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LWV League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

Smart Voter
Santa Clara County, CA June 6, 2006 Election
Candidates Answer Questions on the Issues
District Attorney; County of Santa Clara

The questions were prepared by the the Leagues of Women Voters of Santa Clara County and asked of all candidates for this office.     See below for questions on Experience, Changes, Budget

Click on a name for candidate information.   See also more information about this contest.

1. What experience and training would you bring to this office?

Answer from Jim Shore:

As a professional prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney with 17 years of experience, I am running for District Attorney because I know we can do more to protect our kids, our families, and our communities.

My goal isn't just to make this county safer. It's to actually make it safe.

I grew up here + and my wife and I are raising our wonderful family here. And I'm not going to consider the job done until a mother and father in any corner of this county can send their kids off to school or to play without fear.

I'm not fooling myself + this is a tough goal. But I think we can end this culture of fear + and create a culture of safety. We're going to need to be tough and smart to make that happen.

I have the experience and a background that shows I can be both.

I've prosecuted the toughest cases, convicting murderers, rapists, and polluters. As a founding member of the Homicide Investigations Team, I've responded night and day along with sworn law enforcement officers.

But in today's world, it's not enough to be tough. We need to innovate to make this community safe.

That's why I'm fighting to pass Jessica's law + so that we can monitor convicted sexual predators 24 hours a day, by using new GPS tracking technology. That's why I fought to put Megan's Law online + so that parents can better protect their children against dangerous child predators in their own neighborhoods.

I've pushed for new community-based crime fighting strategies + and was honored by the Board of Supervisors for helping reduce juvenile crime in East San Jose by 45 percent.

And I'm fighting for new prevention strategies + to steer kids away from crime and drugs, and help protect our elderly from abuse.

As District Attorney, I will provide the strong leadership + both innovative and effective + required to keep our county safe.

Answer from Dolores A. Carr:

I have served our community in the legal/judicial system for 25 years - including almost 6 years as a Superior Court Judge, 15 as a Deputy District Attorney, and almost 5 years in private practice. The District Attorney does not work alone, but is instead part of a large and complicated criminal justice system. My experience in county government, the judicial branch, and private law practice makes me uniquely qualified to serve our community in that role.

As part of my career in the DA's Office, I supervised the Sexual Assault Unit, a critical position for protecting our community. As part of my work, I charged virtually all of the sex crimes in the county. I was the first Deputy DA in California to specialize in prosecuting sex offenders who fail to register their residence with local authorities.

From 1991 - 2004, I was an appointed member of the Board of Reappraisers for the Committee of Bar Examiners for the State Bar of California, one of only 9 members in the state. The State Bar is in charge of all lawyers who want to practice in California. I also served as a consultant for 15 years for the National Conference of Bar Examiners, conducting workshops for the bar examiners throughout the United States.

From 1994 - 1999, I was elected as the President of the Government Attorneys Association, which represents local deputy district attorneys and public defenders in labor negotiations and employment matters. Thisleadership experience gave me the opportunity to build relationships with county officials and other employee organizations. In addition, I learned from the employee's perspective how important it is for management to be consistent in the application of policies, and to create an environment where people are both enthusiastic about their work and encouraged to find ways to do their work more efficiently.

I was elected to Superior Court in March 2000, winning 71% of the vote. After handling criminal cases for seven months, I volunteered to be assigned to the Family Division, one of the most difficult jobs on the court. The following year, I was appointed the Supervising Judge of the Family Division. In that role, in addition to handling a full time caseload, I worked diligently to provide better access to justice for all people coming to Family Court. As a judge, I have presided over countless family law cases, dealing with what I believe to be a core value of our society - how we treat our children.

In January 2005, I was assigned to develop our county's first Unified Family Court, which seeks to coordinate families' cases before one judge (typically family, probate guardianship, juvenile delinquency or dependency, and criminal domestic violence cases). This reduces the number of courts in which the parties must appear, and allows the judge to approach the family's issues more comprehensively because the judge as more complete information. I also served on a number of Court committees dealing with critical issues, including Budget/Finance, Supervising Judges, Rules, Internal Policies, Legislation, and Proposition 63/Mental Health Services Act.

I am most proud of my work on behalf of people who must navigate a complex family court system without adequate resources. Approximately 85% of people with cases in family court do not have attorneys, and many do not speak English. As Supervising Judge of the Family Division from 2002-2005, I led efforts to assist them in getting their cases before the court more easily - especially minorities and non-English speaking people. We created a program of ongoing training for court staff, including interpreters, on cultural awareness, immigration and trafficking, issues which arise in arranged marriages, and services available in the community to help litigants.

