Michael Hestrin, Riverside County district attorney.
Photo courtesy Tobin Holmes

Mike Hestrin is the incumbent Riverside County district attorney. He was elected in June 2014 and sworn into office on Jan. 5, 2015. Prior to his campaign for DA, he served 20 years in the DA’s office as a prosecutor.

Several times selected as Countywide Prosecutor of the Year for Riverside County. Among the criminal cases for which he was prosecutor was the 2009 conviction of Raymond Oyler for arson, starting the 2006 Esperanza Fire and arson murder because five U.S. Forest Service firefighters died during the fire.

Hestrin is being challenged and incumbent RC DAs have been vulnerable in the 21st century. In 2014, Hestrin challenged the incumbent District Attorney Paul Zellerbach, a former judge, and won. In 2010, Zellerbach had upset then-incumbent DA Rod Pacheco.

But 2018 does not feel similar to Hestrin. Describing the difference, he said, “It’s night and day, very different. First of all, I was the challenger. I was campaigning for 18 months to two years.” Lara Gressley, Hestrin’s opponent, only announced her candidacy in January. But he was not surprised that someone else chose to run.

When asked what he is most proud of during his term, Hestrin quickly mentioned two taskforces, which he characterized as bookends. First, he discussed the Gang Impact Team and then pointed proudly to the revival of the Crime Prevention Unit.

The GIT focuses on drug and gun cases. Its success has gotten support form the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as several city police departments in the county.

“They are doing amazing work,” Hestrin said. “It’s an incredible spirit of collaboration — federal, state and local agencies.”

In December, after four months of investigation, the GIT arrested 11 members of the Gateway Posse Crips in Palm Springs and was granted search warrants for others.

This effort followed the June 2017 arrest of nearly 50 individuals in the Hemet and San Jacinto areas. The arrests involved a variety of charges, from weapons to drug-related activities.

The CPU works mainly with youth. He said, “We’re trying to keep them from crime. All the school districts participate.”

Twelve attorneys are involved. Their efforts go well beyond threatening and frightening youth about future jail and incarceration. Literacy and the value of education are the focus.

“The results are good. The number of juvenile felonies have dropped 46 percent in the last four years,” Hestrin said proudly. “Our office has a very important role to play in youth programs. A powerful prosecutor can help youth that could be incarcerated.”

Going forward, if re-elected, Hestrin plans to use these task-force models in other areas. For example, sexual-assault crimes will become a focus.

Also, he is working with the RC Office of Education to create a secondary military school for youth who drop out of local high schools.

“If we can keep kids in school, then we don’t have a need to prosecute,” he explained.

Becoming the DA was a new experience for Hestrin. When he took office, the DA’s budget had a $19.6-million deficit. During his three-and-a-half years, this has been reduced to a few million. But it has taken a toll, he admitted.

“We’re very under resourced,” he stated. “The number of attorneys, the investigative technicians, everybody is way over worked.”

But Hestrin believes he has a good working relationship with the RC Board of Supervisors. “It’s been good, but these are tough budget times.”

In contrast with the Riverside Sheriff’s Association, whose members are deputies supporting a challenge to the current sheriff, the RC Deputy District Attorney Association overwhelming voted to endorse Hestrin. But that vote did occur in August.

“While we do not agree on every issue,” said Association President Jon Brandon in a press release, “Mike Hestrin has forged a partnership with RCDDAA that is based on open communication and innovative problem solving that is vital to accomplishing our mission of service to Riverside County.”

And since Gressley’s announcement, the RCDDAA has contributed more than $25,000 to the Hestrin campaign.

“The morale is high and they support what we’re doing,” he said.

In some form, all of the DA office employees are members of formal union or professional associations. He meets with all and tries to keep his door open to encourage discussion, even if they don’t fully agree on all policies.

While he enjoys the role of DA, Hestrin admitted that he misses being in the courtroom. “I truly loved what I did,” he stated. “What got me up every morning was prosecuting … I miss the judges, the court staff, even the defense attorneys. It was two decades of my life.”

Hestrin is a native Californian, born in the Coachella Valley. He, his wife and children now live in Murrieta.