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District Attorney Debate Draws Full House In North Fork

NORTH FORK – Interest in the 2018 election is running high, as was evidenced by the packed house at the North Fork Town Hall debate last Friday between the candidates for Madera County District Attorney and District 5 Supervisor.

North Fork Citizen of the Year Tom Burdette moderated the debate, which was hosted by Sierra News Online and the North Fork Boosters.

Incumbent David Linn and challengers Sally Moreno and Paul Hornick engaged in a lively debate on the challenges and problems at the D.A.’s Office.

Here is a recap of the discourse between District Attorney candidates. (For the Supervisor’s debate, click here.)

With the frequency of DUI crashes on mountain roads, David Linn was asked what his office is doing to make sure those offenders are vigorously prosecuted.

“I have opened a mountain District Attorney office, and appointed a full-time investigator and part-time Deputy District Attorney in that office, along with my special DUI Deputy District Attorney. We have been training the Highway Patrol on new procedures to be invoked, particularly due to the fact that marijuana is now legal in California. There’s a whole different set of parameters we need to use when people are stopped who are under the influence of a drug as opposed to alcohol, and we work to ensure that drunk drivers are vigorously pursued and prosecuted. A number of individuals have been convicted of DUI and sent to state prison or to jail. Drunk drivers in Madera County are aware that we don’t make deals with them, we send them to jail and for that reason I believe the number of drunk drivers in our county has decreased.”

Paul Hornick made the point that the D.A’s Office recently lost a grant to prosecute DUI offenders “due a failure in leadership. There were hundreds of DUI cases that were not being filed in a timely manner and as a result, we lost that grant. At one point that grant funded the entire position of a DUI prosecutor. And now that position is being funded by the people in this room. I’ll work to bring that grant back and to expand the scope of our DUI prosecutions. One of the things that has been really helpful has been to do ride-alongs with CHP to see what they encounter.”

Sally Moreno noted that there is a way to prosecute DUI drivers for murder.

“It has to do with showing that they knew the dangerousness of their act and if they did drive drunk and kill somebody, they can be charged with murder. I know this because I had three of those cases last year. Two were convicted to 15-years-to-life, and after seeing those results, the third one walked in and pled guilty. As a prior law enforcement officer I’ve been out on the street, and I’ve seen how we do these DUI arrests. I’m also familiar with the grant that we had when I was here. We also had a case where the woman had a DUI ten months prior that had not been prosecuted. Had that case gone to trial, she could have been tried for murder in the second case.”

Hornick was hired by David Linn, and was asked why he is now running against him.

“I was approached by law enforcement,” said Hornick. “I was approached by others in my office, by members of the community, and by my peers. They looked at both other options and quite frankly couldn’t support either one. Came to me and asked me to step up and show leadership. Running against your boss from inside the office is a very uniquely difficult thing. Linn is still my boss, and he has a significant impact on my daily life and what happens. When I was asked to step up, I was hesitant, but change in leadership is needed, and that’s what I represent. Financially it was a difficult decision as well. I’m almost 100 percent solo financed. I’m spending about $48,000 of my personal and family money, but I looked at all the factors and decided that the people of Madera County deserve a lot better. If you elect me I will do all I can to make this an office folks in this county are proud of.”

Moreno said she left 2 ½ years ago because she was unable to work in the office under Linn’s direction.

“When I left, I went to Fresno and got some amazing training and experience. I knew the Madera County D.A.’s Office was in shambles, but Madera is my home, and Madera deserves better. It deserves a career prosecutor who understands California criminal law and who has practiced it for over 20 years. Once Linn accidentally hit “reply all” on an email that said, ‘don’t let Moreno touch anything; I want her out of the office.’ He took away my homicide cases, and treated those who associated with me badly. I wasn’t allowed to supervise; I had no cases. For that reason I went to Fresno, went to homicide team, and learned how a well-functioning office works. The job of the District Attorney’s Office is taking care of victims; making the community safe.”

Linn responded that his 3 ½ years in the Madera County District Attorney’s office “have been the most successful in the history of that office.

“We lost the DUI grant because we were cycled out, which neither of these two individuals understand because they have never been in management within a county. Ben Levy is now one of the best DUI prosecutors in California. As recently as seven days ago we had a plea on a double fatality put the individual in state prison. They were so concerned that our record is so stellar on DUI convictions that they didn’t want to go to trial, and worked out a deal and they’ll spend a lot of time in state prison. Madera County sends more people to state prison percentage-wise than any other county in the state of California. Paul doesn’t do that; sally didn’t do that; we’re doing that right now.”

Moreno was asked about how the YLP arson case was charged and why those two individuals were eligible for release last year.

