BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer
A sharp divide between the three candidates for Santa Clara County District Attorney was on clear display during a debate tonight (May 2) hosted by the Stanford Law School.
On the left is Sajid Khan, a deputy public defender who says he wants to move the DA’s office beyond punishment and instead address problems such as drug addiction, mental health and trauma.
Khan said he struggled with the idea of becoming a “prosecutor” when he decided to run for DA.
“It sounds so punitive and harsh,” he said. “But I believe our DA’s office can be so much more.”
In the middle is incumbent District Attorney Jeff Rosen, who says he’s doing a good job using both restorative and punitive justice.
“The way I see myself up here as a little bit like Goldilocks and the three bears,” Rosen said. He pointed to Chung and Khan — “too hot, too cold,” — and then himself: “Just right, in terms of a balanced approach.”
On the right is Daniel Chung, a former deputy district attorney who says crime is rising because of Rosen’s failed prosecutions.
In San Jose, a Home Depot was burned down, and a baby was kidnapped in the middle of the day. Businesses are boarded up, and people feel like they need to carry a gun because Rosen isn’t using the law correctly, Chung said.
Chung was fired by Rosen last summer and is now suing his old boss for retaliation, so he has both an axe to grind and an inside look at Rosen’s operation.
Chung went hard at his opponents, and a moderator warned him against “ad hominem” attacks after he said he Rosen is scared to stand up against him.
It was the latest shot in a heated race that has gone beyond policy.
Accusations of tripping
At another debate on Friday, Chung accused Rosen of tripping him.
A video from the event shows Chung stumbling as he walks behind Rosen, but a table blocks full view of their legs.
“Did you just trip him?” Khan asked Rosen.
“No, he just tripped,” said Rosen.
Chung brought it up tonight, along with a long list of others allegations. He said Rosen doesn’t train his deputies, plays favorites and lacks integrity.
“If only you prosecuted crimes as hard as you tripped me the other night, maybe this county would be a lot safer,” Chung said.
Chung said there was a saying in Rosen’s office: “If you’re not one of Rosen’s chosen, you’re going to be frozen.”
Rosen said Chung was telling too many lies to call out, and he compared him to former President Donald Trump.
Khan and Rosen go at each other in a different way, forged over a decade of fighting for opposite sides in court.
Khan said he has fought against many of Rosen’s “inhumane” prosecutions, such as charging a 14-year-old as an adult, pursuing the death penalty against an innocent man, and giving prison sentences to a Latino who was tagging and a black man who had .03 grams of crack cocaine.
Rosen said that since Khan is a public defender, he only has to think about the defendant, while the DA has to think about victims and the community too.
Chung and Khan don’t have a personal history, but they have the furthest ideological divide.
Chung said Khan would follow the experiment of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who is facing a recall in the June 7 primary and is seen by critics as soft on crime. Boudin was also a deputy public defender who wants to reform the criminal justice system.
“We are law enforcement,” Chung said. We’re not social workers, we’re not legislators, we’re not policy makers. If you want to do that, run for a different office.”
Khan said Chung and Rosen have trouble calling people, people. Instead, they call them defendants, offenders or the accused, he said.
Here’s a summary of how the candidates addressed some of the questions from the moderators:
How would you address the fentanyl crisis?
Rosen: I already am. I formed a task force and talked to people in parks about why they take drugs. You have to address demand, by encouraging people to go to treatment, and supply, by busting drug traffickers.
Chung: I would encourage police officers to intervene early on. Drug users would go to treatment because they’d rather not go to jail, and drug dealers would be charged with felonies.
Khan: I would be curious about why people take drugs and try to address those root causes.
How would you support victims of sexual assault?
Khan: I was sexually abused as a boy, so I understand the trauma that sexual violence leaves behind. I would expand services for victims, and give them access to support regardless of whether they testify or their case leads to a conviction.
Chung: Khan refuses to say that Stanford rapist Brock Turner should’ve gone to prison. If he can’t say that a rapist belongs in prison, then that disqualifies him.
Rosen: I have helped hundreds of sexual assault victims get justice. I created a counseling unit for victims, and I worked to change the outdated law that led to Turner’s lenient sentence.
How would you address “ghost guns” and gun violence?
Rosen: My office uses restraining orders to take guns from people with red flags, saving lives and stopping mass shootings. I worked with the White House to pass a law that make manufacturing ghost guns illegal.
Khan: Under Rosen’s watch, gun violence is rising. Most of these crimes are rooted in mental health issues, so we have to move resources away from the “criminal punishment” system and instead invest in mental health treatment and schools.
Chung: My father killed himself with a gun when I was 8 years old, and I agree with Khan that mental health is key. But the DA’ s office can’t do it alone just by cutting its budget. The whole community has to invest in solving the problem.
How did the Covid pandemic change your ideas of how the DA’s office should run?
Rosen: I gave my employees extra laptops to keep us functioning and sent out daily updates. We released more than 1,000 inmates early from jail.
Chung: Covid showed how important modern IT is, and Rosen has failed to modernize his software. Prosecutors aren’t notified when a defendant is re-arrested, and they can only view one document at a time. While some prosecutors were having a blast at home, I was in court every day before masks and vaccines.
Khan: Covid highlighted the inhumanity of our jails, which were overfilled and putting people at risk of death. Zero bail proved that we could let people out of jail without making them pay, and Rosen doesn’t deserve credit for that because the state changed the law.
How should the DA’s office hold police officers accountable?
Chung: Some of my most heated discussions are with law enforcement. I explain what the law allows, and what officers shouldn’t do.
Rosen is backed by the lion’s share of police unions, so he has a conflict of interest. I would make the Brady List, which name officers who have lied, readily available to prosecutors.
Rosen: My relationship with police officers is collaborative, not cozy. I’ve prosecuted 60 police officers for a range of crimes, including the county undersheriff.
Khan: I started my career and ran for DA because I am committed to holding police accountable when they violate the law. Rosen has abdicated his role by not prosecuting a single one of 22 police officers who have killed a person in San Jose, leaving families without justice.