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Q and A with district attorney candidates

@T: The Santa Clara County District Attorney's race includes four competitors. Assistant District Attorney Marc Buller, Superior Court Judge Dolores Carr and Chief Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu attended the Milpitas Democratic Club forum. Deputy District Attorney Jim Shore did not. The office is open for the first time in 16 years, because District Attorney George Kennedy is retiring. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote plus one June 6, there will be a runoff between the top two in November.

@BH:Introductions
@rem:Dolores Carr: Before someone in your family is accused of a crime, or someone in your family is a victim of a crime, you just get wrapped up in a system that is very cumbersome and very difficult to navigate. I'm the only candidate who has seen the criminal justice system from all perspectives. Early in my career I was in private practice doing criminal defense and civil litigation. I was a deputy district attorney for 15 years from 1985-2000, and have been a judge since 2000, where I am currently ending my first term. I am so committed to running for the position that I've been on an unpaid leave of absence from the court since Aug. 15, 2005, and I've given up the opportunity to run for re-election to my seat. I'm running for district attorney because there is a need for change in the leadership of the district attorney's office. I am someone committed to change because I have a very good job as a Superior Court judge, and I would not give it up if I was not committed to changing the district attorney's office for the better.

Karyn Sinunu: I believe very strongly that this office is non-partisan. It has been run as a non-partisan office and will continue to be run as a non-partisan office under my leadership. But my values are highlighted by my accomplishments associated with criminal and social justice. When there was no guidance on how to prosecute hate crimes, I wrote the book on hate crimes and it has been distributed to every prosecutor in California, and a second edition is coming soon. When a toddler's murder could not be solved, I could identify the problems that could have gone on in communications between the police, social workers and the coroner's office. I worked with a representative of every police agency and the sheriff's office to fashion a protocol that is in place today and is updated yearly. When I headed the master felony calendar, I wrote the book on victims' rights, because I felt the prosecution should never forget the victims. That book, likewise, has been distributed to every prosecutor in California, and judges.

Mark Buller: When we talk about crime, crime prevention needs to be on the top of anyone's agenda who wants to be the next district attorney. Your district attorney needs to stop crime before it happens. Crime prevention is the key to a safe community. We need to have the next district attorney be committed to that proposition.

Q What should the relationship between the DA and police departments be?

Sinunu: I think there are a number of roles we play with the police departments. One is the police help us in our prosecutions. They back us when we go to trial. I would not be where I am today if I hadn't had the tremendous police investigative support. Second, we're not always a rubber stamp. Police bring us their investigations. If we're charged with making an independent decision, it's not always possible. Last year we turned down 23 percent of felonies handed to us because we made an independent decision. Third, we need clean police departments, and we have them in Santa Clara County, but that's because George Kennedy has prosecuted over 100 law enforcement personnel in the last 16 years. We don't have police scandals, because we have clean departments.

Buller: It all goes back to relationships. Your ability to pick up the phone and talk to the chief, or assistant chief or a patrol officer, and have a conversation with them about where you're coming from and what you want then to do. My relationship with the police has been excellent. You can call any officer in any department that's worked with me, and they'll tell you, that we have a good relationship and we do things appropriately and ethically. They'll also say I didn't always agree with them on some occasions, and I had a few things they didn't want to do. But at the end of the day when the case was over and the controversy was done, we shook hands and got ready for the next case. That's the kind of relationship I've had with law enforcement agencies over the last 22 years.

Carr: The relationship between law enforcement and the district attorney is one of critical importance because you only need to look north to San Francisco to see what happens when the law enforcement agency and district attorney in a county do not cooperate or collaborate. I'm proud to have endorsements of the police officers associations in San Jose and Milpitas, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and the Deputy Sheriff's Association of Santa Clara County. I think what that says about me when working with all of the candidates, is that they have the trust and confidence in my abilities to lead the district attorney's office, to be honest and ethical, to make public safety the top priority but have it be balanced with fairness and equity.

Q Many of the people your office comes in contact are those who do not speak English, or are a minority. Do you have any plans to ensure the office accommodates these needs, through staffing and special services?
Buller: There's no question we need to have services that are bilingual and that continue to strive to do that. We have probably 26 different languages in the County of Santa Clara that people need to respond to. We need to be responsive to those individuals.

Carr: I have a proven track record in working with non-English speakers. In the family law division, 85 percent of the people came in without lawyers, and many did not speak English. Most people don't know that in family court, you are not entitled to an interpreter. I went out of my way to develop and create resources for people who did not speak English. We also increased the ethnic diversity of our staff. We also include cultural awareness to training for our staff, even to our existing interpreters appearing regularly in court, and I'm committed to increasing diversity to our staff.

