Leave it to a San Diego politician to take a reasonable idea, one well worth kicking around, and turn it into utter chaos. That's what District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis did last week when she blindsided City Attorney Mike Aguirre with a return engagement of the idea to take misdemeanor prosecution duties away from the city and give them to the district attorney.
Aguirre blew several blood vessels last Tuesday when he learned Dumanis was publicly laying out her case to the San Diego City Council to eliminate criminal prosecution from Aguirre's job description. Mayor Dick Murphy and two members of the City Council knew of her plans ahead of time, but Aguirre didn't. He had every right to be furious.
Try as we might, we can't figure this one out. Some scuttlebutt has Murphy's political guru, John Kern, convincing Dumanis to give Aguirre a severe body check into the glass-but for what purpose? Drive him to distraction to such a degree that he implodes? Reduce his budget and his influence? Was this some kind of Republican hit on a Democrat who represents a significant threat to some prominent Republicans? Did Dumanis, a Republican, take one for the team by tweaking Aguirre, a former supporter of hers?
Thing is, we don't see how this is a winner for Dumanis. By sneaking up on Aguirre and spooking him so, she drew negative press and raised suspicions of a vast anti-Aguirre conspiracy. Why on earth did she do it? Perhaps she was afraid that if she gave Aguirre a heads up, he'd cut her off at the pass with some kind of public counteroffensive. Looks like Dumanis won't provide the answer. After doing the circuit of morning TV and radio shows last Wednesday, failing to give a reasonable rationale for her clandestine maneuvering, she retreated. A spokesperson told CityBeat Dumanis was done talking about it.
Before she clammed up, Dumanis said her move was motivated by concern for the city of San Diego's messy budget problems. Ha! Stop it, Bonnie, you're killing us! No politician is that worried about someone else's budget woes. And if she is, then she's wasting her valuable time fretting over something that's none of her business. We'd prefer she concentrated on punishing bad guys. But we don't seriously think that's what caused her to do what she did.
As others have said, the chaotic aftermath of Dumanis' nutty political tactics has obscured an idea that should be explored. We here at CityBeat have always wondered why the city attorney is in the business of criminal prosecution. Yes, other charter cities have similar arrangements, but in San Diego County, the district attorney does all prosecution-felonies and misdemeanors-other than misdemeanors within San Diego city limits. We suppose what Dumanis would get out of the deal is clean control of prosecution countywide.
If the idea were proposed in a courteous manner and vetted with everyone's cooperation, we'd probably be inclined to support it in some form. We can see the district attorney taking over consumer fraud, for example, with no problem. And if there were assurances that the DA would provide the same level of service or better in fields such as environmental protection and domestic violence (in which the city has developed a model program-at least according to the prosecution's side), we'd be comfortable with those being county functions. On the other hand, we can envision the city attorney retaining duties such as municipal code enforcement, although some might want an all-or-nothing switch.
It's duly noted that Sheriff Bill Kolender, San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne and Public Defender Steve Carroll like the idea of turning San Diego's misdemeanors over to the DA-or at least they want the idea studied some more. Their officers, deputies and defense attorneys work closely with prosecutors, so their opinions carry considerable weight, although we would have preferred if Lansdowne had not come out and said his support was a message to Aguirre. That was counterproductive.
All that said, however, we don't endorse studying the proposal without the cooperation of Aguirre and Rupert Linley, who heads Aguirre's criminal division. And thanks to the ham-fisted way Dumanis handled herself last week, that support might not be forthcoming. B
Aguirre will host a public meeting regarding Dumanis' proposal on Thursday, April 14, from 6 to 8 p.m. in City Council Chambers, 12th Floor, 202 C St., Downtown.