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D.A.'s race: Danette Meyers wants the job

Even when Danette Meyers lost a case -- a few weeks ago -- she won. The Metropolitan News-Enterprise brought a California Public Records Act action to compel Meyers to release her personnel records, and she fought it, she said, on principle. The judge reviewed the file in chambers and, based on what she saw, she ruled for the newspaper -- because Meyers’ record was so “stellar” there was no good reason to keep it out of public view. The judge’s explanation almost amounted to an endorsement, and Meyers has in fact used it in her campaign materials.

“Her consistently excellent reviews show her to excel in the areas that she would be called upon were she to be elected to that position,” the judge wrote. “There is nothing in these reviews that, if disclosed, could be expected to chill the frank and candid evaluation of deputy district attorneys by their supervisors. Finally, there is nothing in these stellar reviews that would adversely impact Ms. Meyers’ own privacy -- other than some slight embarrassment that she might experience from being identified publically [sic] as an outstanding prosecutor for the Office of District Attorney.”

Meyers, 54, is one of six candidates running to fill the vacancy soon to be left by retiring Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley. This blog post and others like it are part of The Times’ editorial board’s effort to sift through the candidates’ backgrounds, platforms and qualifications in preparation for making an endorsement.

Meyers is straightforward about her political affiliation and philosophy -- she’s a Democrat -- and about the changes she believes the office needs to make. In court she is hard-charging, and she can come off that way in candidate forums as well. She offered no apology for her style.

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“I’m not confrontational,” Meyers said. “I’m honest and direct. And I do not believe that you get to a result by lying to people.”

Campaigning for district attorney in Los Angeles County is awkward and difficult. In smaller counties, candidates and their volunteers can walk door to door or set up a table outside a grocery store and expect to reach a respectable slice of the electorate. But this county is too populous and too geographically vast for that kind of face-to-face retail politics. Running for district attorney here is more like running for governor of a state the size of Michigan.

But at least gubernatorial candidates run as nominees of political parties. They may lose the benefit of meeting constituents, but they have the consolation of relying on the fundraising, slate-mailing, precinct-walking, get-out-the-vote Democratic or Republican party machinery. Voters may know little about the candidates, but in partisan elections many may be happy just voting the party line.

The Los Angeles county district attorney’s race, however, combines the nonpartisanship of small city elections with the huge scale of statewide contests. Candidates cope by targeting voters who are likely to have a special interest in the top prosecutors’ race: attorneys associations, for example, or law enforcement groups. Without full-scale party engagement, a Republican candidate such as Alan Jackson may seek out the important talk-radio audience. An unabashed Democrat, such as Meyers, may seek, win and tout endorsements from the county Democratic Party. But that allows other candidates, such as decline-to-state Carmen Trutanich, to emphasize the nonpartisan nature of the office.

The workable but not very satisfying result is a collection of boutique, narrowly followed, below-the-radar campaigns for what is arguably California’s most important prosecutorial position. In a smaller jurisdiction, such as Orange County, the race might dominate the airwaves and the front pages. Here, it barely attracts more following than an election for judge, say, or county assessor. A breakout candidate is likely to be the one with money to spend on a TV spot or on a flurry of slick mailers.

But Meyers has done well with endorsements and social media. She has the backing of the county Democratic Party and of key Democratic clubs, the deputy district attorneys’ union, former Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, LGBT groups and key figures in the African American community. Those endorsements aren’t just names on a mailer; they represent campaign resources and a volunteer base that can partially make up for the inability to campaign door to door.

And they signal to Democratic voters that she is one of them. That can be a controversial tactic for a candidate running for a nonpartisan office. But Meyers embraces it.

“I think there is a difference when you have a Democrat in office,” she said. “The focus of what Republicans do, as opposed to Democrats, is different. Garcetti’s big deal was environmental crimes, which is sort of the mission statement of the Democratic Party. I would beef that up.”

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Candidate Jackie Lacey is also a Democrat, as is candidate Bobby Grace. Trutanich now lists no party preference, but, Meyers says, “he was a Republican all his life.” Jackson and John Breault III are Republicans.

Meyers grew up in Compton and attended Catholic school. She recalled the community as being beautiful. “And then the drugs came in, the riots came in, the middle class left. When I left for college” -- in the mid-1970s -- “the gangs were at their height.”

She attended UC San Diego, then Howard law school.

She started at the D.A.’s office at about the same as her friend, colleague and rival, Jackie Lacey. A majority of voters may know her best as the prosecutor of Lindsay Lohan. But in her current assignment at what’s known as the airport branch court, and at previous assignments from Inglewood to Beverly Hills to Compton, Bellflower and Florence/Firestone, Meyers tried murders and other major crimes.

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She has tried six death penalty cases and has put four people on death row, and like each of the other candidates, she believes the death penalty is an appropriate punishment. But does she favor keeping it or not? She has called it futile, and asserted that none of the people she sent to death row will be executed in her lifetime. She said California owes it to the families of victims, to the people of the state and even to perpetrators to be more honest about the penalty and its failure in the state. But she also has a plan to apply the death penalty in more limited circumstances -- in only five types of crimes and not the current 22. The plan would not actually make execution more likely in California.

Meyers also makes much of the fact that she was president of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., a voluntary organization of area attorneys and the largest such lawyers association in the country. She said her leadership of that organization prepares her to lead an office of 1,000 prosecutors and hundreds of sworn investigators and support staff.

ALSO:

Jackie Lacey looks to move up

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Alan Jackson, winner with jurors, makes case to voters

Prosecutor Bobby Grace makes his play for L.A. district attorney


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