May 02, 2018
Big Shoes to Fill at the District Attorney’s Office
May 02, 2018
By Thomas S. Brown
This month’s Marin Lawyer focuses on the upcoming election for the Marin County District Attorney’s Office. As of press time, the MCBA was preparing to host a District Attorney Candidates Forum and several other election events were scheduled to allow the Marin community to get to know the candidates. This local race is turning into one of the most watched and interesting items on this year’s June ballot.
Reflecting on the election, I am reminded of my time in the District Attorney’s Office. I began as a young prosecutor with Jerry Herman as the District Attorney. Jerry was an institution when I joined the office in 1997 as he had been reelected as DA for four different terms, serving from 1978 to March 1998, when he stepped down prior to the end of his term. Chief Assistant District Attorney Michael Gridley (or MAG) was then appointed to serve as DA for the remainder of Jerry’s term. When Mike announced his intention not to seek election for a full term in 1999, the position of DA became wide open, similar to the current situation. Two internal candidates, Paula Kamena and John Posey, and a third outside candidate, Dennis Cashman ran for the position. I remember the pressure on the line prosecutors to support either Paula or John and the development of two different camps within the office. It was a challenging and stressful time at the DA’s office as both Paula and John were veteran prosecutors and well respected within the office and the legal community. For attorneys who are primarily focused on investigating and prosecuting their cases and going about their business, being involved in a political campaign was something of a foreign concept and friendships and working relationships became frayed depending on the candidate you supported. It was a relief to all when the election was over.
Paula was elected as Marin County’s first female District Attorney and served from 1999 to 2004, when she retired. In January 2005, Ed Berberian was appointed by the Board of Supervisors and after being elected in 2006, has served as District Attorney ever since. As Chief Assistant District Attorney, Ed had been in charge of the day-to-day operations of the office for several years and was a true trial attorney, one who relished being in the courtroom. I have great respect for Ed, as I do for all of my former bosses, Jerry, Mike and Paula. Being the chief law enforcement officer for the county carries great responsibility to seek justice and to make difficult and challenging decisions about what cases to prosecute, decisions that may be unpopular with many in the community. Ed, Paula, Mike and Jerry were all faced with making these decisions on a daily basis as well as tasked with the responsibility of operating the largest law firm in the County: a firm today that has a staff of approximately 60 people, including 24 attorneys and eight investigators.
Having been in private practice for the last seven years, I am often asked whether I miss being in the DA’s office. What I miss most is the people I worked with for 16 years and the satisfaction that if you are doing your job correctly as a prosecutor, you are always doing the “right thing,” even when making the difficult decisions about prosecution. Although I am no longer in the office, I am aware that this upcoming election has made it challenging for the prosecutors, investigators and staff to continue to focus on their work. Two of the candidates, Anthony J. Brady and Lori Frugoli, are current prosecutors in the office and obviously seek the support of the majority of the office. I know both AJ and Lori well and have come to know the third candidate, Anna Pletcher, as well, through her work on the Marin County Bar Association Board of Directors. I know I won’t be the only one who is glad when the election is over.
Whoever takes over for the retiring District Attorney will have large shoes to fill, not only those of Ed but of his predecessors. I encourage the membership to attend as many of the candidate events as possible to become educated about the candidates and familiar with their positions on the issues and I wish all the candidates the best as they prepare for the upcoming election for Marin County’s Top Prosecutor.
Thomas S. Brown is Of Counsel at Foley and Lardner LLP where he is a member of the Firm’s Government Enforcement Defense & Investigations Practice Group. He is President of the Marin County Bar Association and earned his B.A. from UC Berkeley and J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law.