Red Light Ball: Making our county a safer place to live |

Red Light Ball: Making our county a safer place to live

The mission of the Nevada County Office of the District Attorney is to provide exemplary legal services, aggressively seek justice to enhance public safety and welfare and create a sense of security in the community.

We strive daily to treat all people in a professional, honest, and respectful manner in our efforts to vigorously enforce the constitution and criminal laws of the state of California.

The people elect the district attorney in a countywide election for a four-year term of office. District Attorney Cliff Newell was elected to the position in the 2006 June primary election and took office in January 2007. The staff, with the exception of the assistant district attorney, is selected and promoted under Civil Service rules.

The office of the district attorney is located in two cities – Nevada City and a satellite office in Truckee. Truckee is staffed by a deputy district attorney, III; a deputy district attorney I or II and a full-time clerical support staff of two. In Nevada City, there are eight full-time deputy district attorneys and an assistant district attorney. They are supported by a clerical team of 12, led by an administrative services specialist.

The primary responsibility of the DA’s office is the prosecution of felony and misdemeanor offenses that are referred by law enforcement agencies. Specialized vertical prosecution units have been established to handle a variety of crimes. The office also has a nonsufficient funds Bad Check Program.

There is an investigative unit in the office that consists of a chief investigator, two full-time district attorney investigators, and two half-time investigators. All district attorney investigators are experienced law enforcement officers with full peace officer status. Largely through the efforts of Chief Investigator Paul Lastufka, the unit received full POST certification this year.

Under the direction of Chief Lastufka, the unit does follow-up investigations on many of the criminal cases referred by our local law enforcement partners. The primary function of the unit is to conduct investigations and complete all follow-up work necessary to prepare criminal cases for successful prosecution.

The two full-time investigators are John Casci and our newest addition to the team, Robert Bringholf. The remainder of the team consists of veteran peace officers Tom Swisher – who specializes in investigating violence against women’s crimes – and James Souza, our special victims and sex crimes investigator. All of the investigators receive specialized training and have attended specialized homicide investigation training.

Vertical prosecution units have been established to handle cases involving auto theft, child abuse, driving under the influence, drugs, spousal abuse, sexual assault, statutory rape and vehicle manslaughter. Assistant District Attorney Anna Ferguson, handles violent crimes, such as kidnapping, murder, robbery and arson, as well as Three Strike offenders. She is assisted by Deputy District Attorney Gregory Weston, the newest member of the prosecution team, who handles assaults in Nevada City and splits his time with the Truckee Office.

There are approximately 3,000 misdemeanors referred to the office annually by the five law enforcement agencies and occasionally by fire departments and rangers. Deputy District Attorney Susan McGuire and a deputy yet to be named handle most of the misdemeanors. The two deputies divide the workload alphabetically. McGuire also handles school attendance cases in a collaborative effort with the school district, probation department and the courts to improve school attendance from at-risk families.

The prosecution of felony and misdemeanor crimes of child abuse including sexual molestation, physical abuse, neglect, and homicide are assigned to Deputy District Attorney Dave Walters. In addition to his years of experience as a prosecutor, Walters has received specialized training in child abuse prosecution. This training includes the medical, psychological, social and legal issues involved in these cases. The cases are handled in a vertical prosecution format. This means that one attorney is assigned the matter at the time law enforcement submits the case to the DA’s office for review. The same attorney handles the case at all major stages and hearings. DDA Walters is assisted by a legal secretary and Investigator James Souza. James has 20-plus years of law enforcement experience.

The unit also handles all statutory rape cases, which have become a major social and economic problem. It is relatively unknown that two-thirds of the fathers of babies born to under-age girls are adults. It is, in fact, six times more likely that the father of a junior high school mother’s baby is an adult than that he is another junior high school student. This specialized unit utilizes criminal and civil enforcement mechanisms to address the growing problem caused by the statutory rape of underage females and nonsupport of the resulting child.