“Charging is an often-overlooked and very important part of how we do cases. In the YLP arson case, we charged everything we could have charged. When Prop 57 passed – which nobody could have anticipated – those individuals became eligible for parole. Even though David Linn and I aren’t best of friends, I came back and worked with him in YLP to collect signatures to ensure those two individuals were not released. But that wasn’t sufficient for me. Even though I work in Fresno, I live in Madera and Madera is my home. So I went to work with the District Attorney in Sacramento, and with Cal Fire, on Keeping California Safe – to add serial arson to the list of crimes that aren’t eligible for early parole.”

“I did keep the arsonist in jail only another year,” Lin responded. “The reason they were eligible for parole was that she didn’t charge them appropriately. She went for the low-hanging fruit instead of going for aggravated arson. I’ve discussed with Cal Fire and they said blew it when she charged the case. As a result they may get out of jail next year. And she’s been accused of suppressing evidence in the case, a serious charge that’s before the appeals court in Fresno, and a ruling is expected to come down next month. The arsonists will walk out free, and Moreno will lose her bar license.”

Hornick agreed that the case could have been charged differently.

“The bigger issue is upholding convictions once they happen. She has been accused of prosecutorial misconduct in that she had evidence in her possession, and we may now have to do this six-month trial all over again. I see a real lack of detail in Moreno’s cases. They come back to the office. Moreno tried a heinous murder case, but evidence kept out. The defendant didn’t get a fair trail, and now we have to do it all over again. She has twice been suspended for failing to comply with State Bar rules.”

Homelessness is a problem both in the Valley and in the mountain area. Linn was asked how his office is handling prosecutions against homeless people in Madera County.

“As aggressively as we can,” he said. “The problem is the laws involving homeless are very thin, and courts are very lenient on homeless. We are aggressively prosecuting, under existing law, but the most law enforcement can do is site and release; basically give a citation which says ‘I promise to appear in court.’ Yeah some guy living in a riverbed is going to show up in court. Ain’t gonna happen. We’re doing the best we can under existing law. I wish we could take them off streets, work with them and hospitalize them. We’re into the second generation of major drug use, and all the major crimes are based upon drugs and drug sales. All five murders in my term were based on drugs and drug sales.”

Hornick said this is an issue he deals with regularly – almost every day in court.

“The problem is we do prosecute, but it’s not a crime to be homeless. It’s when they’re committing crimes like stealing, camping at the river, shoplifting. Many mentally ill people are not able to function properly. In Madera County we have a Behavioral Health Court, and Judge Blea does a fantastic job connecting them with agencies and assistance to get their lives back together to a certain degree. I support that and will continue to. I would like to form a homeless task force, and have a prosecutor assigned to deal with homeless people. Have a police officer or sergeant on that force, someone from Behavior Health Services, and the Housing Authority. We need to help get these people off the streets, help them turn a corner, and start getting back into a productive lifestyle; paying taxes and being successful.”

Moreno responded that she was the person who worked with Judge Blea to get the Behavior Health Court started.

“It is a step in the right direction,” she said. “Communities all over the state are dealing with the problem of people diagnosed with serious mental health issues. It’s the fallout from Prop 47, which made all our drug felonies into misdemeanors. It’s made it much harder to prosecute. Eastern Madera County is different from the Valley. The District Attorney needs to act as a leader to get all the people to the table to start looking at all the solutions that are available. Look at solutions from other areas; look at the problem as it exists.”

The backlog of unfiled cases has been an issue raised by both challengers to Linn, who raised it himself when he ran against his predecessor in 2014. Hornick said it remains a massive problem.

“There is a tremendous backlog in the office,” said Hornick. “I try to do my administrative work starting about 4:30, 5:00 in the morning before I get into the office. I was filing cases last week that are from last year. Linn promised to fix that. It has not been fixed. There are stacks and stacks on shelves. There is one person who could actually be slotted in to help. Unfortunately she’s only allowed to work for Mr. Linn. She does his personal stuff; she’s his secretary. I wouldn’t have a secretary. I don’t feel that’s a good use of County resources.I would have her assist and work to tag team this project and process all these backlogged cases.”

Moreno said she had a great opportunity to see how they do this in Fresno, and that the attorneys do most of this work themselves.

“The Madera County office is way behind technologically. There’s no use of WiFi, there’s no use of paperless filing, there’s no electronic filing. I’m familiar with all those processes and how to get them going. I’m also familiar with the IT people in Madera County and we can work together. By streamlining all this electronically, we can speed up filing, get through stuff more quickly, and bring Madera County into the 21st century.”

Linn then accused Hornick of lying, and said his secretary doesn’t work exclusively for him, and blamed Moreno for some of the backup.

