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District attorney candidates air views in debates

Jackie Lacey and Alan Jackson disagree on measure to scale back three-strikes law and on the tax-raising Prop. 30; both would prosecute pot dispensaries.

September 23, 2012|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times
  • Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Jackson, left, and Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey shake hands after a debate in August. They are running to replace Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Jackson, left, and Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Jackie… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

During the cocktail and dinner prelude to one of the last scheduled debates between the two hopefuls for Los Angeles County district attorney, candidate Alan Jackson, in search of a glass of red wine for his wife, approached his opponent, Jackie Lacey, to ask for the bottle on the table in front of her.

As Jackson took the bottle, Lacey made a simple request: "Drink up."

No such luck for Lacey. The debate Wednesday — and another the following evening — were fairly staid and sober affairs. About the only off-script moment was Jackson's account of the wine incident, which got a chuckle out of the audience at the packed banquet hall of the Casa Italiana Cultural Center in Chinatown.

For the most part, the candidates remained civil and on point at the pair of debates, one hosted by the Italian American Lawyers Assn. and the other by the county prosecutors' union, as each laid out their case.

Lacey, who serves as chief deputy to Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, portrayed herself as the candidate with the experience to lead the office of 1,000 prosecutors. Jackson, assistant head deputy in the office's major crimes division, pointed to his track record as a front-line prosecutor in touch with new technologies and what it takes to prosecute a "modern case."

The milder tone stood in contrast to a debate last month in which the two traded barbs, with Jackson painting Lacey as an out-of-touch bureaucrat and Lacey calling her opponent "naïve."

The candidates fielded questions on topics ranging from office politics to their positions on medical marijuana dispensaries — both said they would continue to prosecute the clinics even if voters overturn the city of Los Angeles' dispensary ban — and a ballot measure that would scale back California's tough three-strikes law. Lacey supports the measure, Proposition 36, which is backed by Cooley, and Jackson opposes it.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office policy is to forgo seeking the 25-years-to-life sentence allowed under three strikes in most cases unless the third crime is violent or serious. Jackson said he supported that policy and would continue it if elected, but that rolling back the law would take away prosecutors' discretion for lesser crimes in special cases. Lacey said she believes Proposition 36 would "restore the original intent of three strikes."

The district attorney hopefuls sought to convince voters that they would be able to guide the office through challenges brought by realignment — in which some criminals serve their sentences in county jails rather than in state prisons — and court closures driven by budget cuts.

Both promised to push efficiencies in prosecutors' use of court time and said they would support expansion of alternative sentencing to relieve the burden on county jails. But they came down on opposite sides of Proposition 30, a measure on the November ballot that would temporarily increase the sales tax and income taxes on high earners. The added revenue would go in part to fund the expenses brought to counties by realignment.

Lacey said she reluctantly supported the measure. Jackson opposed it, saying California's taxes are already too high. Instead, he said the state should look at a significant restructuring to save costs. Jackson has also proposed that counties could ship some prisoners to states with more open beds and earlier this year sponsored a bill that would allow them to do so.

At Thursday's debate, the two candidates made their pitches to the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, which endorsed another candidate, Deputy Dist. Atty. Danette Meyers, in the primary, and has yet to make an endorsement in the current race.

Jackson promised the union that he would push the county Board of Supervisors for a pay raise for prosecutors and would fix technical issues that prevent them from accessing work email on their cellphones. Lacey said she would fight any attempts to scrap pensions in favor of a 401(k) plan.

When asked during the debate to say what her biggest disagreement with Cooley had been, Lacey declined to give specifics.

"We have had disagreements," she said. But she added, "You disagree in private, but when you go out there, you go out and support the elected official."

In response to the same question, Jackson criticized Cooley's often-contentious relationship with the union, including a very public spat with former union President Steve Ipsen, who is suing Cooley over alleged anti-union activities.

Association President Donna McClay said the union would decide its endorsement by a vote of its 919 members, a process that may take several weeks.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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