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Incumbent District Attorney Terence Hallinan and his challenger, Deputy City Attorney Kamala Harris, agree on some broad philosophical positions. For example, both have said they favor medical marijuana and oppose the death penalty. But the two candidates, who face each other in a runoff election Tuesday, disagree on plenty when they talk about how the DA’s office is operating. The Recorder asked both of them to outline their accomplishments and plans for a handful of the issues that have come up during the campaign, such as the prosecution of domestic violence, prostitution and drug crimes. The candidates illuminated some of the ways they’re trying to distinguish themselves from each other. At a Nov. 24 debate, they summarized for voters their biggest differences. Asked to name the biggest issues of this year’s campaign, Hallinan topped his list with experience — specifically, experience as a DA, experience in heading up an office of roughly 300 employees and experience in San Francisco. He also listed a combination of credibility and ethics, and each candidate’s vision for diversion programs. Harris listed effectiveness and professionalism as top issues. And she put a progressive agenda “that works” on her list, promoting herself as a candidate “who doesn’t just talk about a commitment to a progressive agenda, but actually accomplishes a progressive agenda.” DOMESTIC VIOLENCE Terence Hallinan: When Terence Hallinan took office in 1996, two prosecutors were dedicated to domestic violence and San Francisco had an 18 percent conviction rate for the crime. Now, he said, “San Francisco’s on the cutting edge of domestic violence” prosecution. “Now we have 12 prosecutors in domestic violence, including the only vertically prosecuted misdemeanor domestic violence unit in the state,” Hallinan said. Hallinan’s office did an analysis of DV dispositions from July 1, 2002, through Sept. 19, 2003. Prosecutors got convictions in 83 percent of the cases in which defendants had been charged with a felony domestic violence crime and in 72 percent of the cases in which defendants had been charged with a misdemeanor DV crime. Hallinan acknowledges that he discontinued the misdemeanor domestic violence team briefly this year. Faced with budget cuts, he said that he tried juggling deputies. But after about a month, the DV lawyers advised him the change wasn’t working out, he said, “so I went back.” Kamala Harris: Among Kamala Harris’ plans for domestic violence prosecutions, Harris would inventory pending cases to determine how to better distribute resources and flag repeat domestic violence offenders; give every prosecutor involved with domestic violence cases a performance review; provide training for DV prosecutors based on a written assessment of their skills and knowledge of domestic violence law; require a supervisor’s written approval for any plea bargain in a felony DV case; modernize the office’s tracking and filing system; and cross-train assistant DAs with local domestic violence advocates and prosecutors from other cities. Referring to Hallinan’s brief dissolution of a unit dedicated to misdemeanor domestic violence earlier this year, Harris said, “When I started talking about it, he put it back together again.” She added, “If there’s a commitment to these cases, why did he disband that unit, when misdemeanor domestic violence is the potential precursor to lethal crime? “I’ve been working on issues related to domestic violence for many years; I have personally prosecuted those cases,” Harris said. She’s president of the board of Partners Ending Domestic Abuse, an advocacy group for local domestic service providers. DRUG CRIMES Terence Hallinan: Hallinan champions his emphasis on diversion programs for drug offenders as a hallmark of his time in office. “It works, it makes sense, it saves money,” and diversion results in lower recidivism rates compared to prison terms, Hallinan said. “Unless a person is a pretty serious drug dealer, I’m not anxious to send them to state prison.” The office usually offers diversion in possession cases, the DA said, and first-time offenders charged with a drug sale are typically given the option if their crime appears to be motivated by a substance abuse problem. “If they commit a second offense, we start asking for county jail. And with the third offense we start talking about state prison.” The DA’s office counts seven drug diversion programs; Hallinan says he has initiated some and has expanded the rest. He particularly takes credit for starting the academic track of treatment court, and Streets to Work, which sends low-level drug sellers to school or job training and placement. Kamala Harris: Harris contends that diversion could be improved by leveraging relationships with small and big businesses to provide training and jobs. The DA’s office should give police clearer protocols about the kind of evidence needed to prosecute and