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Election 2014: Schubert cites experience, passion for justice in run for Sacramento County DA

Second in a series of profiles of the candidates for Sacramento County district attorney.

Anne Marie Schubert talks about her experience and her passion, her groundbreaking work on the forensics of DNA, and her love of being a prosecutor.

In recent years, she also has become more comfortable discussing another aspect of her life.

“I’m gay,” she’ll say, without your even asking.

Sexual orientation isn’t an issue in the Sacramento County district attorney’s race, and Schubert says she is not running as a gay candidate.

At the same time, Schubert isn’t running away from her sexuality, and she is pleased to note that if she wins the election to replace the outgoing Jan Scully, she would become the first openly gay person to win a countywide election in Sacramento history.

Schubert, 50, has been in the prosecution business for 24 years, the last 18 in Sacramento, her hometown. She said “it’s exciting” to think of herself as a history maker.

“Does it matter? I think for some people,” Schubert said, “but my message has and always will be: Judge me on my merits.

“I’m very comfortable with my life. I just don’t live my personal life out loud. I live it like everybody else. You’ll find me at baseball fields and PTA meetings.”

The mother of two boys, ages 10 and 6, Schubert said she’s running for DA “because I love what I do.” She said she is gratified that her sexual orientation has barely registered as a blip in the race against state Deputy Attorney General Maggy Krell and former county and federal prosecutor Todd Leras.

“It is a reflection of our wonderfully diverse community, and I am happy about that,” Schubert said.

Fast on her feet and tough in the courtroom, Schubert has established herself as a dynamic force within the District Attorney’s Office, which she joined in 1996 following stints as a prosecutor in Contra Costa and Solano counties. In her 18 years with the Sacramento office, she has tried murder cases, supervised the emotionally demanding sexual assault and child abuse unit, and become a statewide leader in establishing the validity of DNA evidence.

Schubert is broadly respected by her office colleagues, from the lawyers whose careers she helped nurture to the upper-level managers who tapped her for leadership roles.

“She’s a natural leader,” Scully said of the deputy she has endorsed. “There really hasn’t been anything I’ve thrown at her that she hasn’t been able to handle really well and add her own touch on it. To me, she is what a public safety leader should be. She’s got passion, but she’s compassionate. She’s not extreme in any sense. She believes in holding people accountable. Public safety is her first priority.”

As of March 17, according to campaign finance reports, Schubert had received contributions from 84 attorneys and other employees in the District Attorney’s Office, including top managers and rank-and-file lawyers. She also has been endorsed by the Sacramento County Attorneys Association, which represents line prosecutors and public defenders. The association has contributed $90,000 to her campaign.

“She’s the real deal,” said Rod Norgaard, who supervises the DA’s homicide unit. “Every decision she makes, her one overriding goal is community safety.”

‘Sense of justice’

Schubert established her reputation as a prosecutor even before she returned to Sacramento.

As a deputy district attorney in Solano County in 1994, Schubert was one of the first in the state to master DNA technology as an emerging forensic tool. She used it to help obtain convictions on a Rockford, Ill., man who in 1993 raped a schoolgirl on the street and a woman in her home in Suisun City. The convictions were upheld in a published state appellate court opinion that helped cement the scientific validity of DNA evidence.

Since joining the Sacramento DA’s office, Schubert has trained investigators and prosecutors across the country on the use of DNA evidence. In 2000, she filed the first sexual assault case in the country in which the defendant initially was identified without a name, just by his genetic profile. Investigators later matched the profile to Paul Eugene Robinson, now 44. A Sacramento jury convicted Robinson of five felony sexual assault counts, and he is serving a 65-year prison term.

While in the homicide unit, Schubert won murder convictions in several major cases. Among the defendants: Mitchell Maeda, who strangled 85-year-old Alan Lowell in his Hollywood Park neighborhood in 2005; Correll Hicks, who strangled his girlfriend, Jessica Smith, in their midtown apartment in 2002; and Robert Ray Hon, who strangled a prostitute, Vicky Jo Harris, in 2003 and drove her body around town while cracking jokes about it to his friends.

Schubert co-chaired the statewide “No on Proposition 34” campaign in 2012 that defeated an effort to repeal the death penalty. She said she believes capital punishment should be “a rare event,” but added, “I think if someone walks into a downtown theater tonight and blows away 20 kids, then I think it should be an option.”

Sacramento defense attorney Don Heller, a former prosecutor, represented the “Yes on 34” side in debates with Schubert. He has since endorsed her campaign.

“I like her sense of justice,” Heller said. “I like the way she views things in a careful, measured way.”

