Pubdate: Tue, 27 Apr 2010
Source: Redwood Times (Garberville, CA)
Copyright: 2010 MediaNews Group


Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos made a  reelection
campaign stop in Southern Humboldt with an  informal conversation with
community members at the  Civic Club in Garberville on Tuesday
evening, April 13.

Although the group was small, the participants were  well-informed and
the discussion was wide-ranging and  lively.

"My first priority is public safety," Gallegos declared  at the
beginning of the evening. He reiterated this  point several times as
he described what he has done in  his previous seven-plus years in
office and what he  hopes to do if he is elected for another four-year

"I feel confident we've done a great job," Gallegos  said. He cited a
decrease of violent crime - "always  our first goal" - and
modernization of office systems  as two of his major

For six of the last eight fiscal years, the DA's office  has had to
contend with budget cuts of 10 to 15%, and  cuts are expected for the
coming year as well.

Approximately 40% of the DA's budget comes from the  county's general
fund, and the other 60% from grants,  so in addition to his other
duties, the DA also must be  a fundraiser and grant writer.

Gallegos talked about his approach to various  categories of crime,
considering both the seriousness  of the offense and the feasibility
of prosecution.

For example, drug possession and transportation cases  are easy to
prosecute because law enforcement officers  often find the evidence at
the scene with the accused  person.

Gallegos believes such cases should be handled by  referring the
offenders for treatment. On the other  hand, if a situation involving
drugs escalates into a  crime against people, such as burglary,
robbery, or  assault, then it should be prosecuted aggressively and
more severe penalties applied.

By contrast, although the offense is more serious,  domestic violence
cases are difficult to prosecute  because the victims often only want
the violent  behavior to stop, not to send the perpetrator to  prison.

Another key issue, Gallegos said, is environmental  enforcement. Until
recently the Humboldt County DA's  office has not had an environmental
law attorney on  staff. Such cases were handled for the county by
specialists from the California District Attorneys  Association (CDAA).

Attorney Christa McKimmy recently joined the DA's staff  to prosecute
environmental and consumer cases  exclusively. Action has begun on
several cases  involving local businesses who "feel the laws are only
for other people," Gallegos said.

Additionally, the Humboldt County DA's office joins  other counties in
prosecuting environmental and  consumer violations spanning
multi-county areas with  the assistance of CDAA and the state attorney

One participant in the discussion said that law is  essentially
"kindergarten stuff - no hitting, clean up  after yourself."

Gallegos described his political philosophy as, "We are  free, but
when we join society we give up some of that  freedom. Government's
first responsibility is to  protect public safety and property. Then
it should stay  out of your way unless there is a compelling reason."

The question-and-answer session began with inquiries  about his
feelings about the other candidates. Gallegos  declined to give
specific comments about each  candidate, but he admitted that running
against three  other people increased the likelihood of a run-off

Extending the campaign through November means he'll be  able to spend
less time working. He said he  particularly dislikes having to raise
money,  emphasizing that everyone, rich or poor, deserves equal
protection under the law.

Asked why he is running for a third term, Gallegos  replied that he
wants to finish what he started. In  particular, he wants to help
train the new generation  of attorneys coming up through the DA's
office and he  would like to continue the technological upgrades that
are making it easier to capture, access, and share data  with the
courts and other law enforcement agencies.

All Gallegos's opponents have criticized him for trying  cases
himself. He explained, "The first reason I try  cases is that I'm an
attorney. That's why you elected  me - to be district attorney, not
district office  manager."

His office reviews over 12,000 cases a year with a  reduced staff, so
he needs to do his share of the work,  he said. Furthermore, he
believes that when the staff  sees him in court, they know he's not
asking them to do  anything he wouldn't do himself.

Furthermore, when he's in court, the public can measure  his
performance. "Some people don't want to try cases  because they could
lose," he said. "They want to  insulate themselves from criticism."

As expected in Southern Humboldt, there was an extended  discussion of
marijuana prosecution, medical marijuana  issues, and how legalization
might affect the DA's  office.

Gallegos declared he is solidly in favor of  legalization and
regulation similar to regulation of  tobacco and alcohol. "Marijuana
is a public health and  public education issue, not a public safety
issue," he  said.

"Since taking office I've gotten lots of criticism from  law
enforcement about my [marijuana] policy," he  admitted.

If pot were legalized tomorrow, the likelihood of  someone being
killed because of involvement with  marijuana would be gone, Gallegos
said. Kids would be  more motivated to go to college and get
meaningful work  because they would be unable to make more money
growing  pot.

Legalization would reduce hypocrisy and "make the  community upfront,
honest, and stable," he concluded.

Regarding the effects of Proposition 215 legalizing  marijuana for
medical use in California, Gallegos said  pot production has to some
extent migrated from rural  areas to urban areas, resulting in
different kinds of  crime.

On the one hand, urbanizing marijuana grows has  resulted in fewer
mysterious deaths and disappearances  in the hills, but has increased
the likelihood that  innocent persons will get caught in the crossfire
when  violent disputes occur in towns.

Some auxiliary crimes, such as passing counterfeit  money, have
increased recently, possibly related to the  proliferation of medical

One participant asked about prosecuting timber  companies that violate
the California Forest Practices  Act and which pollute with herbicide
spraying.  Complaints to county officials have gone nowhere  because
the companies have approved permits.

"Bring it to me," Gallegos said. "We may conclude  there's nothing we
can do but if you don't bring it, we  sure can't do anything about
it." He sees such  pollution as a public safety issue.

Another participant asked which candidate Gallegos  supports for
Humboldt County Sheriff.

Gallegos replied that he likes Mike Downey, but that  because Mike
Hislop works in his office as chief  investigator, "I know he's a hard
worker, smart, a  problem solver, and he can work within a budget."

Finally he expressed his openness to new ideas from  citizens. For
example, he would be glad to hear from  the community on how to find
positive work for people  on probation, such as river cleanup.

Gallegos and other candidates for District Attorney,  Kathleen Bryson,
Paul Hagen, and Alison Jackson, will  meet at a public forum sponsored
by the League of Women  Voters and the Civil Liberties Monitoring
project on  Tuesday, April 27, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Vets Hall
in Garberville. 
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D