“When I took over the office we were 2 ½ years behind in filing; now we’re six months behind,” said Linn. “Granted it’s not good to be six months behind. But we haven’t gone over the statue of limitations except for the cases Sally left behind. We’re scheduled to go paperless in October this year, and that will solve the backlog.”

When asked about the major challenges in the District Attorney’s Office, Moreno pointed to the lack of mentoring provided to the “cadre of very good young lawyers in office.”

“These lawyers have six to eight years experience, and have never had good solid leadership. They’ve had people who have not treated them well. But now they’re afraid I’m going to ask them to work hard. And I am. I have faith; I know them. I worked with them as a first-line leader, and I know what they’re capable of. My first concern is backlog. The district attorney before Linn had HR issues and problems. Once we have leadership, we can focus on serious and violent criminals, get cases filed, and make Madera County safer.”

Linn said he didn’t understand Moreno’s thinking

“She said she wants to concentrate on misdemeanors; she wants to concentrate on felonies. She’s gotta decide which way she’s going to go. I agree that we have a number of extremely good young attorneys in the office who are doing a good job. And less experience attorneys like Paul trying cases because we have a strong leadership structure. The office is exactly where it needs to be. We don’t need a constant turnover in leadership. I believe we should continue down the path we’re currently going down now.”

“The office is like the 70s,” Hornick responded. “The public library has more technology than we have. We don’t even have bar codes on our files. When we can find a file, we have a system of two ladies. They walk around the office looking for those files. And when these ladies can’t find the files, they actually recruit two other ladies to walk around and go look in more offices. It’s really shameful. I really take exception with the leadership issue here. Ms. Moreno was a supervisor in the office. She left to go work for the people of Fresno County and go do something she wanted to do. Leaders aren’t people who leave when they face adversity; they’re people who step up and try to make a change. Which is why I’m in this race. I’ve been asked to run. She left us; abandoned ship. I will run a normal, professional office. The way it should be. It will be an office people can be proud of and it will be in the news for the right reasons.”

One major complaint Linn had about his predecessor was that he didn’t carry a case load himself. Linn was asked about his own case load, and how much time he actually spends in court.

“My case load is significantly larger than my predecessor,” said Linn. “I barely made it here today, and I’m frequently in court all day long. But you can’t run the D.A.’s office and be in court all day. I do handle all arson cases from start to finish. I do cases in Veteran’s Court, generally about 40 cases a week. I fill in in other courts like Bass Lake, and spend 40 – 45 percent of my time in court. The D.A. is the chief prosecutor. They also have to hire the proper people, ensure proper equipment, and try to work in a building where we might suffocate because of the asbestos fumes. The building was condemned in 1929. I’ve increased staffing by seven, and investigators by five.”

“Where to start?” replied Hornick. “How much time does he spend in court? Based on my experience, very little. As for his case load, he did at one point charge cases with Fish and Game. They won’t even come to our office anymore because he’s been so rude and disrespectful to these folks. Veterans Court is valuable, and I will maintain it. I’m a veteran. I spent four years on active duty and am currently an Army Reservist. But that’s a treatment court. Those attorneys aren’t going to contested hearings, they’re not trying cases, they’re not arguing motions; that’s not a real case load. It’s certainly not what we do or what I do – appearing in court daily. Every day I go to court with a 50 lb. box of cases, so it’s not comparable.”

At this point Hornick reminded the crowd of the claim filed against Madera County by Linn and his wife totaling $15 million, saying they “suffered damages as a result of the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and assault, defamation, liable [sic] and slander” due to the handling of his censure by the Board of Supervisors. Linn was accused by an employee of creating a hostile work environment and using racially offensive and sexually inappropriate language.

“Keep in mind that Mr. Linn is the same person here who’s asking for $15 million of your taxpayer money,” said Hornick. “That breaks down to $100 per every man woman and child in this county, or $280 per voter. He wants your vote and your money; I just want your vote.”

(Note: Linn informed debate organizers that he would not be answering questions about his investigation into the Board of Supervisors, on advice from the California Attorney General’s Office. The case was passed on to the AG due to a cited conflict of interest.)

“I’m not a politician, I’m a prosecutor,” said Moreno in response to questions about Linn’s case load. “I went to law school to be in a courtroom. I’ve tried dozens of cases and I haven’t won them all. Linn spoke a lot about his win rate. But if you always win, it means you’re not trying cases that are out on the edge, it means you’re pleading all those cases where there’s some wiggle room. It means you’re not testing your skills and growing as a prosecutor. That’s what I’ll help these young lawyers to do. No one on this dais has ever tried a homicide case; I’ve tried over a dozen. I love tying cases, I live to try cases.”

Each candidate was asked to talk about how their experience in the military would be brought to bear on the position of District Attorney, and to describe their leadership philosophy and management skills.

