Dick Spotswood: Marin voters face important choice in D.A. contest

By DICK SPOTSWOOD | PUBLISHED: September 22, 2018 | UPDATED: September 25, 2018 —

CORRECTIONS: This column was edited Sept. 22, 2018 to correct an error after initial publication. Paul Cohen, who is chairman of the Marin Democratic Party, is not a campaign consultant for Anna Pletcher. A sentence that said he was was incorrect, and was deleted along with a statement implying that Cohen as her “campaign consultant” influenced the Democratic Party’s endorsement. In addition, the column incorrectly paraphrased Lori Frugoli regarding Pletcher’s criminal court experience. Pletcher has tried multiple cases in criminal courts. Frugoli was referring to state criminal court only; that has been made clear in a Sept. 24, 2018 update to this column.

The most important Marin County race on the November ballot is the two-way runoff for district attorney. With incumbent Ed Berberian retiring, the contest is between Deputy District Attorney Lori Frugoli and adjunct law professor Anna Pletcher.

It’s been a hard fought fight between two talented women, each with a very different career story. In June’s first-round election, Frugoli with 48.92 percent of the vote almost won an out-right majority. Pletcher finished second with 30.56 percent, narrowly garnering second place over Deputy D.A. A. J. Brady.

The most recent clash between Frugoli and Pletcher was about mutual charges of exaggeration.

Pletcher is the endorsed candidate of the Marin County Democratic Central Committee, an obscure body whose main perk is making election endorsements.

Any party’s nod means little even in deep blue Marin, where most voters support California’s law making all local posts nonpartisan. In any event, both Pletcher and Frugoli are Democrats.

Pletcher contends Frugoli was misleading when she mailed paid slate cards issued by non-official Democrats supporting her candidacy. That tactic is common by candidates — usually those of a more moderate bent, whether Democrats or Republicans, who missed getting their party’s official endorsement. The bottom line is Pletcher is correct. She is the officially endorsed candidate of the Marin Democratic Party. Score one point for Pletcher.

Pletcher calls herself a “prosecutor.” That’s understandable, since most voters want to elect a D.A. that has long experience prosecuting criminal cases on behalf of “the people,” e.g., you and me.

Frugoli claims this is misleading. She points out that Pletcher has no professional experience trying cases in state criminal courts. Pletcher previously worked for the U.S. Department of Justice on civil anti-trust matters. In common use that word refers to district attorneys like Frugoli, who try real-world criminal cases. Score one for Frugoli.

That’s one point for each, but voters deciding on Marin’s next district attorney need to make their decision based on a 100-point scale. The other 98 points represent the important stuff.

Marinites are blessed living in a relatively crime-free county sandwiched between Sonoma County, where crime — particularly gang crime — is a hot topic, and San Francisco, plagued by an onslaught of quality-of-life crimes and a flood of auto break-ins.

It didn’t happen by accident. It took a combination that includes first-rate police officers and sheriff’s deputies, a judiciary prepared to send the guilty to jail, a D.A.’s office working as partners with law enforcement and a public — including jurors — willing to convict when the evidence is clear.

The only serious issue before voters is whether Frugoli or Pletcher is best qualified to oversee the D.A.’s office, maintain consistent standards, is conversant with the often arcane nuances of criminal procedure and will continue to aggressively enforce the law.

Frugoli, endorsed by every living past D.A., is a classic criminal prosecutor. Her goal is to put the bad guys away. Frugoli’s sympathies lie with crime victims.

There’s an element of the population in a liberal place like the Bay Area that is much in sympathy for the accused. It’s a view shared by most criminal defense attorneys. That’s where an idealist like Pletcher is coming from.

Which side the majority of voters takes will determine the identity of Marin’s next district attorney and whether Marin’s reputation as a bad place to commit a crime will continue.

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