negotiator who can secure adequate funding - mainly from the county government - for criminal prosecutions.
Drossel and another challenger, Harry Liddicote Jr., best addressed that budgeting task at the candidates forum. Liddicote, the county's chief deputy district attorney from 1989 to 1997, touted himself as a good "negotiator" who would also employ his past experience in seeking grants in addition to county funding. Drossel also talked about grants, but said the key to adequate funding was working well with county officials and being a constant presence at budget meetings.
Alexander called for an aggressive asset forfeiture effort to obtain money from criminals. Riese, who has experienced firsthand the frustrations of under-funding during two terms in office, lamented that you can't squeeze "blood from a turnip" and acknowledged plea-bargaining some cases to avoid taking them to trial is a "necessary evil."
While Liddicote agreed with the incumbent, Drossel and Alexander said too many cases are currently plea-bargained, and even went so far as to contend that plea-bargaining should never occur merely because of a lack of prosecutorial resources.
We think Riese and Liddicote are more realistic in their assessments of plea-bargaining in a small-county court system, but the concept of a fresh approach is enticing.
Indeed, the need for a fresh start is what this race is all about. It's impossible to ignore the concerns over Riese's erratic behavior and prescription drug use, cited in a November letter from the county's chief administrative officer that stated his conduct over several months made his employees "feel uncomfortable, intimidated and on occasion threatened." Riese did address the concerns at the forum, saying he had been sick and should have followed the CAO's suggestion that he take time off.
Alexander's personal problems aren't so recent. An admitted former methamphetamine addict, the former deputy district attorney has been suspended from practicing law four times since he was admitted to the California State Bar in 1987. He has again been eligible to practice law since 2007, and has become a high-profile public defender and defense attorney. He said at the forum he had met his "weaknesses head-on" and "took care of them." He also said his personal experience with meth would drive his efforts to clamp down on drug dealers.
Riese and Alexander are both dynamic courtroom attorneys, and it's certainly possible they'll both advance to the November runoff. But if voters want less drama and more stable leadership in the DA's Office, now is the time to act. Liddicote is a viable challenger, but Drossel comes across as the more vital, well-rounded candidate.