Patt Morrison Asks

Jackie Lacey, for the prosecution

Your opponent in the runoff, veteran prosecutor Alan Jackson, has claimed that he was demoted, to the complaints division, after the election.

Where I sent him, despite what he said, is not punishment. He's an extraordinary trial lawyer, but he's not the only one. What about using those skills to train [others]? And that's the opportunity we gave him. I sincerely hope he sees it that way and uses that assignment to impart the skills he has.

California almost ended the death penalty in November. Does it serve a purpose?

Charlie Manson is a perfect example. There are some people in this world who commit some really evil acts; in my experience as a prosecutor, he deserves the death penalty. The issue is, how is it going to get carried out? The appeal process takes too long, it's expensive, so let's fix the appeal process. We can still make it fair, but it doesn't have to be as lengthy and expensive as it is.

When you see a story about wrongful [capital] convictions, you think, where in Texas or Florida did this happen, or Georgia or Alabama? Not to say that it couldn't happen here, but I think California jurors are more conscientious.

I have sat on [the D.A. death penalty] committee since 2000. The first thing we look at is, are we sure this is the right man or woman? Your defendant is mentally ill [or] has something in his background to do with developmental issues, then we're going to pay attention to that. Nowadays we're going for death in fewer and fewer cases.

Voters finally made "three strikes" more flexible. Years ago you prosecuted a troubling case of a teenager whose third strike was stealing a cellphone.

Andre Wilks. He was 19; he looked 16. This was an extraordinary case. The public defender said he should take this [plea] deal. [He] was one of these stubborn, stubborn kids. He just figured he'd roll the dice and maybe the jury would feel sorry for him. He got convicted. It was the hardest sentencing I ever went through. In terms of what he did and what his background was, it was not a life case. The inflexibility did not work, and people saw that.

Violent crime has been declining. People are now robbed by computer more than at gunpoint. How do you rework your office's priorities?

Thank God violent crime is down. But identity theft is up. I have been victimized three times. You've got to educate people about not using ATM cards to pay for lunch at a restaurant or at a gas station. I'm still mad that Bank of America didn't [prosecute my case]. What they did was just put the money back in the account. We have got to get those [thieves]. I guarantee if we pick off just 10 a year and publicize it, it'll make others think twice.

"Publicize" means you have to work with people like me.

Absolutely. I love you guys — today!

How is state prison realignment — pushing state prisoners to the local level — going?

It happened so fast and local law enforcement just wasn't ready for this shift. We have a limited amount of space and money to incarcerate people. We've run out of room at the state prisons. We have run out of room at the county jail. My office's role is to figure out alternatives for some people, such as mental health programs or drug facilities. Let's peel the lower-risk people off and save room for people who are very dangerous.

Right now, we have policies that mandate 10 days in jail, 15 days, 30 days. They're not going to be in that amount of time. And for some of these people, some of these alternatives are cheaper to do, and the recidivism rate is something like 10% to 30%. We've got to not be fearful about having these discussions.

Skid row is populated almost entirely people with mental illness or drug or drinking problems.

We put you in jail just to make sure you get your meds. That seems so cost-ineffective. My sister works for the Department of Mental Health, and she finds housing for the mentally ill and homeless. You get them a place, you get them plugged in, and it can work.

The chief justice of the state Supreme Court, the attorney general and L.A.'s D.A. are now all women of color. What does that signify?

They have earned their position. It was not handed to them. I campaigned, I fought, I scrapped to win this election. And I thoroughly expect to earn my legacy. A guy on television asked, "Do you think people are going to vote for you because you're black, you're a woman?" I said no. I'm the most qualified person. I've worked my butt off. I've worked from low-level zoning law cases to getting the first hate-crime murder conviction in L.A. County. If you didn't know what I looked like and you looked at whose resume had the most relevant experience, it would hands-down be my resume.

You can understand why women and minorities would be excited though.

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