Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – In announcing her candidacy for district attorney, senior county prosecutor Elan Firpo said she’d focus on management of prosecutors and collaborating with law enforcement to reduce serious crime.
Firpo started her DA campaign with a Feb. 27 announcement event at the Vance Hotel in Eureka. Surrounded by a politically diverse group of supporters – including Patty Cleary of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, former County Supervisor John Woolley, McKinleyville Advisory Committee Chairman Ben Shepherd, Eureka City Councilmembers Marian Brady and Mike Newman and Trinidad Mayor Julie Fulkerson – Firpo said she’s confident in her ability to address community concerns.
“I know I can tackle the serious issues facing this office and this community,” she said, identifying “fear of crime in our streets,” protection of civil rights and “dealing with the excesses of marijuana cultivation” as main concerns.
The county is politically diverse and often polarized but Firpo said the DA’s Office needs universal confidence. “To effectively work out solutions, we need a district attorney who has widespread community support and will end the polarization that has traditionally surrounded our district attorney’s office,” she said.
Law enforcement is a family affair for Firpo, as her father and grandfather were California highway patrolmen, her mother worked in police dispatch and her two sisters are police department employees.
After a 13-year career as a design engineer and project manager, Firpo “heeded the call to public service” and returned to Humboldt after graduating from law school. She’s been a county prosecutor for the last five years and said she’s committed to advancing public safety.
“As district attorney, I will close the revolving door on those who prey upon the rest of us, particularly those repeat offenders that would be in prison if not for realignment,” Firpo said. “Working with probation, law enforcement and the sheriff, we will keep that small percentage of the community that commits 95 percent of the crime off the streets.”
Saying she’s developed a “detailed plan to optimize current resources and regain the confidence of the Board of Supervisors and the community,” Firpo added that she’d manage an office that delivers “consistent and rigorous prosecution.”
During a question and answer session, Firpo was asked about the district attorney’s role in meeting the challenges of public safety realignment. Noting that she’s the only DA candidate who’s worked as a prosecutor since realignment was launched, Firpo said it has “changed the face of the way we need to prosecute crimes in our county.”
Realigned offenders once sent to prison are now incarcerated in county jail or given “split sentences” of jail and post-release supervision. Firpo said she’d work with the probation department and community groups on dealing with issues that lead to criminal activity.
Offering examples, she said someone who’s repeatedly arrested for selling meth creates public safety problems and is worthy of incarceration, while someone who’s a chronic meth user and committing property crimes needs to have addiction issues addressed.
Firpo’s handling of cases has already become a campaign issue. The involuntary manslaughter plea deal in a highly-publicized fatal stabbing in Arcata has been sharply criticized by two of her opponents, former county prosecutors Arnie Klein and Alan Dollison.
Asked about the challenging prospect of working as a prosecutor while campaigning, Firpo said, “I can scarcely understate what a challenge that is for me.” She said legal circumstances influenced the plea deal.
“I could have grandstanded that case for my political benefit, for my campaign, but I did not do that,” she continued. “I did the right thing for that case because that still is my first priority – my job as a prosecutor is my first priority, the campaign is my second priority.”
The double murder trial of Bodhi Tree will be prosecuted during the campaign and will divert her from it, she said. “But I’ve always been honored to do the job that I do – prosecuting for the DA’s Office.”
On marijuana issues, Firpo said she favors working with federal enforcers on environmentally harmful grows and adding impact mitigation penalties to the prosecution of them.
She described the City of Arcata’s zoning ordinance on neighborhood grows as “brilliant” and said that as DA, she would encourage other cities to take that approach.
Firpo joins Dollison, Klein and former County Prosecutor Maggie Fleming in the pool of announced DA candidates. The candidacy filing deadline is March 7.