“I would absolutely lead by example,” said Hornick. “I went through Officer Candidate School, and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. I served as a platoon leader and as a battalion. I was a lawyer in the army, was responsible for soldiers, and spent significant time in the field. That leadership time was crucial in my development as a person. You don’t expect people to do things you’re not willing to do. You don’t abandon your position when the ship’s going down. A leader steps up and faces down adversity. Having experience is great, but having good experience is more important. Some of these endorsements occurred before I even got in the race. I never had a chance to speak with these folks, and I think if I had, things would be different.”

Moreno, also an Army veteran, talked about her service as a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, and as an officer in the Army Military Police Corps.

“I was a headquarters company commander, leading 100 people taking care of pay, training, budgeting, and HR for all those people. I have the skills. How can you teach skills you don’t have? I’ve also been a trial attorney for 20 years.”

“Everybody’s a veteran,” replied Linn. “I don’t know where these veterans came from, but I’ve done a bit of checking on them. Hornick spent a good portion of his time as a Judge Advocate. That’s why I hired him. Sally was a port security officer during Desert Storm. Neither of these two individuals ever seen combat. I have. I carry the scars and I know what it’s like to lead individuals into battle; that’s what we do every day. As for staffing, the D.A.’s Office has lost only two people over the last year. We have a stable staff, and I believe an outstanding staff. I don’t know why Sally’s always hanging around the courts. I don’t think she has any job duties.”

In closing, each candidate spoke to why they are the best person for the job.

“Anybody know what it feels like to be a piñata?” asked Linn. “It’s hard to be the incumbent. These people are saying, ‘Oh yeah, you didn’t do this, and you didn’t do that.’ They’re saying what they want to do. I made Bass Lake a full-time court, started the juvenile arsonist program – and we haven’t had any true arsons since, in case you haven’t noticed – and opened a mountain District Attorney’s Office. As for Fish and Game, I got tired taxpayers paying for their program where they dress a wheelbarrow up to look like a deer and put a little horn on it, and pay two Fish and Game guys to sit and watch it for a couple days. And if some little kid shoots at it – he loses his hunting license. I don’t like that program and even though they told me I had to charge those cases, I looked at the law and I will not charge them, and I told them I will not charge them. I’ve hired five new prosecutors, five new investigators, I carry a case load, I am working intensely with CHP to prosecute drunk drivers, I am computerizing the office, and I am building a new District Attorney’s office.”

“There’s a clear distinction here,” replied Hornick. “You can go backwards with the two individuals sitting here, or you can move forward with real leadership, which I represent. This is a hiring situation, and all of you here in this room are part of that decision. You are about to hire someone for this position which is a critically important government office in this county. When making a hiring decision, I think it’s really important to base it on the three C’s – character, competence, and chemistry. I believe I’ve demonstrated a lifetime of character. I’m a career prosecutor. I’ve prosecuted cases in Florida and California, and I’ve prosecuted cases on behalf of the U.S. Army. I’ve demonstrated character by stepping up to this challenge. I’ve demonstrated it by raising my right hand and testifying truthfully about what’s going on in the D.A.’s office. I’ve demonstrated competence; I’ve passed two Bar Exams. I prosecuted the George Taylor-Windsor homicide case here in Bass Lake. He’s now doing over 30 years in prison. And I’ve demonstrated chemistry. I am the only candidate where the people inside the office – the actual prosecutors who work there daily – want me. They want me to run this as a professional office, and they know I will. Why would anyone want to take over an office that you’re not wanted in, and how effective would you be?”

Moreno had the final word of the evening on why she’s running for this office.

“The D.A.’s Office has been in a leadership struggle for last four years. Mr. Linn is not around the office much, and it’s very hard for new young lawyers when nobody watching you, to do the right thing every time. It’s very hard when nobody’s paying attention to your cases because management isn’t around to hold your own feet to the fire at times. I have more faith in those young lawyers than they have in themselves. They didn’t join because they wanted an easy job. They joined because they wanted to keep Madera County safe. Mr. Hornick has practiced civil law and JAG law and other kinds of law. Mr. Linn has also practiced other kinds of law. I’m a career prosecutor. That’s what I want to do and I’ve got good ideas for embedding prosecutors in your community to make sure you have someone who understands your problems. Sheriff Jay Varney, the Deputy Sheriffs Association, Probation – they could have all withdrawn their endorsements. But they didn’t because they know who’s best for Madera County.”

The primary election will be held on Tuesday June 5. For information on the new voting process, click here.

To read about the debate between the candidates for District 5 Supervisor, click here.

For more information on the candidates, visit their websites:

http://sally4da.com

https://www.hornick4da.com

http://www.dalinn.info/home

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