Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: DA hopeful Schubert is a fighter who's faced complex battles

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

Anne Marie Schubert is not a household name in her hometown of Sacramento yet, but that could soon change with the career prosecutor in line to be the next district attorney.

A big name could still materialize to run against Schubert next year for the high-profile job being vacated by Jan Scully, but she is used to winning complex battles in her fascinating professional life.

At 49, Schubert was one of the driving forces in preserving the death penalty in California last November as co-chair of the No on Proposition 34 campaign.

Schubert worked on that campaign while supervising prosecutors who go after child molesters and while being a mom and while instructing law enforcement officers on how to properly use DNA evidence. On top of that, she donated time in the evenings to combat truancy in Sacramento schools through interventions with serial truants and their guardians.

Before that, Schubert was key to some high-profile convictions of criminals who might have evaded justice but for the Loretto High School graduate, the sixth of seven children in a big Catholic family. Schubert's older brother Frank is a GOP strategist known nationally for running campaigns that blocked same-sex marriage in California and Maine.

Hold that thought and consider the words of The Bee's Andy Furillo:

"It was Schubert who responded to a book author and the family of UC Davis 'sweethearts' murder victim John Riggins to submit items of evidence for DNA testing that identified Richard Hirschfield as the suspect in the killings that had gone unsolved for more than two decades. Hirschfield has since been convicted in the 1980 killings. He is awaiting sentencing."

In 2000, it was Schubert's idea to file an arrest warrant for a notorious rapist, though neither she nor Sacramento cops had a suspect name to put on the warrant. The statute of limitations was about to expire for the "Second Story Rapist," who broke into the second-story apartments of women and raped them.

So on the arrest warrant Schubert listed only the genetic DNA of the "John Doe" suspect retrieved by police at the crime scene.

Three weeks later, Paul Eugene Robinson was arrested for the crimes when his DNA matched that listed on the warrant. Robinson was subsequently convicted and the case went all the way to the California Supreme Court – where Schubert's side prevailed.

"In terms of the legal part of it, there was great satisfaction in helping create this new area of law," Schubert said.

The task of succeeding Scully brings an entirely different set of challenges.

Scully was elected in 1994 and enjoys strong public support despite strained relations with some in law enforcement.

There are potential minefields of conflicting loyalties and personalities, but Schubert quickly lined up Scully's endorsement and that of the current and former Sacramento County sheriffs, Scott Jones and John McGinness.

It remains to be seen whether Schubert can attract a broad spectrum of voters, but she has a broad spectrum of allies – from judges to hot-shot lawyers to crime-victim advocates.

She's not a big person in physical stature. Her manner is gregarious and unpretentious. She won't flinch as she tells you what she thinks, but the politics of personal destruction are not her thing.

Her shock of blond hair projects youth, though the horrific realities of prosecuting suspects who sexually abuse children would break many so-called "tough" people – me included.

She is cheerful. She isn't world-weary or cynical.

"I'm lucky," she said. "I go to work every day to try to do the right thing."

Some wonder how Schubert will maneuver the politics of elected office that call for a candidate to run against the status quo when Scully is her most valuable ally.

Or how about dealing with a county Board of Supervisors that can make or break her budget?

Frankly, she's had to deal with much more complicated problems – such as the notoriety of a controversial brother whose words have dragged his sister into his work.

"I love my sister deeply and I love her children," Frank Schubert told the San Francisco Chronicle. "That doesn't require me to accept that marriages should be redefined because my sister is in a gay relationship with kids. I worry about anybody who doesn't have the benefit of a loving, active father in their lives. And those kids won't have that; I pray for them."

Those kind of hurtful comments might have severed some relationships, but she hasn't allowed it to sever this one.

Anne Marie Schubert doesn't hide who she is, but doesn't hang a sign around her neck either. She declined to be interviewed for the Chronicle story and many others.

With me, she calmly said: "I love my brother, I just don't agree with him."

As Sacramento emerges from recession, Schubert is one of many new-generation leaders looking to ascend in the coming years – a hopeful sign in a community in need of new blood and new ideas.

Her aim would be to use her office to prevent young people from being prosecuted in the first place.

"I love being in trial but there is more to a prosecutor than standing in a courtroom," Schubert said. "Our office has so many incredible programs that work toward preventing crime We have an obligation to do more."