LA County district attorney hopefuls Lacey, Jackson clash in first debate

Jackie Lacey and Alan Jackson, candidates for Los Angeles County district attorney, face off in a debate Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012
Jackie Lacey and Alan Jackson, candidates for Los Angeles County district attorney, face off in a debate Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

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Jackie Lacey and Alan Jackson questioned each others' truthfulness in a testy first debate Tuesday night.

The two are competing to become the next district attorney in Los Angeles County — a job that controls the largest local prosecutor’s office in the nation and wields considerable influence on criminal justice policies in California.

Jackson questioned Lacey’s decision to change her testimony in a lawsuit that claimed the current DA Steve Cooley blocked union organizing efforts at the office. As Chief Deputy District Attorney, Lacey is Cooley’s second in command.

“Are we to believe she lied?” Jackson asked during the debate at the Ron Deaton Civic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles. “If you expect to be the district attorney of Los Angeles County, there is no greater sin than not telling the truth when you’ve raised your hand and promised to do so.”

“This is a rehearsed answer by Mr. Jackson,” Lacey retorted. “Not even the hearing officer has accused me of saying anything false. I corrected an error.”

Lacey then accused Jackson of misleading voters with his job title.

“Why are you using ‘gang prosecutor’ on the ballot statement? Is that true? No, of course not,” Lacey said. “He is not in the gang unit anymore.”

Jackson, who is in the major crimes division, said one of his last cases involved a man who had hired gang members to kill his wife.

The back and forth marked the first direct clash between the two candidates after the June 5 primary.
Lacey, who is seeking to become the first woman and African American DA in L.A. County history, finished first in the primary with 32 percent of the vote. Jackson came in second with 24 percent.

During the debate, Jackson argued he is more suited for the top job because he’s remained in the courtroom prosecuting cases for the past two decades. He called Lacey “an office administrator who hasn’t set foot in a courtroom in 12 or 15 years.”

Lacey defended herself and said she spent most of her 27-year career prosecuting cases, and the past decade in management would serve her well if elected.

“I resent the demeaning attitude of Mr. Jackson,” Lacey said regarding her opponent’s description of her experience.

While the race is non-partisan, Lacey, 55, is a Democrat and Jackson, 46, is a Republican.

Their different political philosophies were evident in their positions on Proposition 36, which would amend California’s Three Strikes law by requiring that only serious or violent felonies trigger a life sentence. Lacey supports the measure. Jackson opposes it.

Both candidates said they opposed the ballot measure banning the death penalty in California, and both promised to try to amend the state’s historic prison realignment plan in a way that would send more people to prison.

Lacey boasts the backing of incumbent DA Cooley, L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca and State Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Jackson touts the backing of former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan and two dozen police unions and organizations.

But the prize endorsements may be those of the powerful unions that represent LAPD officers and L.A. County Sheriff's deputies. They are expected to announce their choices later this month.

The Los Angeles County Organization of Police and Sheriffs sponsored the debate. KCRW radio host Warren Olney moderated it.