BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor
For the first time since 2010, Santa Clara County residents will have a choice next year for district attorney. Incumbent Jeff Rosen will be challenged by public defender Sajid Khan, who wants to reform the criminal justice system with an eye toward addressing the “root causes” of crime.
Rosen, who was first elected in 2010, didn’t face a challenger when he ran for re-election in 2014 or 2018. I think it’s a good idea that incumbents face challengers to keep them on their toes and responsive to the public’s desires.
The following column isn’t meant as an endorsement for Khan or anybody else. The Post will make recommendations for voters next year, closer to the June 7 primary. Before making any decisions, let’s watch the candidates closely and let the campaign play out.
I never met Khan before, so I visited with him in San Jose the other day. Khan, 38, was born in San Jose to Muslim immigrants from Madras, India. Khan’s mother worked as a laboratory scientist at O’Connor Hospital in San Jose and his late father was a physicist in the semiconductor industry who established a mosque and later a school, both in Santa Clara. The mosque, Muslim Community Association, is where Khan worships today. The school, Granada Islamic School, currently educates his two sons. Khan’s parents instilled in him a dual faith in service and justice, inspiring him to pursue a career defending civil rights. Khan got his law degree from UC-Hastings and was admitted to the Bar in 2007.
Khan faces an uphill battle. Rosen has name recognition and a long list of endorsements including all five members of the county Board of Supervisors, many police unions and retired police officers.
The cops are on the opposite side of the courtroom from a public defender. So that may explain their support of Rosen. But another factor could be that Khan promises to take a tougher stance against police accused of wrongdoing than Rosen, who has a reputation of brushing off such incidents.
Rosen has raised about $450,000 for his campaign. Khan’s figures for the most recent reporting period weren’t available Friday.
As for money, millionaire George Soros has created political action committees to support progressive DA candidates across the country. In 2018, Soros’ money helped elect a district attorney in Contra Costa County but wasn’t able to swing a DA’s race in Alameda County.
I asked Khan if he would accept Soros’ help. He said that Soros could set up an independent expenditure committee (or an IE) that could run ads in his race, and by law he wouldn’t be able to communicate or coordinate with them. But I asked him if he would directly accept money from Soros. If Soros offered him money, he’d take it, he said. But he pointed out that individual contributions are limited to $500.
“I’m open to anyone who is similarly devoted to the kind of interests I’m trying to manifest in this campaign,” Khan said.
Left, right and center
When I suggested he was running to the left of Rosen, Khan said his views are in line with a majority of county residents, and it’s Rosen who is on the right.
“We live in a progressive county when it comes to criminal justice reform,” Khan said.
He offered as proof of that statement the fact that county voters supported five state ballot propositions that changed the justice system: Prop. 36 of 2012 (to modify the three-strikes law to require that the third strike be a serious or violent felony), Prop. 47 (to raise the felony threshold for shoplifting, fraud and similar offenses to $950), Prop. 57 (allow parole to be considered for nonviolent felons and took away from DA’s discretion of whether to prosecute a juvenile as an adult), Prop. 62 (repeal the death penalty) and Prop. 64 (marijuana legalization).
Khan said that he wants to be an advocate for reform on multiple fronts to address the root causes of crime. So he said he would be at the forefront of advocating for better pay for teachers and social workers, pushing for more affordable housing and improving treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues.
How would he deal with retail theft, when people walk into a store knowing they won’t be confronted by store employees, and take what they please?
“As DA we will investigate and prosecute crime that occurs in our community, and we will take all crime, including retail theft, seriously. And we will hold people accountable that commit those harms on our community. What that accountability looks like is where I believe I differ from our current district attorney,” Khan said.
“There is a tendency to assume this is just a bad person, inherently evil or reckless or careless the wellbeing of their fellow community members,” he said. “But the people I have come to represent suffer from severe poverty, they’re homeless, they have substance abuse issues or are dealing with mental health issues. They should be met by a DA’s office that will tell them and tell the community that their behaviors are not OK … (but also a) DA’s office that is compassionate, that is empathetic and that will understand who this person is and what their needs are so that we can respond in an effective way that actually remedies the behavior.”
Khan said he recently represented a burglary suspect who was homeless and struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues. He had been arrested one year earlier for a similar burglary, and pleaded guilty just to get released from jail but didn’t get the help he needed to avoid returning to the same activities.
Khan said that his goal would be to see that the defendant received substance abuse counseling, counseling for work placement and actual employment training.
He said defendants aren’t getting much of that in the county jail.
Khan emphasized that he will take violent crime seriously. “I agree that there are certain persons who are not fit to be in our community because they are unsafe or they’re suffering from a variety of issues that require them to be removed from our society. The question is: What are we doing with them while they are in our facilities?”
Khan is against the death penalty. Rosen switched and became a death-penalty opponent last year. Khan points out that if Rosen’s conversion were sincere, he would move to have the 25 people on Death Row from Santa Clara County re-sentenced.
The job of DA in any county has two dimensions: running a large law office and overseeing the prosecutions of dozens of cases simultaneously. Khan would add a third dimension — advocacy for social justice causes. The job of DA paid $351,861 in 2019 ($484,841 with benefits).
I hope that during this campaign, Khan and Rosen have some debates where they can talk about their ideas. For people who say they’re in favor of police reform, they should pay attention to this race between now and next June.
People can contribute to Khan’s campaign by going to https://votesajid.com. Those who want to support Rosen can go to https://www.jeffrosen.org/ to make a donation.
Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.