By PAUL GRECH JR. and STEVEN L. HARMON
We can no longer endorse Rod Pacheco for district attorney. During three and a half years as district attorney he has demonstrated that he is unfit to lead the chief law enforcement agency of our county.
We have seen a series of poor decisions that wasted taxpayer money, clogged the courts and deteriorated the quality of justice for all citizens of Riverside County. We have seen the Riverside County court system overwhelmed by an increase in needless and often frivolous criminal case filings and trials.
In order to accommodate the district attorney's new policies, the Riverside County Superior Court suspended all trials of civil lawsuits. Victims of auto accidents, professional negligence and purchasers of homes and buildings with major construction defects could no longer have their cases heard; employers and employees with disputes were denied a forum to try their cases. Businesses needing timely decisions from our judges to adjust to changing market conditions, or exploring relocation to Riverside, soon discovered that clogged local courts meant Riverside was simply "bad for business."
After shutting down the civil courts, Pacheco pressed the courts further, demanding that juvenile dependency, family law and probate courts immediately turn themselves over to criminal cases. His vision of Riverside would have left us with no forum for removing children from abusive homes and placing them in foster care. No courtrooms in which divorce and child custody cases could be decided. No courtrooms in which a deceased person may leave a legacy to heirs. Riverside County's judges refused Pacheco's demand. He took the matter to the Court of Appeal and lost.
We have seen nearly 330 criminal cases dismissed due to court congestion. We have seen more than 750 jury trials end without a conviction on any charge. We have seen more than 800 additional jury trials end with a jury acquittal on at least one charge. This failure rate is unprecedented for Riverside County. Jurors have sacrificed thousands and thousands of days away from their jobs to hear cases that should never have gone to trial.
We have seen a series of poor decisions that clogged the courts and eroded the quality of justice for all citizens of Riverside County.
By the end of 2007, the crisis in Riverside had reached the attention of the chief justice of the California Supreme Court. A strike force of the best judges in California was dispatched to help our county. These judges presided over trial after trial in which Riverside County citizens rejected the DA's case and sent defendants home after they sat in jail for years awaiting their day in court.
During 2007 and 2008, convicted criminals were given early releases from Riverside County jail in record numbers because space was taken up by a backlog of defendants awaiting trial. It is simply unacceptable that as district attorney, Pacheco accepts no responsibility for this mess. It is a failure of leadership.
DA Rod Pacheco won't adjust his destructive policies.
Citizens vote at the ballot box and in the jury box. The votes from the jury box over three and a half years reflect a powerful rejection of Pacheco's filing policies and misuse of taxpayer resources. Statistics compiled by the courts and available for public review demonstrate that in record numbers jurors are rejecting charges filed by the district attorney.
Pacheco's response has been to criticize jurors, judges and everyone with whom he disagrees.
Judge Paul Zellerbach offers hope for positive change.
At one point, he even criticized criminal defendants and their lawyers for demanding trials in which they would later be found not guilty.
For months, the district attorney has maintained that none of this is his problem. He refuses to cooperate with the court in the orderly prioritization of criminal cases. His refusal to meaningfully assist the court is a complete abdication of his professional, ethical and legal responsibility to keep our community safe.
Another consequence of Pacheco's poor leadership is poor office morale. Within a few months of Pacheco taking office, dozens of the office's most experienced lawyers began leaving, and more than 90 veteran prosecutors -- over one-third of the office -- have now departed. The flight of talented prosecutors during Pacheco's term is directly related to his management style.
The grand jury noted that the district attorney's office is marked by a pervasive culture of fear and intimidation based on the perception that Pacheco punishes lawyers with whom he disagrees. It's time to put an end to this mismanagement.
We have also seen Judge Paul Zellerbach serve Riverside County for more than 32 years: 22 years in the Riverside County District Attorney's Office, and 10 years as a tough and fair judge. Paul Zellerbach offers hope for positive change in conviction rates, the responsible setting of priorities and the overall promotion of public safety, while saving taxpayer dollars.
Too much damage
By now, most everyone is familiar with Pacheco's comment that "any prosecutor can convict the guilty, but it takes a great prosecutor to convict the innocent." Even if uttered in jest, this statement is patently offensive to our values and reflects again his unsuitability for office.
Pacheco's consistent failure to accept responsibility for the damage done to his office and our community is no longer acceptable. It is for these reasons that we have withdrawn our support for Rod Pacheco and now strongly endorse Paul Zellerbach for district attorney.