Under my leadership, we hired a number of multi-lingual professionals and staff from diverse backgrounds to better serve our diverse population. I am very proud of these achievements.

Through these many years of experiences inside and outside the DA's Office, I have gained a balanced perspective on the role and character of the Office. The DA must be ethical, operate with integrity, build and maintain effective coalitions, be innovative, foster respect for and among all partners in the county's legal/judicial system, and run an office that is fair and honest in all of its dealings with everyone. The DA must also commit to recruiting lawyers from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds to ensure that we reflect the diverse population in Santa Clara County.

I have been fortunate to have worked with many police officers over the course of my career, and enjoy widespread support from law enforcement organizations. I have also worked extensively with private attorneys, including criminal defense and family lawyers, and also enjoy support from those stakeholders in our judicial system.

Answer from Karyn Sinunu:

Currently, as the top prosecutor to the District Attorney, I supervise 188 attorneys and all 90 DA detectives. And in Mr. Kennedy's absence, I am the acting district attorney. I believe that Mr. Kennedy has entrusted me with this position and endorses my candidacy to succeed him, in large part, because I am a self-starter. I set high standards, work hard to reach them and try to inspire others to do the same.

For example, when the unsolved homicide of a little girl from 1982 came to my attention years later, I reviewed the case history and saw flaws throughout the investigation. Most errors and omissions came down to failures to communicate and follow up; individuals in the system were not working together. So I brought together representatives from police departments, the medical community, social services, victim/witness services and the county coroner to form a child abuse task force. We worked collaboratively to create a best-practices guide to child abuse investigation. Eventually, I persuaded all 13 Police Chiefs and the Sheriff to sign on to it. I am proud to have contributed the Santa Clara County Child Abuse Protocol to the community. This is the first protocol of its kind in California.

When California enacted laws against hate crimes, I was asked to supervise their prosecution. Seeing that there was no guide for prosecutors on how to try those cases, I wrote the one that is used statewide. And when the Victim's Bill of Rights passed in 1994, there was no compendium on the subject, so I created the Victims' Rights Handbook, also used statewide.

More recently, I invigorated the District Attorney's Cold Case unit and Innocence Project to take full advantage of recent breakthroughs in DNA technology to find the truth and to solve crimes.

As the chief assistant, I chair the weekly District Attorney management meetings, setting the agenda to improve office procedures, effectiveness and morale. I have sat on the death penalty and 3-strikes committees, where the ultimate decisions are made.

In the past I have supervised the homicide, sexual assault, domestic violence, narcotics, hate crimes, and officer-involved cases, making charging, strategy and trial tactics decisions.

When I first moved into administration in 1994, I reformed office hiring and promotion practices by raising standards and requirements, and by increasing diversity. Since then I have extensive personnel management experience, including confidential and sensitive investigations into alleged misconduct. My goal is to do best for the community by educating my staff and disciplining them when necessary.

As the office media coordinator for many years, I increased public awareness of the workings of this office, within the limits of the law prohibiting comment on personnel issues or criminal investigations. I am known to be forthright and honest.

A career prosecutor, with 20 years of service, I tried 50 jury trials, including a special circumstances-double murder. I am honored to have been awarded the Napoleon Menard Trial Advocacy Award. Three of my cases were published because they made significant changes in the law.

As a member of the O'Connor Hospital Bioethics Committee, I was privileged to contribute my thoughts on issues facing patients and their physicians in their most private and fundamentally important choices.

I volunteer my time and labor with Habitat for Humanity and Rotary International, because I am committed to the betterment of my community and believe in public service.

Answer from Marc Buller:

I have over 20 years of experience as a Santa Clara County prosecutor. Currently, I supervise the Sexual Assault Unit, the General Felony Division and the outlying courts in North and South County. I have tried before a jury over 50 serious or violent felony cases.

Under my leadership the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office will be the most effective and ethical office in the country. Santa Clara County will be represented by the best trained and most commitment lawyers of any law firm in the nation. I have expertise in partnering with members of the Juvenile Justice community and I will call upon those partnerships to create a safe and secure community for all of our young people to thrive and become productive members of our community.

My staunch support for crime prevention prompted my extensive work with the San Jose Unified School District to create the Juvenile Prevention program called Law Related Education. This innovative program engages students in the justice system by teaching them the principles of fairness, responsibility and justice.

I have served the community outside the courtroom, by founding and securing funding for the Community Prosecution Unit. This program partners Deputy DA's with community leaders to address the causes of crime in underserved communities throughout Santa Clara County.

I have firm roots in the Santa Clara County Community. A graduate of San Jose's Leland High School and San Jose State University, I am active in many community organizations including Little League, La Raza Lawyers, Almaden Valley Youth Counseling, my family's church and my children's schools.

