OAKHURST – The Oakhurst Community Center was standing room only last Thursday, Apr. 17, as citizens came out to learn more about the candidates vying for the Office of Madera County Sheriff and District Attorney.
The event was hosted by the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce and moderated by local attorney and past Chamber president Greg Chappel.
Questions were posed by a panel composed of Chuck Doud, editor and publisher of the Madera Tribune, Brian Wilkinson, editor of the Sierra Star, and two Yosemite High School students, Brittney Hughey and Allie Boyer.
The two candidates running for District Attorney against incumbent Michael Keitz are Oakhurst attorney David Linn, and Deputy County Counsel Miranda Neal. (To read about the Sheriff candidates, click here.)
As in past debates, the two challengers continued to assert that working conditions in the D.A.’s office have led to deputy prosecutors leaving their jobs.
“I will meet with the entire staff to find out why we have over 100% turnover,” said Linn. “People are leaving because they don’t like the intimidation.”
Neal agreed saying, “People are not happy working in that office. I will mentor people to build pride and confidence.”
Keitz responded that being a Deputy District Attorney is not for everybody, and that those who may not have the necessary drive to handle the long hours and tough caseload may not find the job “to their liking.”
“As someone told me the other day, it’s too bad that a few bad apples are making the loudest noise,” said Keitz. “We need to give the public the best bang for their buck. I have an open-door policy and we have very good communication in our office.”
Brittney Hughey from YHS asked the three candidates their opinion about legalizing marijuana. All three agreed they don’t feel legalizing is the best course of action, but said they would enforce whatever laws are in place.
As to whether or not they would be in court prosecuting cases, Keitz said that he does occasionally appear in court, but doesn’t take regular case assignments.
“My job is to make sure the staff is properly situated to handle the cases that come in,” said Keitz.
Linn said he will take a case load, and fully intends to prosecute in court. “I’m not going to ask the deputy D.A.’s to do something I’m not prepared to do.”
“I’m used to going to court handling trials,” said Neal. “Some high profile cases may interest me, and I will also mentor and coach the newer attorneys.”
When the issue of the Oakhurst Community Park was raised, Keitz said he has met with Flint Tompkins (Friends of the Park) and Andrew Pence (chairman of Park Committee) and wants to make sure there are legal remedies.
“Anytime a person is convicted of a crime involving the park, they should be prohibited from reentering the park. If they do, they can be arrested on the spot and a court can address why they are there.”
Linn noted that rules don’t solve the problem, because those creating the problems just move onto private property.
“I’m very familiar with that park. I built that park,” said Linn. “Those causing problems are the children of one or two generations ago that never left town. This is a societal problem and we need to deal with families and kids while they are still in school.”
Neal cited the availability of services that could help. “We need to route those people to the available services, classes and diversion programs.”
A question from an audience member asked for the candidates’ views on the 2nd Amendment. All three voiced their staunch support, noting that guns aren’t the problem, but rather some of the people who own them are, including felons and the mentally ill.
When asked to identify the “thorniest” cases the D.A.’s office deals with, Neal addressed how difficult it is to deal with the mentally ill.
“There are just no good answers,” she said. “It’s hard to place them, and hard to get them to comply with probation or conservatorship. We need to streamline the process.”
Keitz said the problem of prosecuting crimes committed by gang members is a challenge for his office.
“When there’s a drive-by shooting, witnesses won’t come forward,” he said. “There are a lot of innocent people shot and killed, and no witnesses are available to assist the prosecution of these cases.”
Linn agreed that gang violence is a huge problem, and called it a symptom of what’s going on in Madera County.
“Kids need to be in school,” said Linn. “When they’re truant, we need to counsel the parents. No free week off for cutting class; we need to prevent kids from joining gangs.”
In closing, Keitz told the crowd that his reason for seeking the D.A.’s job again is to ensure the public safety and seek justice for the people of Madera County. He said jury trials and conviction rates are up, and that his experience offers the voters the best choice.
“I tell my people ‘this is not about me, and it’s not about you. It’s about being strong on crime,'” said Keitz. “I train the attorneys to do the best case analysis in order to choose the best course of action. My leadership is steering us in the right direction.”
Linn closed by questioning Keitz’s assertions, accusing him of “picking the low-hanging fruit, taking minor crimes and blowing the statute of limitations.” He cited his 40 years of management experience, service in the U.S. Navy and degrees from highly respected law schools as reasons for his being the best candidate for the job.
“I am the best qualified attorney that has ever run for District Attorney of Madera County,” Linn said. “I’m not a coach, I’m a player.”
Speaking last, Neal emphasized her fiscal responsibility and common sense. She also pointed the finger at Keitz for being responsible for low morale in the D.A.’s office, resulting in high turnover.
“I will provide discretion to deputies to rebuild the office,” said Neal. “I know everybody; I know the judges. I’m a team builder and I will be your best choice.”
To learn more about each of these candidates, please follow the links in the opening paragraphs of this article to visit their websites.
To read about the candidates running for Madera County Sheriff, click here.
Click here to read more about the candidates’ views, shared at the D.A. debate in Oakhurst on Feb. 28 .