It’s been 20 years since Sacramento voters had a chance to elect a new district attorney, and the race to succeed Jan Scully has been as fascinating as it has been frustrating and bizarre.
Anne Marie Schubert, the choice of Scully and most area law enforcement leaders, is also the clear choice to come out ahead on Tuesday – as much for the limitations of her opponents as for her strengths.
In her 18 years in Sacramento, Schubert has been a star prosecutor – a pioneer in the use of DNA evidence, a tough-as-nails leader of the unit prosecuting child abuse, a dedicated victims advocate.
At 50, she is also a mother of two who uses her free time to partner with judges and public defenders in regular interventions at schools. There, she and her colleagues emphasize to wayward kids how truancy often leads to incarceration.
It’s thankless work that Schubert performs faithfully enough to belie an image, held by some, that she is a carbon copy of Scully as a jail-them-first prosecutor.
A battle between the two most experienced candidates would have pit Schubert against her former colleague, Todd Leras – a former star prosecutor in his own right. But Leras, 50, got in the race late, doesn’t have much money and appears to have little chance of campaigning beyond Tuesday’s primary election.
So instead of a race to pick the best prosecutor based on credentials and philosophy, this contest has become about Schubert’s credentials versus the curious political embrace of state Deputy Attorney General Maggy Krell by California’s leading Democrats.
It has become about Schubert being endorsed by almost the entire law enforcement community, including 22 retired judges, and the 35-year-old Krell, who is endorsed by Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris and almost every Democrat elected to office in Sacramento.
What makes this all the more interesting is that based on her résumé, Krell is by far the least ready to lead of the three candidates running – and yet that hardly seems to matter to her supporters.
Being the choice of the Democratic establishment in a state with an ever-shrinking Republican Party (Schubert is a Republican), Krell has raised a lot of money as the anointed one.
The Bee’s Andy Furillo reported last week that Krell received a $34,000 contribution from Napster founder Sean Parker, who hosted Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom at his $4.5 million Big Sur wedding.
Krell has raised nearly a half-million dollars, a huge sum for someone plucked from the anonymity of Harris’ office.
She has clearly benefited from her ties to Harris and her full-throated support of Brown’s massive prison realignment plan – where the treatment, incarceration and supervision of some criminals shifted from the state to the counties. Schubert, by contrast, is more skeptical of realignment and feels that some prisoners being shifted to the counties are not as “nonviolent” as Brown would have the public believe.
But Krell has no experience running anything approaching the size or complexity of the Sacramento County DA’s Office.
As a prosecutor, the roster of cases Krell has taken to verdicts is tiny compared to Schubert’s.
And Krell has run a campaign that would have been fine for an Assembly race, but not for a DA candidate.
In a campaign mailer, she hit Schubert for pay hikes that went to local prosecutors that she claimed she would not have approved. She also misstated the number of prosecutors who were laid off in the DA’s Office.
As Furillo wrote in a Bee analysis of Krell’s ad: “As for approving pay raises for top managers in the office, the district attorney plays no role in the salaries that are set in negotiations between various attorney associations and the county’s executive management.”
Michael Vitiello, distinguished professor of law at McGeorge School of Law, said: “I don’t see anything in (Krell’s) résumé that indicates she could take over the office and really lead.”
Vitiello questioned all three candidates at an April forum hosted by the Sacramento County Bar Association. To be fair, Vitiello said that if given the choice of voting for Schubert or Krell, he wouldn’t vote for either. He fears Schubert doesn’t give enough credence to alternative sentencing for low-level offenders. When asked about Krell, Vitiello gave a long sigh.
“(Krell’s ads) seemed a little desperate,” he said. “That’s a judgment thing, and that makes me nervous.”
While Schubert supports the death penalty and Leras is personally opposed, Krell says: “I support the death penalty in the most extreme of circumstances.”
That’s an odd answer because the death penalty is already only invoked in the most extreme circumstances. Either Krell doesn’t know that or she is playing politics – neither a good look for a DA.
As Schubert herself said an April 16 debate, “Less than two percent of verdicts in this state result in the death penalty. They are for the worst cases you could ever imagine.”
Meanwhile, some in the legal community are troubled by a 2007 case that Krell botched in her closing arguments, when she made a reference to a defendant not testifying at trial – a violation of his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
As a result, the state’s 3rd District Court of Appeal “overturned the conviction of Daniel Ray Maier, who had been found guilty of bribery, conspiracy and grand theft in pre-arranging the outcome of a 2006 harness race at the Cal Expo track in Sacramento,” Furillo wrote in The Bee last year.
Robert Buccola, a prominent Sacramento lawyer and a big contributor to Democrats, said: “That’s a mistake a second-year law student shouldn’t make.”
Buccola is supporting Schubert, as are many in the legal community who may disagree with Schubert on some issues but feel she is ready to lead now and will grow in the job.
Politics aside, it’s the most significant way the leading candidate for DA stands out from her opponents.