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Deputy D.A. becomes latest to challenge Jackie Lacey

Deputy D.A. becomes latest to challenge Jackie Lacey
Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph Iniguez announced his intent to challenge Jackie Lacey for the county's top law enforcement post. (Courtesy Joseph Iniguez)

A Los Angeles County deputy district attorney announced plans Wednesday to challenge Jackie Lacey in the 2020 election, making him the second insurgent candidate promising to bring a more progressive bent to the county’s top law enforcement post.

Joseph Iniguez, a 33-year-old prosecutor currently trying cases in the Alhambra courthouse, said that although he respects Lacey, he believes she has prevented the district attorney’s office from leading the country in the kinds of criminal justice reforms that have sprouted under other progressive prosecutors in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

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“It’s time we ask ourselves some basic questions. Why are people of color arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated more than any other population in L.A. County?” he asked in a video released Wednesday morning announcing his candidacy. “Why do we continue to treat addiction as a crime, instead of a disease?”

A Southern California native who previously worked as a defense attorney in Riverside County and as a high school teacher in La Puente, Iniguez was admitted to the California State Bar in 2012 and joined the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office in 2015.

Asked about his relative inexperience, Iniguez said his youth and background will allow him to bring an alternative perspective to the district attorney’s office.

“I understand what it’s like to be on the other side,” he said in a separate interview with The Times, referring to his time as a defense attorney. “I know what it’s like to be with police officers on the street in their patrol car, and I know what it’s like to be with a prosecutor sitting with your victims. In the year 2047, when I’m the age of Jackie Lacey, what do I want the system to look like? What I decided is I can’t sit by and wait.”

Iniguez is the second person to challenge Lacey from inside her own office. Last month, Deputy Dist Atty. Richard Ceballos, a veteran prosecutor currently assigned to the organized crime and hate crimes unit, announced his candidacy. He has scheduled a campaign kickoff event this month downtown.

Lacey announced her reelection bid this year and has already garnered a slew of endorsements from political heavyweights, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, U.S. Reps. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) and Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and four members of the county Board of Supervisors.

Her early campaign, however, has not been without headaches. Last month, a Times investigation found Lacey had received a number of questionable campaign contributions from people accused of serious crimes or relatives and associates of defendants implicated in severe wrongdoing.

The donors included the parents of a Sherman Oaks man awaiting trial on murder charges, a chiropractor facing insurance fraud charges in Orange County and a Sun Valley man convicted of trying to smuggle missile parts to Iran. Lacey’s campaign returned $13,000 in donations after being contacted by The Times.

Iniguez criticized Lacey for being too cozy with defense attorneys who had contributed to her campaigns in the past. He said he was working in the same Van Nuys courthouse where an off-duty firefighter was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor after choking someone unconscious during a 2015 Halloween clash.

The firefighter’s attorney, Michael Goldstein, had previously served as Lacey’s campaign finance director and donated thousands to her political accounts. The firefighter had originally faced up to seven years in prison but was granted probation, over the protests of the veteran Los Angeles police detective who investigated the case.

“When defense attorneys are donating to the district attorney, and those individuals are getting better outcomes, that’s a problem,” said Iniguez, who stopped short of promising to decline donations from defense attorneys.

At the time of the controversy, the district attorney’s office issued a statement to The Times saying Goldstein’s "relationship with [Lacey] had absolutely nothing to do with the resolution” of the case.

Iniguez, who is gay, said he hopes to build a coalition of support with younger voters and the LGBTQ community. He also said he wants the district attorney’s office to be more transparent about the cases it prosecutes and more sensitive in prosecuting those suffering from mental illness.

“We have to figure out where these people belong in society, but we know the jail isn’t an answer. We have 17,000 people in the county jail — a quarter of those people suffer from mental illness,” he said. “We’ve got to do better.”

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