Editor’s Note: This article introduces Mike Hestrin with some biographical data and general reasons why he says he is in the Riverside County district attorney race. A subsequent article will present both Hestrin’s and opponent Zellerbach’s answers to questions drawn up by News Editor J.P. Crumrine and Correspondent Marshall Smith.
Hestrin, 15-year prosecutor with the Riverside County DA’s office, is running to unseat his boss, current District Attorney Paul Zellerbach. Zellerbach, a former judge, has only served one term, but Hestrin believes it’s time for Zellerbach to go.
Hestrin has deep roots in Riverside County’s Coachella Valley. He was born there. His Dad was a Palm Springs police officer and his Mom worked at a local children’s hospital. His parents married at the Banning court house. “That was the same courthouse where I began my practice as a new deputy DA,” said Hestrin.
He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona and a master’s, as well as a law degree, from Stanford University. He proudly states that he has held only one job since law school — his current one. “I have always sought justice on behalf of our community and crime victims through compassion, hard work, sound judgment and uncompromised integrity,” said Hestrin.
But he says he is running because he believes Zellerbach has tarnished the morale of the DA’s office and has been disingenuous in discussing crime in Riverside County, specifically the early release of prisoners after short jail sentences and the effect it is having on public safety in the county. “As a result of my opponent’s policies, thousands of serious criminals are being released into our communities year after year, resulting in an unprecedented crime wave in our county,” he said.
“The district attorney is the chief law enforcement officer in Riverside County and it is his job to do the right thing for the right reason every time,” said Hestrin. “Zellerbach makes law enforcement decisions based on politics. His friends get special treatment in our office.” Hestrin alleged Zellerbach has compounded crime problems by releasing more criminals from jail onto the streets than any other California county DA. “We must go back to a better [departmental] legacy,” said Hestrin. “We’ve lost focus on public safety and our mission of serving the public must by restored. The district attorney’s ethics must be beyond reproach, and politics and friendships cannot influence policy.”
Hestrin, in challenging the ethics and administrative competency of the current DA, is making a case similar to the one Zellerbach made against former DA Rod Pacheco. The question will be whether county voters resonate soundly enough with Hestrin’s charges and with his proposed solutions to oust Zellerbach.
And Hestrin does have solutions, some that are outside the conventional mainstream, and they will be reviewed in the next article, in which both he and Zellerbach respond to the same questions.
Hestrin won numerous awards since becoming a deputy DA: 1999 Misdemeanor Prosecutor of the Year; 2000 Felony Prosecutor of the Year; and County Prosecutor of the Year in 2003, 2005 and 2010. In 2008, the lead California legal journal, “The Daily Journal,” named Hestrin one of the Top 20 Lawyers in California. In 2009 he was honored as Statewide Prosecutor of the Year and in 2010, the California District Attorneys Association recognized him as Outstanding Prosecutor for California. He served as the Trial Team Leader for the DA’s Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit, prosecuting those who targeted and abused children. He also served as lead prosecutor in People v. Raymond Lee Oyler, the trial of serial arsonist Oyler convicted of setting the 2006 Esperanza Fire that killed five local U.S. Forest Service firefighters.
While an adjunct professor for the last 10 years at Azuza Pacific University, Hestrin mentored college students interested in attending law school and specifically worked with the Latino student organizations to encourage Latino student to consider attending law school. For the last six years, he has served as president or vice president of the Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Association.
Endorsed by the Desert Sun, Hestrin has also received the support of the Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Association, the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, and police officers associations in Riverside, Beaumont, Blythe, Cathedral City, Corona, Hemet, Indio, Murietta and Palm Springs.