While both candidates for District Attorney seemed to agree on many of the issues the county‘s next top prosecutor will face, they sparred from the get-go during a public forum Wednesday, suggesting that an already hotly-contested campaign is going to get even more heated.
During a forum sponsored by the Latino Outreach Council at the county government center, Assistant District Attorney Tim Covello quickly mentioned an e-mail that his opponent, Deputy District Attorney Dan Dow, sent him Sunday.
In Dow’s e-mail, which Covello partly read, Dow criticized Covello for taking campaign funds from a man Dow had prosecuted for DUI. Dow suggested that the contribution could hurt Covello’s reputation.
“I would rather not have this become an issue in a campaign involving the press,” Dow wrote, suggesting Covello return the money. “If left unaddressed, I am sure that it will become an issue.”
Covello, suggesting Dow was being overly political, told the audience, “That’s not the kind of conduct a District Attorney should engage in.”
“Integrity matters,” Dow fired back. “I will not accept any money from a defendant he (Covello) prosecuted.”
The two candidates also sparred over the county Veterans Treatment Court, which Dow spearheaded, as well as the support Dow has received from his fellow deputy district attorneys.
Covello credited Dow with leading the effort to create the Veterans Treatment Court and said that he and current District Attorney Gerry Shea have long supported the program, which offers alternatives for military veterans who have committed crimes that might be related to service-related psychological issues.
Covello said that he had supervised the court once it was created.
“What you just heard was a huge flip-flop,” Dow said. “From day one, they fought it.”
When he pushed for the court, Dow said, Covello was skeptical, not supportive.
“That is a bald-faced lie,” Dow said. “He’s telling you that he’s for it because he’s suddenly a candidate for District Attorney.”
Covello said he’d never been called a liar in 21 years as a prosecutor here. Dow, “who’s tried a felony or two and plea bargained the rest of his cases,” was making the race political, Covello said, “and saying what he thinks he needs to say.”
Dow said he has the support of every deputy district attorney who has made an endorsement, which will help him lead the office.
“They looked at me and said, ‘There’s one person that’s a leader,’ ” he said. “Leadership matters. Style matters.”
Covello countered that the Office of the District Attorney has 100 employees, far more than just the 23 deputy DAs.
“I made the same mistake,” Covello said. “When I was a deputy, I thought, ‘We’re it.’”
Still, the deputies apparently have confidence in him, Covello added, since they haven’t hesitated to ask him for help on complex legal issues or when they faced misconduct allegations.
The discussion also pointed to areas of agreement between the candidates. Both said that gangs needed to be addressed by law enforcement and the courts. Dow said police officers and deputies on the streets needed to be trained to identify gang members, so prosecutors can add gang enhancements to their charges.
They also agreed that treatment courts are more important now that prison overcrowding has caused the state to keep more convicts in county jails.
Covello said the District Attorney’s office needs to collaborate with other agencies, such as the county probation and sheriff’s departments, to seek grants for more treatment programs.
Dow told the audience that fighting drug crime was a priority for him. “Heroin is killing our youth,” he said. “There will be no special deals for people dealing hard drugs to our youth as long as I’m District Attorney.”
In speaking about death penalty cases, both said the decision to pursue capital punishment should be made by a group of prosecutors.
When he co-prosecuted the Rex Krebs double murder case in 2001, Covello said, most people in the office felt that pursuing a death penalty was a given. But he actually made the case against it within the office.
“I did the devil’s advocacy in that case,” he said, although he believed that Krebs was rightly sentenced to death.