A veteran prosecutor at the federal and local level announced Wednesday that he is running for Sacramento County district attorney with a promise to shake up the culture of the office he wants to head.
Todd Leras, 50, most recently worked for five years as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of California, which is based in Sacramento. Before that, he was a 13-year line prosecutor for the Sacramento DA’s Office who handled a number of high-profile cases.
Leras is the third candidate in the race to replace outgoing Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully, who announced in January that she is leaving office after 20 years.
It’s his experience, Leras says, that sets him apart from the two previously announced candidates, supervising Deputy District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and California Deputy Attorney General Maggy Krell. He also says he has embraced the idea of “realignment,” which gives counties the responsibility of handling low-level offenders instead of sending them to prison on the state’s dime.
“I think I can bring in a different approach than the one that’s been in place for the last 20 years,” Leras said, “one that’s sensible, prioritizes the worst offenders so we can make space for them, while we look into alternatives at the lower end so we can try to experiment in increasing public safety at a time when there are not the resources that used to exist.”
In an interview Wednesday, Leras said he wants to target what he described as “an extremely deferential, top-down culture” that he sees permeating the DA’s Office, and replace it with one where lower-level prosecutors won’t be afraid to make their own calls in how to work their cases – or fear reprisal if they challenge the leadership.
“What I’d like to do – and what I’d like to see – is the implementation of a culture of criticism,” Leras said. “I think the environment there is one where questioning of management decisions is viewed as a negative. It’s viewed as something you shouldn’t do.”
“From Day One, I would want to encourage people to bring shortcomings of the office to the attention of the front office without any fear that there are going to be repercussions.”
Leras questioned the general reputation of the DA’s office as being a smooth-running operation where Scully’s top lieutenants have managed a busy caseload with successful outcomes for the majority of high-profile cases.
“I disagree that it’s working fine,” he said.
He cited the recent acquittal in the Stacey Perryman murder case, where a line prosecutor didn’t turn over an informant’s statement to defense attorneys in the discovery process until the trial began, as symptomatic of an operation that needs more training.
The candidate added that the DA’s Office “overcharges” on some homicide cases, filing them as “open” murder counts when the facts more closely merit manslaughter allegations.
Leras also thinks the DA’s Office should be doing more with its special investigations unit. He said it should have dug deeper into a Natomas Unified School District case in which the district paid six times the value for a school site, and that it could have launched an investigation into allegations of excessive use of force by the Twin Rivers school police force.
Leras said he entered the race relatively late because he couldn’t run until he resigned from the U.S. attorney’s office. He also said he “didn’t want to pursue a professional goal” when doctors told him in January that his mother had a terminal illness. She died over the summer.