what types of cases it will prosecute, Harris said, adding that she perceives some misunderstanding among police. “There’s been some effort to do this, but it needs to be done better.” “I’m a strong supporter of diversion and rehabilitation, especially for first- and second-time offenders,” Harris said, adding that it can be appropriate for low-level drug sales. “But when it comes to repeat offenders, I think we’ve been more than a little lax. … I would take the crimes more seriously, and I’d prosecute them.” PROSTITUTION Terence Hallinan: Though Hallinan believes San Francisco should adopt an approach to prostitution similar to Nevada’s, he acknowledges no such change is in sight. “In the meantime, I work on controlling prostitution as a neighborhood issue, try to focus on the johns and try to use diversion to get women out of prostitution,” he said. “Plus, there’s a subset of juvenile prostitution where we utilize child abuse cases where they’re appropriate. And we do prosecute strongly pimps and panderers.” He boasts that the First Offender Prostitution Program, which began before he took office, has won an award from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. And he takes credit for setting up the Early Intervention Prostitution Program with SAGE, a nonprofit in which prostitutes complete a combination of community service and targeted rehabilitation programs. Hallinan doesn’t object to the notion that juvenile prostitutes are victims, but says the DA has to keep them in custody to get them enrolled in diversion. If they’re simply released, he said, “the pimps will actually be there waiting for them.” Kamala Harris: Paying more attention to juveniles as a way to reduce and prevent crime is one of the primary themes of Harris’ campaign. She calls youth a stage of life in which its members are particularly capable of rehabilitation; she says more resources should be devoted to helping young people leave, or altogether avoid, criminal activity. That theme plays out in her views on prostitution, where Harris says she sees significant distinctions between teenagers and adults. “I prefer to see it as the youth are being prostituted as a way to survive,” Harris said. “The reaction from the system should not be to criminalize them,” but to figure out the best way to help them. Harris said that when she used to prosecute child sexual assault cases, she found victims sometimes fled to the streets. “I know based on all of that that it is most appropriate to have compassion for those youth.” One of the ways she plans to do that is by creating a unit dedicated to prosecuting child sexual assault cases, which could include cases in which teens are prostituted to adults. CASE FLOW Terence Hallinan: Hallinan said he’s made some improvements to address efficiency, but says his hands are tied in many ways by limited resources. “A lot of the things that [Kamala Harris] talks about aren’t really applicable to San Francisco.” The city has significantly fewer courtrooms and prosecutors than Alameda County, he said, where Harris worked before she joined his office. “I’ve tried to get around it by setting up community courts,” Hallinan said. Volunteers hear an estimated 3,000 low-level misdemeanors a year at eight neighborhood sites and can order punishment including fines, restitution to victims, community service or classes. Hallinan acknowledges that “there is some truth” to Harris’ assertions that files can get lost in the current system. But he blames inadequate and decentralized storage for the problems. He contends the DA’s office can generally pull up a case file in short order even with the storage issues. He noted that the city’s criminal justice agencies are updating their case management system, which he said should make it easier to call up some documents at computer terminals. As for homicides, Hallinan said, “The reason we have a backlog of murder cases is we don’t plea bargain them.” Kamala Harris: Harris would require managers to hold weekly meetings with their teams to review their cases. And she would use a computerized tracking system, plus require attorneys to fill out a form every time they go to court on a felony case stating what happened. “Case continued, check the box, what’s the reason?” Harris said. “When people know that they’re going to be held to that standard, they have to be responsible.” At the end of the year she would evaluate how long cases are taking, how long they have been continued, and she would do an assessment to see if better training or more resources or accountability measures are needed. And if a homicide case is more than a year old, there needs to be a status conference to establish why, Harris said. “Cases are sitting around, people are sitting around and they’re not going to trial.” “Terence [Hallinan] can blame the judges and the juries and the asbestos in the Hall of Justice all he wants,” she added. “We need a DA who sets a clear understanding and rules that