2. What changes do you think need to be made in the way this office operates?

Answer from Marc Buller:

The district attorney's solemn obligation to the people of Santa Clara County is to seek justice in a fair and ethical manner. Any conduct that falls short of that pledge to the people should not be tolerated in any fashion.

The people of this county, having placed their trust in the district attorney's office, must feel confident that trust has not been compromised. Recently, aa series of articles have been published that question the conduct of the district attorney's office and the ethical standards the people of this county demand.

I agree that mistakes in the administration of justice have occurred and that this district attorney's office was a party to those errors.

The response to the articles and corresponding question of trust of the system by the public necessitates action.

Every individual and organization should always strive for improvement. Reflecting on the information published over the past week, all of us within the district attorney's office should use this series as a rallying point to further our commitment to the highest ethical standard in our work. The true test of one's self is to stand up to adverse circumstances and better one's self through the process.

I believe the men and women of the Santa Clara County district attorney's office, which I have proudly been a member of for more than 20 years, will prove their true character and restore any lost confidence and trust for the criminal justice system. The ethical standards we all hold in the utmost regard will be at the forefront of the restoration. As your next district attorney, I will have the privilege of working with the most professional and ethical prosecutors in the country to make our county safer, more secure and committed to justice for all of the people of this county.

My tenure as district attorney will be marked by the highest ethical standard, with fair and just prosecutions. We will continue to aggressively prosecute the guilty and will never sacrifice public safety in the face of unfair criticism.

I look forward to joining my fellow prosecutors and law enforcement professionals in protecting the people of our county. Join me as I strive to achieve liberty and justice for all.

Answer from Dolores A. Carr:

The Mercury News series on the criminal justice system in Santa Clara County has revealed troubling ethical behavior on the part of certain prosecutors in the Office. The fallout has damaged the credibility of the Office and called into question its role in the administration of justice.

This is a crisis of leadership, and cannot be solved by bringing in "experts" for audits. As a prosecutor for 15 years, and a judge for 6 years, I will be able to make the management and policy changes necessary to reduce unethical behavior.

One challenge which has yet to be met is identifying all of the problems and holding managers accountable for ethical failures. For example, months after the Mercury News series, current management has failed to move errant trial lawyers out of trial assignments, including the homicide unit. The vast majority of prosecutors are ethical, dedicated, and talented lawyers; it is past time for managers to reassign the very few lawyers who have besmirched their reputations.

However, eliminating unethical behavior is not the only urgent issue confronting the next District Attorney. There is much to do in improving the productivity, efficiency, and morale of the staff.

When I started my 15 year career in the District Attorney's Office, managers spent most of their time developing great lawyers. They would evaluate lawyers by watching them in court, scrutinizing their written work, and seeking opinions about their performance from judges and defense lawyers. Trial attorneys would be allowed the discretion to make decisions; managers would review those decisions to assess their readiness to handle more important cases.

That traditional management system is eroding steadily. Virtually every prosecutor must now obtain approval from a manager before making or accepting a settlement offer. Even straightforward tasks, such as appearing in court when a defendant pleads guilty, require prosecutors to fill out endless forms. Monitoring has replaced mentoring. This translates into higher caseloads, more harried and mistake-prone attorneys, and lower productivity and morale. I will revamp the culture to emphasize the development of judgment and technical skills as goals in and of themselves, and make them critical criteria for hiring and promotion. When professionals are encouraged to make professional judgments, productivity, efficiency, and morale will improve.

The final challenge is to identify and promote managers who possess the leadership skills necessary to make those changes. Top managers must show that they can work fairly with all stakeholders, including the courts and defense attorneys. Leaders must offer more than political skills--they must have solid management achievements and the people skills necessary to direct an organization. I will bring those leadership skills to the job of District Attorney.

Answer from Jim Shore:

It's time for real reforms in the District Attorney's office.

Keeping the people of Santa Clara County safe requires maintaining the public's trust. Without trust, we can't protect victims and secure convictions of the guilty. Without trust, we can't find evidence that exonerates the innocent. Without trust, our most important public safety agency becomes ineffective.

The comprehensive Mercury News series on criminal justice raised serious issues and has shaken the public's trust in our office. Yet the leadership in the District Attorney's office provides little more than late apologies and weak excuses. We deserve better. Strong leadership is required to implement the fundamental changes that will make the "win at all cost" culture go away.