If Schubert gained respect in the office for her handling of an estimated 100 trials over her career, she gained loyalty from the ranks during her 21/2-year stint supervising the DA’s misdemeanor trial unit. The section is the first stop for any prosecutor who wants to try major cases.

Deputy District Attorney Erin Blake came into the office when Schubert ran the misdemeanors unit.

“Her passion was kind of infectious,” Blake said. “Her loving her job and being so committed to it made me want to do the same thing. From the very beginning, the most important thing she instilled in us was our ethics. She told us being a prosecutor is not just about convictions. It’s about justice.”

Schubert’s standing in the legal community is such that even some of the people who are against her are for her.

One of them is defense attorney Kathryn Druliner, who has given money to both Krell and Schubert. Druliner would like to see Schubert separate herself more from Scully, who is stepping down after 20 years. But she gave the candidate high marks for her demeanor in a rape trial in years past.

“She was very fair and honorable,” Druliner said. “I remember her saying something – because I can be very ornery – something like, ‘Kathy, there’s enough stress involved in this kind of litigation. We don’t need to fight personally.’ It ratcheted the whole thing down to a much more civil level.”

Lawyer, not activist

Raised in the Arden area, Schubert is the second-youngest of seven children in a Catholic family. Her father, the late Dr. James J. Schubert, was a powerhouse orthopedic surgeon who helped found the private philanthropic Sierra Health Foundation. He also was a founder of the Sacramento Medical Care Foundation health maintenance organization.

Her mother, Greta, was a physical therapist who left her career to raise Schubert and her siblings. Greta Schubert died of breast cancer in 1980, when Anne Marie was 16. Doctors initially told Greta Schubert she would die within six months of her diagnosis, but she lived another five years. Despite the cancer, she continued to coach softball at Loretto High School, the all-girls Catholic school that closed in 2009. In her honor, the school created the Greta Schubert Award for Perseverance and Character in Athletics.

“She was such a driven person,” Schubert said. “She was the kind of person who would go under the car, fixing the car. She built me a bicycle when I was 10 or 11.”

A Loretto High grad herself, Schubert went on to Saint Mary’s College in Moraga and then to the University of San Francisco’s School of Law, where she interned at the San Francisco DA’s office and “caught the bug,” she said, for criminal justice.

“I like to say I went to law school for all the wrong reasons: ‘It’s a good job,’ ‘I can make a decent living,’” Schubert said. “My dad was thrilled when I went to law school, but I remember telling him I wanted to be a DA, and he told me, ‘Are you out of your mind? You’re never going to make any money at that. What the hell do you want to do that for?’

“I said, ‘Because I love it.’”

Schubert said she had to gulp before she told her socially conservative father that she was gay. She was an adult at the time.

“It was a challenging conversation,” she said.

Schubert had her two children with a previous partner. Her sexuality had not been an issue in her professional life until Proposition 8 was on the ballot in 2008. Schubert’s brother, Frank, ran the successful campaign to ban gay marriage in California, an initiative that was overturned last year by the U.S. Supreme Court. Stories about him mentioned that he had a gay sister.

Schubert shrugged off the “outing.”

In the DA’s race, some local gay and lesbian groups have endorsed Krell against Schubert, citing her brother’s endorsement of her and complaining that Schubert hasn’t been politically active on gay issues. Schubert said she is not bothered by their stance.

“I’ll be honest with you – I’m not a gay-rights activist,” Schubert said. “I’m gay, and I’m perfectly content with being gay. But my interest is public safety and raising my children. I have a partner. I intend to marry.”

Michael Sestak, president of the Sacramento Rainbow Chamber of Commerce, said Krell and Schubert are “both good, qualified candidates.”

What tipped the group in Krell’s favor, Sestak said, was Schubert’s brother. Schubert disagrees with her sibling on the issue of gay marriage, but she has refused to denounce him.

“He’s a lightning rod for the entire gay community,” Sestak said. “He’s a magnet for a lot of angst and frustration.”

Kathi Finnerty is a founding member of SacLEGAL, a Sacramento County Bar Association affiliate that promotes equality for gays and other sexual minorities. She said that when she met Schubert she was “a little taken aback she wasn’t more politically active.” Finnerty said she since has come to believe “not everybody has that time or interest.”

“The fact that she is a brilliant trial lawyer and a natural-born leader – that is very impressive to me,” Finnerty said. “She is leading our community in other ways. This race should not be about political parties or sexual orientation. It should be about qualifications, period. That’s what the gay and lesbian community has been asking for decades.”