these cases should go to trial.” Noting that she’s taught and sat on blue-ribbon bar committees, Harris said, “I have given a lot of time and stock to improving the practice of our profession.” CORRUPTION AND FRAUD Terence Hallinan: Hallinan has touted corruption busting as a major theme of his campaign, while his critics have accused him of waiting until an election year to seize on the issue. “We’ve been pretty relentless in terms of prosecuting these public corruption cases,” Hallinan said, arguing that his office has prosecuted 49 cases in the past three years involving people who stole money from government organizations. He highlights the case against former school district employee Timothy Tronson, who along with his wife and four other people is accused of taking part in a scheme to divert $500,000 from a contract between the district and a North Carolina company. Their cases are pending, but the company pleaded guilty last year to two felony counts of grand theft and agreed to pay a criminal fine of $500,000, plus $500,000 in restitution to the school district. The DA’s special prosecutions unit handles government fraud cases and police prosecutions, and several grant-funded units address crimes like passing bad checks and workers’ compensation fraud. The DA says he looks forward to lobbying a new mayor for more attorneys and investigators to fight corruption. Kamala Harris: Harris has brushed aside comments from some Hallinan supporters who, particularly noting outgoing Mayor Willie Brown’s support of her campaign, have suggested she would be less likely than Hallinan to go after corruption. The challenger insists she would take fraud and corruption seriously. Harris would leave the special prosecutions unit in place, but wants to establish a separate “public integrity unit” to prosecute cases involving police and public officials. The challenger also said the office needs a better relationship with state and federal law agencies that investigate fraud, white-collar crime and corruption. She contends that many of those agencies “don’t refer cases to the San Francisco DA’s office because they perceive there will be no follow-through.” The DA’s office should also do more to go after identity theft, including crimes perpetrated with computers, Harris said. “We have to just update the way that the district attorney’s office is structured, and respond. We’ve got a whole [category] of crimes that didn’t exist 25 years ago.” CONVICTION AND CRIME RATES Terence Hallinan: Hallinan asserts that crime rates, not conviction rates, are the best way to tell if a DA is doing his or her job. “The crime rate is ultimately the important measure,” he said. A comparison of state Department of Justice data from 1995, the year before Hallinan took office, to 2002, the most recent data available, shows a 47.2 percent drop in the city’s violent crime rate — reported homicides, forcible rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults per 100,000 people. People are best protected from crime by a mix of successful prosecutions and diversion, Hallinan said, and he suggests diversion can affect violent crime by getting people out of the system before their crimes escalate. Hallinan argues that the numbers are skewed in a San Francisco Chronicle story on 2001 California Department of Justice data comparing convictions to arrests. “If we use FBI statistics, which are based on cases filed rather than arrests made, then we have a better picture for the DA’s office,” Hallinan said, “kind of in the middle of the pack” of the state’s counties. The numbers also don’t recognize his frequent use of diversion programs, for nearly 10,000 cases a year, Hallinan said. If a defendant successfully completes a program, he noted, their case is dismissed. Kamala Harris: “It goes without saying that conviction rates are not the only way and should not be the only way to judge the performance of the district attorney’s office,” Harris said. “But to deny that it’s a measure is ridiculous.” On the campaign trail she’s most recently relied on numbers from an Oct. 17 story in the San Francisco Chronicle that analyzed 2001 California Department of Justice data comparing convictions to arrests made. That story says San Francisco prosecutors obtained convictions against 29 percent of all adult felony arrestees in 2001, compared with a 67.5 percent conviction rate statewide. It also says that Hallinan convicted 49.2 percent of adult suspects arrested for murder, rape, robbery and assault in 2001, compared with 61 percent statewide. “[Hallinan] uses as an excuse that he’s diverting cases, and so the low conviction rates are explained away because he’s compassionate. I just think that’s really misleading,” Harris said. “We’re not diverting murder, we’re not diverting rape, and we have one of the lowest conviction rates in the state for serious and violent crime. And there’s no excuse for that.”

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