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LWVLeague of Women Voters of California Education Fund
Santa Clara County, CA June 6, 2006 Election
Smart Voter

Dolores A. Carr
Answers Questions

Candidate for
District Attorney; County of Santa Clara


Read the answers from all candidates (who have responded).

Questions & Answers

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League. 

Read the answers from all candidates (who have responded).

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Created from information supplied by the candidate: May 19, 2006 14:25
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