4 questions for Covello and Dow, candidates for district attorney

San Luis Obispo - The TribuneMay 3, 2014 

Dan Dow, left, and Tim Covello make their opening statements during a recent public forum for the district attorney candidates at the San Luis Obispo City/County Library.

JOE JOHNSTON Buy Photo

The Tribune asked Tim Covello and Dan Dow, candidates for San Luis Obispo County District Attorney, to answer each of these four questions in 125 words or less.

TERM: 4 years

SALARY: $190,964

Tim Covello

Covello, 52, is Assistant District Attorney with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office, after serving as a deputy district attorney and chief deputy district attorney. He also worked as an attorney with Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro. Covello earned a bachelor’s degree at UC Berkeley and graduated from University of Wisconsin Law School. Registered with no political party affiliation, Covello and his wife, Sue, live in San Luis Obispo. He has two daughters.

Most criminal cases end in plea bargains. What factors should the prosecution consider when negotiating a plea bargain?

The most important considerations when negotiating any plea bargain are public safety and the Constitutional rights of the victims. That means not dismissing serious or violent felony charges or sentencing enhancements, like gang and sex offender registration, unless there is insufficient evidence to prove the charges. Other important considerations are the degree to which the defendant participated in the crime, the defendant’s criminal history or pattern of criminal conduct, and the willingness of the defendant to participate in restorative programs, like drug and alcohol treatment, behavioral therapy, education and/or jobs programs and any programming designed to reduce recidivism.

What two steps should the District Attorney’s Office take to discourage gangs from coming here from Monterey and Santa Barbara counties?

Having served for two years with the Gang Task Force, I know that we must continue to collaborate with the Anti-Gang Coordinating Commission to aggressively prosecute serious and violent gang related crimes. We must send a clear message to gang members coming from other jurisdictions that there will be zero tolerance for serious or violent gang crime in this county. Second, we must work with law enforcement, educators, and other governmental and non-governmental agencies to recognize, and fill gaps in services to at risk youth to divert them away from gangs and look at sentencing alternatives that encourage younger gang members to move to more productive community participation. We need to continue to collaborate through programs like Liberty Tattoo Removal, Restorative Partners and Jails to Jobs.

State realignment has moved some traditional prison populations to county jails. What two steps would you take to deal with jail overcrowding and other realignment issues?

Having supervised the District Attorney’s approach to realignment since the legislation was passed, I know we must reduce plea bargaining and toughen sentencing standards so that criminals who commit serious or violent felonies, and who are state prison eligible, go to state prison and not to county jail where they pose risks to staff, inmates and our community. We must collaborate with law enforcement, government and non-government agencies to increase the use of sentencing alternatives for non-violent crimes. I have been involved in implementing and supervising three treatment courts, starting in 1997 with Drug Court, and most recently Community Intervention Court which addresses homelessness, addiction and mental health. The District Attorney must partner with law enforcement, county agencies and the community to try to reduce recidivism, including through rehabilitation.

What should the office policy be toward the prosecution of marijuana-related offenses?

There can be no single policy toward the prosecution of marijuana offenses, because there are many types of marijuana offenses that require different responses. The combination of the passage of the Compassionate Care Act (Medical Marijuana) and legislation making possession of small amounts an infraction has had the net effect of nearly decriminalizing the possession of small quantities of marijuana and the prosecution of those cases is not the best use of our resources. However, large scale trafficking of marijuana, illegal grows and panga boats are the product of dangerous Mexican drug cartels whose criminal conduct is a threat to our community and must be aggressively prosecuted. In addition, we must aggressively prosecute those who provide marijuana to minors and those who are driving under the influence of marijuana.

Dan Dow

Dow, 43, is a deputy district attorney with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office and previously worked as a deputy district attorney in Riverside County. He served in the Army and is a major in the California Army National Guard. Dow earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, pre-law from California State University Hayward and graduated from Santa Clara University School of Law. He has a Korean Linguistic Certification from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. A Republican, Dow and his wife, Wendy, live in Templeton and have two children.

Most criminal cases end in plea bargains. What factors should the prosecution consider when negotiating a plea bargain?

Plea agreements are not always “bargains” for the defendants. As a prosecutor, we seek the truth and justice. Justice does not demand a trial — and it does not always demand the maximum punishment. A just result can be achieved by a plea agreement in many cases when a defendant is willing to take responsibility for his or her actions. Additionally, victims of crime often appreciate when an offender pleads guilty rather than making the victim testify in open court. Factors that should be considered include: seriousness of the offense; motive to commit the crime; criminal history; prior performance on probation or parole; effect of a trial on the victim; whether the individual is willing to accept responsibility for his or her actions; whether the individual may respond favorably to probation or rehabilitation.

What two steps should the District Attorney’s Office take to discourage gangs from coming here from Monterey and Santa Barbara counties?

When gangs increase their territory, violence and drug trafficking follow. First, we must reaffirm our commitment to the Gang Task Force (GTF) and send additional law enforcement professionals to gang specific training. Secondly, train each patrol deputy and patrol officer on basic gang identification and documentation techniques. Charge these women and men with completing Field Identification cards to document gang members and gang related activity. Funnel this information to the GTF. If we do not have evidence of gang activity in a case, we cannot prove the 10-year in prison gang enhancement. We must send a strong message that the county will aggressively prosecute gang crimes. Finally, I will conduct Town Hall meetings with law enforcement agencies to educate our community on how to identify and report gang activity.

State realignment has moved some traditional prison populations to county jails. What two steps would you take to deal with jail overcrowding and other realignment issues?

This is perhaps the largest single issue facing each of the 58 County District Attorneys. First, I will collaborate with Sheriff Parkinson, the Probation Department, the Court, and the Community Corrections Partnership to implement new ideas like Veterans Treatment Court as an alternative to filling our County Jail with non-violent, non-sex offender population. We should consider expanding work release programs to allow low-risk offenders to keep their jobs by day and serve their time in a low security facility at night. (possibly use Camp San Luis Obispo barracks buildings). Secondly, expand our DA diversion program for low level offenses like drunk in public, marijuana possession, and disorderly crimes for first-time and youthful offenders. Encourage an intensive residential drug and alcohol treatment facility to locate in or near our County.

What should the office policy be toward the prosecution of marijuana-related offenses?

I am running for District Attorney in large part to protect our children from the rise in gang crimes and the horrors of hard drug use like heroin. Marijuana is not the major drug problem in our county. However, marijuana is often a gateway drug. Recently we have witnessed Heroin, OxyContin and Methamphetamine use destroying young lives and robbing futures. While I am District Attorney, there will be no special deals for drug dealers who push drugs on our youth. I will work to educate teens and young adults about the perils of drug use while prosecuting those who break the law. As DA, I will utilize both jail and rehabilitation to make sure San Luis Obispo will not be a center for the proliferation of drugs that destroy lives.

The Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service