DA’s Office Scorched in Grand Jury Report

     RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CN) – A grand jury report found that Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco’s authoritarian management style has created an intimidating climate for prosecutors, who are denied the right to manage and make decisions about their own cases. The report found “a pervasive climate of fear and intimidation.”

     The report says Pacheco discourages settlements, despite an official policy that encourages it. It says prosecutors refuse legitimate settlement opportunities because of fear of retaliation and the widespread belief that convictions lead to promotions.
     The May 20 report, put together by a jury of 19 Riverside residents, revealed a tense atmosphere for prosecutors since Pacheco took over on Jan. 1, 2007.
     Current and former prosecutors say that Pacheco’s rigid management style made them fear demotion or reassignment if they express a difference of opinion with supervisors, particularly when it comes to negotiating case settlements.
     “Too many decisions are made from the top down over there, that is for sure,” Riverside County’s former Supervising Deputy District Attorney Brian Sussman said in a telephone interview. “But some of the fear in that office is self-generated. It should not all be blamed on Pacheco.”
     Current and former prosecutors told the grand jury that “they must get approval for everything,” according to the report. Supervisors refuse to make decisions, which forces issues up the chain of command, clogging an already overburdened court system. “Witnesses reported that one reason for case dismissals was delays in the decision-making process,” according to the report.
     Riverside County is the fourth-largest in the state, by population, and has the third-largest DA’s Office. Its budget for FY 2008-09 is $106.6 million, for an office of 896 employees, 278 of them attorneys.
     In 2007, the Judicial Council of California found that the county’s criminal case backlog was among the worst in the state. However, the office has the second-highest conviction rate in the state and successfully pursued four gang injunction lawsuits.
     The DA’s Office responded to the report with a statement saying that the grand jury’s findings are either false or that it misunderstood the situations.
     The report comes as the county’s executive office is seeking $6.7 million in cuts to the DA’s Office budget because of a projected $130 million county revenue shortfall for the next fiscal year.
     One study has indicated that for Riverside to have more efficient courts, it needs another 50 judges and court commissioners on the bench.
     A judicial strike force dispatched in 2007 to help with the overflowing case load cited Pacheco’s restrictive policy on plea bargaining as one reason for court congestion.
     The county also has a historically low violent crime rate – 395.2 crimes per 100,000 residents.

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