Sinunu: Between 1994 and 2000, I was hiring coordinator in my office, and during that period I put tremendous emphasis on second languages and diversity, and 35 percent of the people we hired between 1994 and 2000 spoke a second language, so that offered a tremendous ability for us to communicate. My Web site has eight languages on it, and I want to do the same for the district attorney's Web site. I'm doing outreach to Chinese radio, Korean, Vietnamese, and I think the district attorney's office can do the same outreach to these types of media.

session Two

Q and A with Senate, candidates: Milpitas Democratic Club hosted forums May 18 at Milpitas Community Library for two races that will be voted upon by Milpitas registered voters.

The 10th Senate District includes Milpitas and much of southern Alameda County. Ellen M. Corbett, state Assemblymember, John A. Dutra, former state Assemblymember, and Johan Klehs, state Assemblymember, the three Democratic candidates, were invited to the forum. There are two Republicans running, San Leandro businessman Lou Filipovich, and Milpitas enrolled agent Laura Riffle. They were not invited. The winner of the Democratic and Republican races for state Senate District 10 on June 6, will face in November. The office is being vacated by term-limited Sen. Liz Figueroa, who is vying to be lieutenant governor. Below and at right is a transcript of each candidate's introduction, and two questions and answers as stated during the forums. @bh:Introductions

@rem:Johan Klehs: I find my constituents feel there is a lack of leadership among the Democrats fighting people like George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of the biggest worries people have nowadays is that their pensions will be taken away by companies that either declare bankruptcy, or reorganize and then have their pensions turned over to the federal pension guarantee board, so I've introduced legislation to protect that type of practice from taking place. Second of all, people are extremely concerned about the high price of gasoline. I've been fighting to make sure that oil companies pay their fair share if they're going to charge us this much.

Ellen Corbett: I've been an unwavering voice for affordable and universal health care. I've fought for single parent health care, for HMO reform, and getting consumers the information trey need to lower their prescription costs. That's why I'm the only candidate to be endorsed by the California Nurses Association. I've fought for fully-funded education, and I've taught at local community colleges. I'm proud to be the only candidate endorsed by the California Teachers Association. I've worked to reduce the threat of global warming, and promote a conversion to alternative fuels. That's why I am the only candidate endorsed by the California League of Conservation Voters.

John Dutra: What we need to deal with first and foremost, is a structural analysis of the budget, because all the things we care about, like education, transportation, water, energy; none of those will we be able to use without a structural analysis of the budget. Q You have been described as a moderate (Mr. Dutra) facing two candidates that lean left of center (Mr. Klehs and Ms. Corbett), in a Democratic race that is being watched statewide. How is your political philosophy most different than that of your competitors?

Corbett: I think in this race, it's important to look at who's supporting who for this race. I have the strongest voting record with regard to the environment. That's why I have the endorsement of the California League of Conservation Voters. I have a near-perfect environmental record. I have wholly supported measures to make sure we have clean air, clean water, and regulate toxic substances. I have a very strong background in education. I have authored many measures that are very important to make sure we have as many resources as we should have for our K through 12 communities. And I have been a very strong community of universal health care.

Dutra: My mother had five children (by) the age of 28 years old, and we ended up living on welfare. Nobody has to tell me the importance of welfare, CalWorks, the Healthy Families programs, or Cal grants. I understand. There needs to be a strong relationship between our business community and education.

Klehs: I've always been one that's put people first and special interests second. I've got a 100 percent voting record from the California Conference of Seniors and from Ralph Nader's California Public Interest Group, and Equity California, and most of all, when there was really a need for leadership in this state, I was the only person in the legislature to introduce legislation to stop Arnold Schwarzenegger's special election, and led the fight in this area.

Q California is viewed as a high-cost state -- both to our employees and our employers. What specific pieces of legislation would you recommend to make California more competitive, even with other states -- let alone other nations?

Klehs: California is a high cost state, but I like to remind people why business is located here and why people come here. We've got 37 million people here in California. In about 13 short years, we will have 50 million people living in this state. Now there will be virtually two cities the size of Chicago plopping down in the Central Valley in California -- mainly in the Inland Empire and Riverside County areas. People come here because they like the weather, businesses come here because they like the proximity to their markets, and they love the educated workforce we have. I was the author of California's Manufacturer's Investors tax credit that Carl Guardino and I actually worked on. It was in place for about 10 years. I was the author of California's Research Development tax credit. Both of these have been great stimulators for the business community in this state, and we look forward to bringing them back in the future.

Corbett: One thing I learned when I was the mayor of San Leandro was I spent a lot of time out in the business community trying to find out what was driving the cost of business. I was very concerned when businesses would say, 'We're going to have to leave town because keeping a businesses is too expensive.' The most important thing to do is sit down with people in the business community and really have a list of what their cost drivers are, and really try to work to deal with all of them.

Dutra: I worry about things like tax credit, which every other city provides. The cost of gasoline or energy in this area is 50 percent higher that it is in surrounding states, and we've got to worry about that. We've got to worry about the competitiveness of industry here, not demonize it. You've got to be good Democrats and realize that business has to compete in California and it has to create jobs.

Ellen Corbett
John Dutra
Johan Klehs

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