District attorney faces first challenge for office in 11 years
Bonnie Dumanis downplays alleged politicking, focuses on goals, career strengths
La Jollan endorsements for San Diego District Attorney
■ Robert Brewer: Eric Acker, John Bucher, Candace Carroll, Peter Cooper, Charles Dick, Bob Doede, Charles Grebing, Len Simon
■ Bonnie Dumanis: Barbara Bry, David Casey, Lynn Schenk, Neil Senturia, Philip and Gayle Tauber
By Pat Sherman
Three-term San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who was uncontested in her first two bids for re-election as the county’s top prosecutor, has competition this time as she seeks a fourth term in the June 3 primary election — among them, attorney Robert Brewer.
The La Jolla Light met with both candidates this month to talk about their plans to protect the region if victorious. A third candidate, Terri Wyatt, a former prosecutor in the DA’s office, did not respond to an interview request by press time. Her interview will run in next week’s edition.
A former prosecutor, Brewer has surpassed Dumanis in fundraising with $482,000 to her $341,000 as of last month’s campaign disclosure reports (Wyatt has about $20,000).
Dumanis holds the power of incumbency, and the backing of Mayor Kevin Faulconer, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore and all five county supervisors.
Though voters historically turn out in smaller numbers for county-wide races, Brewer said they should not take the district attorney’s race lightly.
“No felony case is filed in San Diego County without the approval and review of a deputy district attorney — and there were 17,000 felonies filed last year in San Diego County,” he said. “The district attorney also files 80 percent of the misdemeanors in the county. … The district attorney has the power to take people’s freedom away, and has the power to put people on death row. There’s no more impactful person in the county.”
Dumanis said she’s used that power to unite a divided office after narrowly defeating former DA Paul Pfingst in 2002, going on to cut the office’s budget by $14 million and increase diversity.
“When I was a deputy DA in the office there were only six women out of more than 60 deputy DAs,” she said. “Now, a little over half are women.”
Dumanis highlighted her office’s role in the prosecution of sexually violent predators, working to craft and assure passage of Jessica’s Law (designed to reduce sexual offenders’ ability to re-offend), as well as her office’s role in prosecuting the killer of teenagers Amber Dubois and Chelsea King.
Dumanis also touted “gutsy moves,” such as going after unlicensed contractors who prey on wildfire victims, and an ongoing suit against former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for violating victim’s rights by reducing the prison sentence of a political ally’s son by more than half (without giving the family a chance to argue against the commutation).
Both Dumanis and Brewer say that, if elected, they plan to crack down on elder abuse, identify theft and human trafficking, all of which are on the rise.
Dumanis met this month at the U.S.-Mexico border with Attorney General Kamala Harris (who has also endorsed her) to discuss Dumanis’ initiative to combat sexual exploitation and the trafficking of human labor.
“We’ve just begun to see the enormity of it,” Dumanis said.
Dumanis, whose office boasts a 94 percent conviction rate, said San Diego County has the lowest crime rate in 30 years.
“We’re one of the safest urban counties, public safety-wise,” she said. “I think people know me. I’m tested and trusted. As I go into the community, they like what we’re doing in the DA’s office.”
Brewer, who underscored his leadership serving in combat during the Vietnam War, and role in successfully prosecuting a deeply embedded KGB spy, said his primary goal will be to “regain the confidence of law enforcement,” which he says Dumanis has lost.
Dumanis attributed the loss of support to “holding people accountable.”
“That includes police officers,” she said. “We prosecute where necessary and sometimes they don’t agree with those decisions.”
Dumanis said her office meets monthly with police chiefs and assistant chiefs from cities around the county, as well as the U.S. attorney.
“We’re always looking to improve,” she said. “There is a process by which any issues that come up are addressed. Recently, they’ve expressed some concern about how cases have been handled when (officers) are injured and we looked nationwide at how those are handled.”
While in her 2006 bid for re-election, Dumanis garnered unanimous support from San Diego County law enforcement; Brewer now boasts the endorsement of 98 percent of local law endorsement — including the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of San Diego County, San Diego Police Officers Association, San Diego County Probation Officer’s Association and police associations in Carlsbad, Coronado, Oceanside, Escondido and other cities.
“They’re sick and tired of her being a politician, they’ve told her that, and that’s one of the reasons why they didn’t endorse her in 2010,” Brewer said. “Then … she’s sworn in and 70 days later she announces the most political thing she could do — she runs for mayor.”
