Will Voters Fall for DA Challenger who Stands for Nothing and Lacks Specific Solutions?

I was talking over coffee with a colleague today and the upcoming election for the Shasta County District Attorney was on both of our minds.

She told me that there are several radio commercials airing right now in which the community is urged to vote for Erik Jensen. After just a few minutes listening to K-Shasta, I’d already heard two commercials aimed against District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett, along with a spate of other radio advertisements bought and paid for by the Liberty Committee, a donor to the Jensen campaign.

In one anti-Bridgett radio spot, a female voice shamelessly engages in scaremongering about the safety of the community, rattling off the supposed low conviction rates for past years.

Another radio commercial derisively accuses Ms. Bridgett of being one of the most ‘notorious’ district attorneys in the state for Brady violations, joking that her office is the “Brady Bunch.”

I’ve also heard that Erik Jensen supports a “better jail.” And a common theme I’ve heard from those who have criticisms of how Ms. Bridgett runs her office, that it’s “time for a change.”

Let’s talk about “community safety.”

First of all, I personally don’t think this is an issue that solely falls on the shoulders of law enforcement and the sitting DA. Criminals don’t sit in court and watch to see how good the prosecutor is at their job when deciding to go commit crime. People commit crime because of things like childhood trauma, lack of resources, and lack of social support. If we did a better job of addressing those issues, I bet crime rates would go down accordingly.

But Erik Jensen isn’t even talking about how he thinks he is going to do a better job than Stephanie Bridgett at keeping the community safe. It’s easy to attack someone with a plan and be a naysayer without subjecting yourself to criticism by presenting your own ideas.

How are you going to provide these “measurable results” that you have promised in exchange for being elected? If you don’t have trial experience or criminal law experience or management experience, how can you expect to out-perform someone who has all three? You touted yourself as an outsider, but sometimes an outsider simply doesn’t have the skill set to do a job. I wouldn’t get on a Boeing 747 flown by a pilot with no training or experience, no matter how confident they were. Would you?

Which brings us to the second issue, a “better jail.”

Erik Jensen, please define “better.”

I recently sat through a detailed presentation by Sheriff Michael Johnson and Assistant CEO Eric Magrini offering long-term solutions to the capacity issues that have created the current “catch-and-release” situation we have here in town.

They also offered several explanations why shorter-term projects won’t work. The cost to build a jail is typically only 10% of what it will cost during its lifetime. A huge hurdle to keeping a jail functional are the high operating costs to maintain a secure facility that complies with Title 15 and ADA regulations.

Adding services to inmates such as in-custody drug treatment and expanded mental health services, represents a relatively insignificant financial burden on this project but offers the opportunity to reduce recidivism in this community.

What is your proposal for this “better” jail? Did you actually attend the presentation they gave on March 29, 2022? Have you familiarized yourself with the financial and logistical issues that go into building a new jail? Do you have anything constructive to offer to back up your claim that you can do “better?”

Finally, is it time for a change, no matter what?

I’ve heard multiple attempts to interpret the trial statistics in the last couple of years, in an effort to suggest that Ms. Bridgett is under-performing.

I looked over the data from 2016-2021, and when you take out cases that pled during trial, mistrials, hung juries, and cases that just didn’t finish because they got delayed, that leaves you with cases where the DA either got at least one conviction, or there was an acquittal. Of those, I would say they’re sitting at about 75% success.

These are also generally the cases that are NOT “slam dunks” for the prosecutor or the case would have likely settled, as many do. And even experienced prosecutors who are prepared can have issues come up that are beyond their control. Sometimes witnesses become uncooperative or go missing, or forget what they said after waiting months or even years before they are called to testify.

Trial statistics should also be taken with a grain of salt. It’s not just about the numbers. Any prosecutor could likely get their trial win rate up in the high 90% range if they simply refused to offer reasonable plea bargains in their easiest cases, forcing those defendants to go to trial (a huge waste of resources if the person was otherwise willing to settle) and racking up wins by shooting fish in a barrel. That’s not a beneficial approach, and instead we see many of those cases resolve before trial leaving those that are more controversial. That’s how it should be. Some cases are difficult to win for reasons other than they cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, but just because the jury isn’t going to like the alleged victim very much, or because they may feel some positive emotion toward the defendant.

I am not saying that Ms. Bridgett’s office is perfect and that I have none of my own criticisms of how cases are handled. You’d be hard pressed to find a defense attorney anywhere that wouldn’t, if given the opportunity, write up an entire manifesto about how the justice system can be better and what they would like to see prosecutors doing differently.

But Erik Jensen, are you really the change we need? Or are you just Monday morning quarterbacking someone else’s job performance and getting people so unduly riled that they think anything, even a complete unknown, is better than the status quo?

I challenge you to prove that you’re the better candidate by talking about your platform, talking about what you stand for, and talking about how you plan to address issues that are more complicated than “safer” “better” and “not the same.”

I challenge you to show up and stand for something, instead of simply hoping that our community will fall for anything.

Lisa Jensen (no relation to DA candidate Erik Jensen) has been practicing almost exclusively criminal law since 2012. She was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and went to college at UC Santa Cruz where she majored in psychology before attending Santa Clara University School of Law.  She started a law practice in the SF Bay Area, where she made hundreds of court appearances all over the Bay Area, the greater Los Angeles metro area, as well as many rural counties. She worked as a prosecutor in Southern California for two years before moving to Redding where she worked as a Deputy Public Defender. She has handled more than 25 jury trials. She is well-known in the local legal community in Redding as a conscientious and capable attorney who works hard for her clients, and is known by her clients as someone who will truly fight for them.

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