May 3, 2018
by Vesta Copestakes
SCG: You’ve been DA for 8 years now. Have our original motivation and goals changed based on the experiences you have had? Have you accomplished specific goals and are there still goals in process that you want to continue to meet? Has your perspective on our community changed over this time?
JR: It has been an honor to serve as District Attorney in Sonoma County. I chose a career as a prosecutor before I started law school, and to now lead an office dedicated to the pursuit of justice is truly the pinnacle of my career. It is essential that members of my office understand that mission and exemplify the highest ethics in that pursuit. I believe we are succeeding in that regard, and am very proud of the outstanding work they do every day.
While I have spent most of the last three decades as a prosecutor, I’ve also spent some time as a criminal defense attorney. I’ve represented people who were truly innocent of the crimes charged against them, and I witnessed the obstacles to convincing those in power of that fact and then clearing their records. I make a point of sharing those experiences with new attorneys and challenge them to understand the impact of their decisions, not only on those who are charged but on those who are victimized, as well as the community.
I’ve worked to be a voice for the victim. To that end, we’ve built a Victim Advocate Division that works closely with the public. We also opened the Family Justice Center where we have served over 7,000 clients and offer a variety of services including outreach to homeless victims and long-term counseling services to those in need at no cost.
During my career, I have seen laws swing from right to left. After the horrific kidnap and murder of Polly Klaas in Petaluma, we saw the three strikes law take effect. In addition, gang offenders were handled more aggressively even if they were juveniles. Due to voter initiatives and legislative action, our sentencing laws have changed. Officials have admitted a 66% recidivism rate in state prison inmates necessitates smarter justice. We now operate from the standpoint of local intervention and rehabilitation. That requires our prosecutors to evaluate when to seek a stiff sentence and when to agree to rehabilitative measures. I joke that we have become social workers. The truth is that by looking at the offense in terms of impact on all parties and how to keep it from happening again is a complex analysis. We seek to hold the offender accountable, ensure some sense of justice for the victim and the community, and do what we can to keep the offender from committing another crime whether by incarceration or rehabilitation.
Add to that the legalization of cannabis. We are in the back seat, behind land use ordinances and other permitting issues. We are still concerned about environmental issues and aggressively prosecuting those coming here to commit robberies and murder against those who are cultivating what is now legal. Additionally, there is a problem we face with those who drive under the influence.
After the fires, we are all changed. We inquire about one another, worry about the future, and share a commitment to this wonderful place we call home. As we recover I hope my office has assisted by prosecuting looters, price gougers and those who seek to build without a license or proper insurance.
I’m proud of my office, and the credit goes to the people in it. I’m pleased that we are working with our justice partners to ensure a safe Sonoma County. I look forward to continuing to pursue objectives, such as better serving elders, finding better solutions than incarceration for those who are mentally ill and continuing to expand the services we provide at the Family Justice Center. There is still much to do. If re-elected, I look forward to continuing to do all we can to keep our community safe.
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