Brewer claims Dumanis’s unsuccessful 2012 mayoral bid and history of making endorsements has politicized the district attorney’s office. (Her endorsements include Carl DeMaio, whom she backed in the 2012 mayor’s race after she came in fourth in the primary, and, more recently, the re-election of San Diego County Clerk Ernie Dronenberg, who has also endorsed Dumanis’ bid for re-election.)
Brewer said he believes that, like the U.S. attorney — who is barred from engaging in partisan political activity (including endorsements and fundraising) under the Hatch Act, the district attorney should also not make endorsements.
Brewer said the district attorney holds an important responsibility to apply state law to politicians.
“When you become too close to the politicians, when you become a politician, you create layers of conflicts of interest — and this present district attorney, in 2011, 70 days after she was sworn in for a third term … became what she was supposed to be policing: a politician.”
Brewer argues that Dumanis’ mayoral quest precluded the DA’s office from prosecuting disgraced ex-San Diego Mayor Bob Filner during last year’s sexual harassment scandal.
“The entire district attorney’s office was disqualified from investigating him … (and) infected with her bias against Filner because she spent 17 months running against him and because she endorsed Carl DeMaio,” Brewer said.
“Not true,” Dumanis maintained. “Endorsing, by it’s very nature, does not require you to recuse yourself or not to handle a case. In this particular case … I proactively saw that there was going to be a criminal case, way before it got to be criminal. I called the attorney general’s office and the U.S. attorneys’ office so that we could talk about who the best prosecuting agency and the best police agency would be.”
Though San Diego Police would normally work with the district attorney’s office on such a case, Dumanis said news reports of potential federal charges against Filner made the offices of the U.S. attorney and attorney general seem “a more appropriate agency” to pursue the case.
“We all decided together that the sheriff, as opposed to San Diego Police Department, would handle the investigation and the attorney general would handle the prosecution,” she said. “We helped with that in terms of giving advice and Mr. Filner was held accountable.”
When forming her Public Integrity Unit in 2007 to root out political corruption, Dumanis said she would no longer endorse political candidates. However, she made an exception for races impacting public safety that Brewer said he considers too broad.
“Once you make a commitment for no endorsements and then you qualify it, you’re on a slippery slope,” he said, noting that even Dumanis’ habit of endorsing judges could prove problematic. “If that judge gets elected, invariably, (Dumanis) will have employees of hers appearing before that judge. I think the optics of that are terrible.”
Dumanis said the DA’s office is not political, and that making endorsements is necessary.
“I am in a political office, where I am elected, and whether we like it or not, we have to raise money, as my opponents are, and we have to get endorsements. We also have to endorse if we want to have a leadership role in the state on what I consider public safety issues,” she said.
Dumanis, who also boasts the endorsement of the San Diego Police Chiefs’ and Sheriffs’ Association and the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association, said making endorsements helps her office gain a foothold in Sacramento. Following the lead of Sheriff Gore, Dumanis dedicates someone from her office to work on legislative affairs in Sacramento.
“We’ve been very effective in getting laws passed and stopping laws that would be bad for public safety,” she said. “It’s about relationships, not politics. As the district attorney, I have created strong relationships in Sacramento, in Washington and in San Diego, and those have benefitted the public safety of San Diego.”
Dumanis said she believes Brewer’s hard-and-fast no-endorsement vow would tie his hands as district attorney.
“I’m not sure he’ll be able to get much done. I don’t know of any other DA or any other elected official who does no endorsements,” she said, noting that the state attorney generals and former San Diego County district attorneys Ed Miller and Paul Pfingst also made endorsements.
“My opponent (Brewer), who works for a law firm and is taking money from people in law firms, will have a conflict built in there as well … if he takes money from people who may be defense attorneys practicing in criminal cases,” she said. “By the way, it’s the court that makes the decision — if it’s raised — as to whether or not the office should be recused.”
Brewer also noted Dumanis’ involvement in an ongoing financial contribution scandal in which the federal government has indicted four people — two of whom worked on Dumanis’ mayoral campaign and one who funneled $200,000 in foreign contributions to an independent expenditure supporting her candidacy. Federal law prohibits foreign nationals from donating to U.S. political campaigns.
“There could be an incredible number of state violations in those transactions — money laundering, conspiracy, disclosure,” Brewer said. “Again, her office can’t look at them, because she’s in the middle of them.”
The answer, Brewer contends, is a change of leadership. “I’m a firm believer in term limits,” he said.
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