Of the two men seeking to succeed Gerry Shea as district attorney, we believe Tim Covello, a 21-year veteran of the prosecutor's office, is the stronger candidate. We are confident that Covello — who currently serves as assistant district attorney — can seamlessly transition to the top job.
While much has been made of the fact that most of the deputy district attorneys are backing Dan Dow — and that’s something we weighed as well — we don't believe the decision hinges on which candidate has more endorsements, or even on which one has tried more cases.
We believe it’s about the totality of experience; leadership; judgment; professionalism; and ability to embrace change and innovation. Covello clearly has more knowledge and experience in the day-to-day operations of the District Attorney's Office, including budgeting, administration, managing case loads, supervising employees, and, of course, handling actual prosecutions.
We've watched Covello take on some of the most gut-wrenching and challenging cases not just in San Luis Obispo County, but also in the entire state. He successfully prosecuted all five killers of 15-year-old Dystiny Myers, whose tortured, burned body was stuffed in a bag and dumped in a field.
With John Trice, who is now a Superior Court judge, he prosecuted Rex Krebs, who received the death penalty in 2001 for abducting and murdering two college students.
Covello also has handled embezzlement cases, thefts, vehicular manslaughters, assaults, three-strikes cases and misdemeanors.
In reviewing the wide range of cases, we’ve been struck as well by his reasonable approach and his good judgment. He’s pressed for tough sentences when warranted for heinous crimes, such as the Dystiny Myers case, but in less serious cases with extenuating circumstances, he hasn’t taken a hard-line approach.
Covello also has taken on administrative duties, including supervision of as many as 50 employees. He dealt with budget issues at the worst possible time, when the recession forced drastic cutbacks in all county departments — something he describes as his “trial by fire.”
We’re impressed, too, by his institutional knowledge; he knows which programs have been tried before and he has a strong sense of what the county needs to do to deal with the recurring problems of substance abuse and mental illness. He is calling, for example, for a medical detox facility — something we strongly support.
A few words about Dow: We believe his range of experience in multiple areas — the military, private industry and the District Attorney's Office — is extremely valuable. We want to single out his work in establishing a Veterans Treatment Court here; that’s a commendable achievement and something we strongly support.
It concerns us, however, that Dow, who has been with the San Luis Obispo DA’s office six years, has limited jury trial experience. Dow lacks the depth of experience we look for in a DA.
He has, for example, never tried a death-penalty case or a murder case. Dow points out that although he hasn’t personally handled some types of cases, other prosecutors in the office have done so, and he will be able to draw on their expertise.
“A good commander will ask his staff for solutions,” Dow said at a recent candidates forum. Although we agree, it’s difficult to lead with authority if you lack relevant field experience.
Finally, we believe that Dow showed a serious lack of judgment when he accepted sizable campaign donations from a defense attorney representing a defendant Dow was prosecuting at the time. (Dow later withdrew from the case.) While no election law was violated, we believe there’s a strong appearance of a conflict of interest.
Bottom line: Dow is a dedicated prosecutor, but he is not ready to lead the office at this stage in his career. Covello, on the other hand, has the range of experience — both in office administration and in the courtroom — to take charge.
The Tribune strongly endorses Tim Covello for district attorney.
The election: San Luis Obispo District Attorney
The term: Four years
The candidates: Tim Covello, assistant district attorney; Dan Dow, deputy district attorney
The Tribune Endorses: Tim Covello