Statistics continue to show that a significant percentage of persons convicted of crimes such as robbery, burglary or theft are daily drug users or under the influence of an illegal drug at the time they committed the crime. The Nevada County District Attorney conducts a three-front war on drugs. First, it argues for stiff, no-nonsense mandatory jail or prison sentences for the dealing or manufacture of illicit drugs. Second, it utilizes state-mandated comprehensive treatment or education programs such as “Prop 36” court, Deferred Entry of Judgment or Adult Drug Court for those who qualify. And third, it makes a proactive effort in the schools to provide youth education and outreach to deter our young people from beginning substance abuse.

In the Nevada City office, Deputy District Attorney III Oliver Pong is assigned to the prosecution of drug dealers and drug offenders. DDA Pong is also responsible for the Asset Forfeiture Program, through which the proceeds of a criminal enterprise can be taken through the legal process and distributed to law enforcement. These proceeds are then used in further efforts to eradicate the illicit manufacture and sale of drugs. Pong works closely with local law enforcement and the Nevada County Narcotics Task Force to protect our community from the ravages of illicit drug abuse.

The alcohol-impaired driver continues to take up a significant amount of time in the Nevada County criminal justice system. In Nevada City, the court now has a special arraignment calendar devoted to driving under the influence cases. More than 850 driving under the influence cases are referred to the DA every year by the California Highway Patrol, Nevada County Sheriff, Grass Valley Police, Nevada City Police and Truckee Police. Deputy District Attorney III Kathryn Francis handles all of the felony vehicle code violations, including the very difficult vehicle manslaughter filings. Francis’ ability as a seasoned and tough prosecutor, coupled with her compassion for victims, makes her especially effective in this assignment.

A woman is physically abused every nine seconds in this country. We need to intervene early and stop the escalating cycle of domestic violence. Therefore, the DA has a specialized vertical unit devoted to the aggressive prosecution of spousal abusers and sexual assaults against women. A team approach incorporates the services of a deputy district attorney, an investigator and an advocate with the Nevada County Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition. Deputy District Attorney James Phillips leads the team and is backed up by the talents of veteran investigator Thomas Swisher. DDA Phillips’ experience with victims at the state level and prosecution of elder abuse crimes make him well equipped to handle the domestic violence cases.

Property crimes such as burglary, theft, and white collar thefts continue to be a concern in the community. Currently, two senior attorneys, DDA III Kenneth Tribby and DDA III Charles O’Rourke, split the property crimes cases. Additionally, DDA Tribby handles the 200 juvenile referrals to the office, and DDA O’Rourke handles gun cases and elder abuse crimes.

The new administration moves into 2008 with some clear direction in mind. We will continue to be proactive and assume a decisive leadership role in the county’s law enforcement team. To that end, we have made some notable progress. Statistics from the first months of 2007 support this claim.

In 2006, 64 percent of the referrals from law enforcement agencies were filed as felonies. In comparison, in the first six months of 2007, 76 percent were filed. Another statistic that is indicative of the new office culture is represented by the number of jury trials that occurred in 2007. In 2006 there were 12 jury trials compared to more than 25 near the end of 2007. These numbers mean little by themselves but show much in the context in which they occurred.

The biggest single achievement thus far has been the increased spirit of cooperation and collaboration between all of the county’s law enforcement agencies and the DA’s office. The heads of law enforcement agencies meet frequently with the DA and ADA. The DA’s office implemented a training program in 2007 and provided training more than 19 times for local law enforcement personnel. Ongoing training sessions are scheduled throughout 2008.

We also are working with the county to develop our use of technology. We are working on paperless systems and more economic and efficient workflow systems. This effort is sustained by the collaborative efforts of the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, the Grass Valley Police Department, County Information Systems and the DA. We look forward to the future when, through the wise use of technology and human resources, we can continue to streamline our operations.

Rounding out the DA’s team is a dedicated and professional office staff led by Kathy Ingram. The office employs eight legal secretaries, four legal office assistants and an accounting assistant. We are lucky to have several volunteers, including certified law students, who perform various duties in clerical and legal areas. The support staff does much of the work in the trenches, which keeps the work flowing through the system.

We as citizens are very fortunate to have such an experienced and well-rounded group of prosecutors, investigators and support staff working as a team with each other and local law enforcement to maintain the quality of life we have come to expect in Nevada County. Here, at the district attorney’s office, we are all proud to be a part of the larger law enforcement community and will continue in our efforts to make Nevada County one of the best places in the state to live.

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