Today’s Modesto Bee leads with a powerful article on the incredible delays to justice in our county. Our county has an incredible backlog of criminal cases, with over 100 murder suspects sitting in jail awaiting trial, some for over ten years. Not only is this very expensive (we spend over $11,000 per day housing just these defendants), but the result is a delay in justice for everyone involved – not just the defendants, but also the victims’ families, the law enforcement officers who investigated the case, and the community at large.
As the Bee notes, things weren’t always this way. The incredible growth in our backlog correlates to two events – a change in the way that our court handles cases and the election of Birgit Fladager as our District Attorney. There are many arguments to be had about the best way for a court to handle cases, and there are other counties that made the same change but somehow see a similar increase in delays. But we have one thing that those counties don’t – Birgit Fladager.
I am quoted throughout the article, and I stand by my statements, with one small clarification (see below). As I told the Bee, I believe that our delays are the result of poor policies and management at the District Attorneys office. Problems with evidence handling and discovery have allowed defense attorneys to ask for repeated continuances (a valid and popular defense strategy), with little to no push back from overworked Deputy District Attorneys (DDAs for short) whose case loads exceed those of comparable counties.
The result is an exodus of experienced DDAs – we replaced 17 out of 47 this past year alone, and less than 10 DDAs have been there for the duration of Birgit’s tenure. This, in turn, leads to less experienced DDAs handling more difficult cases, which they need more time to prepare for, increasing their workload, and creating a vicious cycle that is playing out before us. At the end of the day, our county pays the price, both financially and through reduced safety, peace of mind, and access to justice.
Now is the time for change. If elected, I will work collaboratively with the courts, the law enforcement community, and the rest of the criminal justice system (yes, including the defense bar) to reduce this backlog and get us back to a system of justice that is fair, efficient, and effective. I will do this through a combination of technology (the proposed-and-allegedly-soon-to-be-implemented digital discovery system is a start, but not nearly enough), as well as modern metrics-based management of both cases and the dedicated and hard-working members of the District Attorney’s office.
Stanislaus County deserves, and can have, a fair, efficient, and effective criminal justice system. All it needs is good leadership and capable management. Please help me bring that to our community, so that we can all make our county safer, together.
How can you help? I’m glad you asked! For starters, you can visit our contributions page and contribute financially to our campaign. Every bit helps – you would be amazed at how important your $20, $50, or $100 contribution can be. Next, we have great opportunities for volunteers to help us with our campaign. If you are excited about the opportunity to help make our county safer, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get you going! Finally, we need people to get the word out about what we’re doing. You can do that by liking our Facebook page, sharing our post, or just talking to your friends, family, and colleagues about why you think I should be your next District Attorney. No matter how you help, thank you, and I look forward to serving you, and our entire county.
As for that clarification: There’s a quote in the article that suggests that I or other attorneys might ask for delays relating to discovery when that discovery has already been handed over. I have not, and will never, do something along those lines, and have never seen another defense attorney do it either. I’m sure someone, somewhere, has tried it, but it’s unethical, improper, and frankly dumb to do it. As attorneys, our credibility to the court is everything, and no attorney, no matter who they are or how zealously they represent their client can excuse misrepresenting the truth to the court. My quote was intended to highlight that the District Attorney’s office has not been able to verify whether they have handed evidence over to the defense- I have had the same evidence given to me multiple times in a case, and have had DDAs ask me whether certain evidence had been given to me, because they didn’t know.