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May 18, 2010 > Prosecutors, former Facebook exec define AG's race

Prosecutors, former Facebook exec define AG's race

By Don Thompson, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP), May 14 - Two high-profile prosecutors with established law enforcement careers and a multimillionaire former social networking executive with little courtroom experience dominate a crowd of lawyers competing to become California's next attorney general.

Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley is one of three Republicans seeking the state's top law enforcement post. He is emphasizing his experience in the state's most populous county.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris is running as a reform candidate who says it's time to be smart as well as tough on crime during an era of crowded and underfunded prisons and jails.

Her major challenger in a seven-candidate Democratic field is a political outsider, former Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly, whose primary legal experience is acting as in-house counsel to technology firms. By mid-May, Kelly had poured nearly $10 million of his own money into his campaign.

Kelly, with no prosecution experience himself, has been reminding voters of Harris' reluctance to seek the death penalty and San Francisco's reputation as a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants. Two burgeoning scandals in the city's law enforcement community also have put Harris on the defensive.

``They've failed,'' Kelly said of Harris and other rivals in the race, who he said have contributed to California's deterioration during their time in office. ``I'm ready to take the state in a different direction.''

Voters in the June 8 primary will sort through the 10 candidates to succeed Attorney General Jerry Brown, who is passing on a re-election bid to run for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Democratic political consultant David Townsend, who is not involved in the race, gives the two district attorneys the early edge, particularly Cooley because of his national reputation as a veteran prosecutor. Cooley has recently pursued high-profile prosecutions of fugitive film director Roman Polanski and Michael Jackson's doctor.

``Without any question I'm the most experienced, most qualified and proven - not just as a prosecutor but a law enforcement leader over a long period of time,'' Cooley said.

Meanwhile, his Republican rivals, two conservatives from Orange County, suffered legal setbacks early in their campaigns.

Judges rejected Sen. Tom Harman's attempt to call himself a prosecutor on voter pamphlets, based on an unpaid part-time job with the Orange County district attorney's office. Former Chapman University School of Law dean John Eastman also had his proposed title rejected by the courts. He wanted the label of assistant attorney general based on his work on a single South Dakota case.

Harman, who has served in the Legislature since 2000, is emphasizing his legislative efforts to speed up executions. Eastman touts his experience as a constitutional lawyer. They criticize Cooley for having reservations about portions of Jessica's Law, which targets sex offenders, and California's three-strikes law for repeat felons.

Harris has the most star power among the Democrats. She counts Barbra Streisand, DreamWorks co-founders David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, and actress Reese Witherspoon among campaign contributors.

She has promoted a tough-love approach to truancy, including sponsoring statewide legislation that would let prosecutors fine or jail parents who don't do enough to get their children to school. She also said she would defend the state's landmark 2006 law limiting greenhouse gas emissions, which is the subject of a proposed November ballot initiative seeking to suspend it.

At the same time, Harris is embroiled in two high-profile San Francisco controversies: One involves tainted evidence caused by an employee in the San Francisco police crime lab, while another accuses prosecutors of failing to research and disclose police officers' criminal or disciplinary histories to defense attorneys. Both revelations have led to the dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases and jeopardized thousands more.

Harris said she is properly dealing with the allegations, although she wouldn't respond specifically. She said Kelly's criticism of problems in the crime lab - run independently by the city police department - ``highlights the lack of knowledge or information that he has about how law enforcement really works.''

Five other Democrats - including three termed-out assemblymen - hope the fractured field leads them to the nomination.

Former Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico of Fremont said he would fight, if elected, to guarantee children a better education as a way to deter crime.

Assemblyman Pedro Nava of Santa Barbara found validation for his long fight against offshore oil drilling in this spring's massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill. He wants to bring his commitment to environmental protection to the attorney general's office.

Assemblyman Ted Lieu of Torrance fought for tighter regulation of the mortgage and banking industries after the housing and credit meltdown. More recently, he has been a sharp critic of a new law easing prison and jail sentences and supervision of some convicts.

Lieu expects to split the Southern California vote with former Los Angeles city attorney Rocky Delgadillo. Delgadillo, who lost the Democratic nomination four years ago, said he would bring his experience from eight years in office to the attorney general's office. His innovations include suing street gangs for damages and dispersing prosecutors to school campuses and neighborhoods so they can be closer to the community.

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