We can all agree that the best place to protect the innocent is at the front end of the system, to make sure that only the guilty are charged and convicted. As District Attorney, I will take immediate action to create an office culture where justice is always the first priority. Among the steps I will take:

  • Bring in outside experts to review every policy and procedure. I made this outside review a central part of my campaign policy platform before the series ran. Since it is a conflict of interest to have an agency review itself, we need an "ethics audit" conducted by a panel of independent experts. The findings will be published so the public can track our progress.

  • Dramatically increase the use of support staff to assist prosecutors in discharging their obligation to handle cases fairly and in a timely manner. We must make sure that our District Attorney's Office is adequately funded and appropriately staffed + something that has been woefully lacking under the current administration.

  • Provide ongoing training for every supervisor to ensure that the "win at all cost" culture is eradicated. Regular ethics training will constantly reinforce this new culture.

  • Show by example that finding out the truth is our only goal. We must banish political considerations from this office. We will seek justice, not headlines. When the leader demonstrates the courage to do the right thing, the example is clear to all others. As District Attorney, I will lead by example.

I am proud to work with great trial attorneys who are dedicating their careers to making our community safe. They deserve leadership as focused and principled as they are.

Answer from Karyn Sinunu:

The office has come under media scrutiny lately, and I welcome it. In order to maintain both the highest ethical standards and effective prosecutions, we must continually educate our attorneys and listen to criticism from wherever it comes. However, as the people's elected chief law enforcement officer, the District Attorney alone is responsible for the operation of her offices. I accept that responsibility and promise to strive for the highest professional standards in the office.

Emphasize Ethics and Professionalism:

To highlight the preeminence of ethics and professionalism as first principles of the District Attorney, I will create the position of Ethics and Training Officer. The Officer will advise front-line trial attorneys on questions of law and ethics as they arise in trial.

Emphasize Commitment to Truth and Fairness:

I have already instituted many changes in attorney hiring, evaluation and promotion to emphasize professionalism and ethical prosecution. I will not alter my commitment to fairness, I but will continue to look and listen for ways to improve.

Increase Openness and Accountability:

The office and the community will benefit from increased openness. I will convene the District Attorney's Advisory Forum, at which diverse community leaders and I will meet quarterly in a frank exchange of ideas and opinions.

3. Do you think that the budget for this office should be increased or decreased and how should this be done?

Answer from Karyn Sinunu:

In an era of high demand and scarce resources for government dollars, we are all required to use our ingenuity to increase effectiveness with less. Our office needs more resources, and I will continue to create opportunities for collaborations that save money. One very important source is grant funds: state and federal dollars are available to supplement the DA's budget. As I have always done, I will continue to pursue all outside sources.

Answer from Dolores A. Carr:

Although every county department would like to have its budget increased, this may be a difficult task given our current fiscal situation. My answer to the previous question suggests some of the ways in which I will increase the productivity and efficiency of DA staff. I will also seek additional funding from federal, state, and local sources for functions ranging from high-technology crime prosecution to insurance fraud.

Some adjustments in staffing will also save money. For example, our Investigations Unit has more than enough senior peace officers+we could curtail our hiring of retired police officers in favor of hiring and training new (and less expensive) investigators. Careful spending on technology based on our existing network resources, such as moving from paper to electronic case files, will also save staff time and money going forward. As a candidate with widespread support among police departments, I am best placed to work on cooperative ventures (e.g., filing and processing police reports electronically) which will lead to savings and better service to the public. I am aware that technology spending can be a boon or a waste of taxpayer dollars. I will use my experience as a manager to ensure that any such spending yields results.

I have a proven track record of managing resources and personnel effectively, and will make the changes necessary to ensure that the DA's Office handles its cases as efficiently and quickly as possible. I also have an excellent relationship with the Board of Supervisors, the group which approves the District Attorney's budget for the office. I am proud to have the endorsement of Supervisors Jim Beall and Don Gage.

Answer from Marc Buller:

The budget for the District Attorney's office should reflex a firm committment to public safety. Under my administration I will work with the County Board of Supervisors to increase our budget to ensure my office has the resources to serve the people of this County. I will continue to seek federal and state resources to augment our budget. I have a successful record within the District Attorney's Office in managing budgets and using outside resources to balance and increase our ablility to serve the community.

Answer from Jim Shore:

We shouldn't be cutting law enforcement, we should be expanding it -- because it is a much, much less expensive in the long run to keep our communities safe, than it is to allow them to become overrun with crime, gangs and drugs. The cost of failure is too high. It costs nearly $30,000 a year to incarcerate a criminal. It's a much better investment -- and much less costly -- to create a culture of safety and respect for our laws, than it is to put people in prison.

Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League.  Candidates' responses are not edited or corrected by the League.

The order of the candidates is random and changes daily. Candidates who did not respond are not listed on this page.

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