photo courtesy of mike hestrin
photo courtesy of mike hestrin

Mike Hestrin, 15-year prosecutor with the Riverside County district attorney’s office, is running to improve and restore the once-impeccable legacy of his department, he said. Hestin, a Stanford law graduate, proudly touts that he has held only one job since college and that his life has been this department. “As a career professional in law enforcement, the key responsibility is protecting public safety. As DA I will do the right thing for the right reasons, every time,” he said.

He criticized his opponent for making the DA’s office more open for consideration to friends and contributors of Zellerbach, something he said he would not do. “The DA’s office just deals with all on a fair basis. We must go back to a better legacy and get our sense of mission back. The DA’s ethics must be beyond reproach.”

He faults Zellerbach for adopting split sentences that wind up putting inmates who have served relatively short sentences back on the street with some form of supervision. Split sentencing, he said, leads to recidivism, more crime and rising county crime statistics, something he said Zellerbach does not accurately acknowledge and won’t address.

“The problem is the current DA sentencing policy, which keeps impacting, rather than alleviating, jail space issues,” he said.

“If elected, what I would do regarding a sentencing policy and reducing the impact on jail-bed availability is to prioritize crimes. Certain serious crimes should be fast-tracked to state prison or plea-bargained quickly so those convicted don’t take county jail space while awaiting sentencing. Certain cases [that could be fast-tracked] can wind up two to three years in county jail.”

Hestrin also said redefining low-level offenders into two categories, based on degree of risk, would help determine sentencing and whether prison or jail. High risk would include drug dealers, car thieves and burglars. Low would be petty theft and first offenders. Hestrin said he would make more use of work release. Riffing again on the split sentencing as practiced under the Zellerbach administration, Hestrin said, “One size fits all does not work. It’s a dishonest way to practice law.”

He said jail space is an ongoing problem and won’t be solved without more enlightened sentencing and the years to increase prison infrastructure.

Part of the root problem of growing criminal activity, he said, is the disconnect between law enforcement and community members. Just as crime can be reduced through community policing by the Sheriff’s Department, Hestrin believes community intervention and involvement by the DA’s office can educate and assist community members about paths to take other than a criminal one.

“It’s been done in other countries and other parts of this country. I will ask all 250 lawyers in the department to do six hours of community service a month, at no cost to taxpayers, using grants and private sources, to interact with the community to help reduce crime.” He suggested, as examples, afterschool programs for at-risk youth, and more visibility and presence in the community to provide direction and answer questions.

Asked whether the Brown Act is still important in government, Hestrin said, “Of course. It needs to be enforced. I have been dismayed at the level of political corruption in this county, both petty and serious. People in power must live under the laws if you’re and elected official.” Hestrin said he’d revamp the county public-corruption unit to give it independence. “It’s inappropriate for a man fresh from an election to be conducting the investigation,” he said.

Hestrin returned to the issues of ethics and departmental transparency. “It’s important to meet regularly with the public, to inform them of what we’re doing, ask them how we’re doing and how far along we are in achieving what we set out to do.” In that way, he noted, the public can apply political pressure to those who make the funding decisions. It also allows the public to understand the workings of the department and to offer input on issues of concern to them.