George Boardman: Letting your opponents tell your story
District Attorney Jesse Wilson doesn’t need any advice from me, but he’s going to get some anyway. I have a column to write, and the advice involves a subject I know something about.
The advice involves the duties of the assistant district attorney Wilson is about to hire, a spot left vacant when predecessor Chris Walsh resigned after losing the contest to replace former DA Cliff Newell.
My advice: Don’t use your new ADA as a shield between you and the press and public. Look what happened to Newell.
Newell was essentially a ghost to the public during the 15 years he held the DA’s job. The exception was when he had to resurface every four years to run for re-election. Walsh and his predecessors in the ADA’s slot were tasked with explaining to the public prosecutorial decisions and other matters pertaining to the DA’s office.
(Interestingly, prosecutors who are expected to hold their own against a judge, defensive counsel and a jury apparently couldn’t be trusted to deal with rascally reporters. You never know when they might ask a rude or embarrassing question.)
Newell had no reason to believe his disappearing act wasn’t effective. After all, he got re-elected three times, and when he announced his resignation, people like supervisors’ chair Dan Miller praised his work. “I thought he did a wonderful job,” Miller said, adding that he rarely disagreed with the DA’s decisions.
This is a basic example of being tone deaf. When Newell followed the time-honored local custom of trying to anoint his successor, he received what he described as a “gut punch.”
Walsh, viewed as a proxy for Newell’s conduct of the office, was rejected by the supervisors even though he had the endorsement of Newell and practically everybody who worked in the DA’s office. Even Miller voted for somebody else.
The tone changed because some people perceived Newell as being soft on crime, and others including Wilson complained about the DA’s low conviction rate. It didn’t matter if the criticism was valid — the supervisors got the message.
In Newell’s exit interview with The Union, he spoke passionately about his advocacy of pretrial diversion programs, which during his tenure included mental health, adult drug and DUI programs. The goal was to reduce “recurring criminal behavior.”
“You’re still holding people accountable, but rather than just slapping hands … you now have people who are actually reintegrating into our community,” Newell said.
Newell dismissed critics of his office’s conviction rate, maintaining they did a good job putting killers and sexual assailants behind bars, and that the overall conviction rate can be a misleading statistic.
“Justice means different things for different people,” he said, “and sometimes justice means having a backbone and taking public criticism for not sending someone to prison and instead rehabilitating that person.”
Newell came across as articulate and passionate in his valedictory, but that’s the problem. Newell never really did this before. I’m willing to bet that the quotes and commentary in reporter Steven Wyer’s article exceeded the comments Newell made to The Union during the 15 years he was on the job.
When I saw Newell’s comments on the investigation of the shooting of Ariella Crawford, I read it twice to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. It is the first time I can recall the DA ever commenting on an open case.
If there is one thing I learned in 30 years of public relations for companies ranging from the Fortune 500 to startups, it’s that if you don’t tell your story somebody else — usually somebody who doesn’t like you — will do it for you. That’s why Newell got “out politicked” in the selection of his successor.
That’s something Jesse Wilson should keep in mind as he lays out the responsibilities of his new assistant DA.
The district attorney’s report exonerating sheriff’s deputies in the shooting of Ariella “Sage” Crawford will be greeted with skepticism by people who find it hard to believe the DA can remain impartial when investigating the main police agency he relies on to do his work.
This issue was partially addressed in a new law that became effective July 1, giving the state Attorney General’s Office the role of investigating the fatal shooting of unarmed civilians by law enforcement. The measure was co-authored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, who is now attorney general.
The original bill would have allowed local officials to request a state investigation when armed suspects are killed, but that provision was dropped over concerns about the cost and workload.
Crawford’s case doesn’t qualify under the new law — she was armed with a knife when the shooting occurred — but an independent probe in cases like hers would instill more public confidence in the actions of law enforcement agencies.
IT AINT OVER …
I wrote in my last column that funding for three projects in Nevada County requested by Rep. Doug LaMalfa didn’t make the list of earmarks approved by the House Appropriations Committee. It turns out that wasn’t the whole story.
Here’s what actually happened:
— A $1.75 million appropriation for the Ponderosa West fuel suppression project near Grass Valley was reduced to $750,000 and included in the Department of Interior’s appropriations bill.
— A $1.05 million request to build a water tank in North San Juan to fight fires was approved and included in the Department of Agriculture’s appropriations bill.
— A $4.8 million request from the Sheriff’s Office to improve radio infrastructure for first responders in the event of emergencies and natural disasters cleared a House committee last week and will be included in funding for Justice, Commerce and science.
LaMalfa also included a fourth request from the county: $15 million to widen Highway 49 to four lanes from La Barr Meadows Road to McKnight Way. LaMalfa didn’t mention it in his press release issued April 30, but it was rejected anyway.
Except for the Highway 49 rejection, none of this was detailed in an email I received from LaMalfa’s office June 18 after I asked for an update on the earmarks that went to the House Appropriations Committee for a vote. The text can be found in the online version of this column.
George Boardman lives in Nevada City. His column is published biweekly on Tuesdays by The Union. Write him at email@example.com.
THE REPUBLICANS hammered congressional Democrats in 2020 over the issue of defunding the police. The Dems will get hammered again next year over critical race theory is they don’t distance themselves from this new version of a quota system…FOX NEWS is reported to be preparing the launch of its own weather channel. I can’t wait for an explanation of why liberals are responsible for the increase in tornados and hurricanes in red states…THE ANTI-VAXX quacks polluting social media with their false and misleading claims couldn’t be more helpful to our enemies…CAN YOU get French’s mustard in Dijon, France? Probably not…IS IT deceptive packaging if a pound cake doesn’t weigh 16 ounces?
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