Seven months after being accused of not doing enough to promote minorities in the workplace, the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office has hired a diverse group of seven deputies.
The new crop — the majority of whom have already been sworn in — include an African-American, two Asians and an East Indian. Between them, they speak Vietnamese, Chinese, Spanish and Hindi.
Deputy DA Christopher Arriola, who criticized the office in June for what he considered a lack of diversity, said he was impressed with the string of new hires.
“I would like to commend [Chief Assistant DA Karyn] Sinunu and the DA’s office for hiring a diverse class of deputies, and I think they will be an asset to the office and the community,” he said.
Sinunu, who has been the office’s hiring coordinator for the past decade, brushed aside Arriola’s past criticism, saying the office has always strived to hire diverse candidates.
“That is what we have been doing for the last 10 years,” she said earlier this week. “We are on track.”
In addition, DA George Kennedy said Tuesday that Rolanda Pierre-Dixon, a veteran prosecutor with the office’s domestic violence unit, is a “frontrunner” for the office’s open assistant DA spot. If she gets the job, Pierre-Dixon would be the first African-American to hold one of the office’s six top assistant management positions.
“You’d have to consider her a frontrunner. She has a lot of experience,” Kennedy said. There are roughly a dozen deputies vying for the job, Kennedy noted, adding that he will likely make a decision next week.
In June, Arriola took aim at the DA’s office, and Sinunu in particular, for not doing enough to recruit minority lawyers. At that time, of the office’s 186 attorneys, 76.9 percent were white, 10.2 percent were Asian, 6.5 percent were Latino, 4.3 percent were black and 2.2 percent were Middle Eastern.
Sinunu, who is running for DA later this year, called Arriola’s accusations “unfair” and “inaccurate,” pointing out that Kennedy has the final say on all new hires.
“Chris Arriola gave us a bad rap,” she added.
Arriola, president of the Santa Clara County Bar Association, has formed a blue-ribbon commission to explore ways to bring more color to South Bay law firms. Both Kennedy and Sinunu have agreed to serve on the commission.
The DA’s new deputies will replace a group of outgoing prosecutors. The office has had a hiring freeze since 2002, and Sinunu said there are currently no open spots for outside hires. At its peak, the office had 225 deputies.
Mai Tran Buell, who was sworn in as a deputy on Halloween, said she has been interested in joining the Santa Clara DA’s office since graduating from Hastings College of the Law in 2003, a year after the hiring freeze went into effect.
“I definitely came here for the amazing trial experience,” said Buell, who is in the misdemeanor unit and has had a trial calendar almost every week since arriving at the DA’s office.
“You actually manage your own cases,” Buell said, pointing out the difference between working in a private practice and being a prosecutor. “There is definitely a sharp learning curve.”
Buell said she knows a lot of people who would love to land a job as a prosecutor, noting that Sinunu told her the number of applicants who came in for the recent round of hiring was higher than normal.
Joining Buell in the DA’s office are:
� Thanh Ngo, who is Vietnamese and was a former deputy with the Santa Cruz and San Francisco DA’s offices. Sworn in Jan. 3, Ngo speaks Spanish and Vietnamese and has been assigned to the juvenile unit.
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