Finally, a prosecutor leaps into D.A.’s race

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From the moment I walked into Sharman Bock’s District Attorney campaign launch and saw the roomful of “signs proclaiming, "A prosecutor for District Attorney", I realized that Bock isn’t the type of candidate to hold her punches. And that makes perfect sense, because unlike the other candidates in the D.A.'s race, Bock, 48,  is a seasoned prosecutor.

Bock, as I soon found out, is also a longtime San Francisco resident, who moved here from Iran when she was four and has lived in the city for more than four decades. She went to high school here, returned after graduating cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center, and earned a clerkship with the Hon. D. Lowell Jensen of the Northern District of California, before starting her prosecutorial career in Alameda County, where she has served as an Assistant D.A. since 1989.  And she continues to live in San Francisco, where she is currently raising two kids with her husband in the Richmond District.

Joined by Congressmember Jackie Speier, Lulu Flores, President of the National Women’s Political Caucus, and Shronda Wallace, whose mother was brutally murdered in 1989, Bock made no bones about why she has decided to spring into the race.

“I’m running for San Francisco District Attorney because this is a job that requires a seasoned prosecutor who knows what it takes to put the most violent and dangerous criminals behind bars and keep them there," Bock said. "I am a professional prosecutor. I want to give voters a real choice. No other candidate in this race has prosecuted even a single criminal case. This is no job for rookies. The stakes are too high and rookies make mistakes.”

When Bock noted that her conviction rate is over 90 percent, and that she has never lost a serious or violent jury trial, I wondered how successful the other main contenders--former SFPD Chief George Gascón, who Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed as D.A. in January, and former San Francisco Police Commissioner David Onek, are going to be when it comes to downplaying the fact that neither, as Bock wasn’t afraid to remind reporters, “has ever prosecuted a criminal case.”

“This is not a managerial, police or career job,” Bock continued, confronting head-on the arguments Gascón and Onek have already tossed out in response to questions about how they can be D.A. given their complete lack of prosecutorial experience.

“It’s certainly not a job for a rookie, and with 22 years of experience, I’m ready," Bock commented.

“To lead an office of trial lawyers, you’d have to walk a mile in their shoes,” Bock added, noting that currently she is doing just that. “I’m responsible for supervising extremely experienced trial lawyers each day,” she said, referring to her job as Assistant D.A. in Alameda County.

Praising the record of former D.A. Kamala Harris, who was elected Attorney General in November, Bock observed that San Francisco “sets the national standard. Kamala did a good job, and I’d like to keep the momentum going. We can’t lose it.”

Next, Bock outlined some of the highlights of her prosecutorial career.

A national expert on efforts to combat human trafficking, Bock leads the Human Exploitation and Trafficking (HEAT) Unit, which prosecutes complex trafficking cases. In fact, Bock actually prosecuted the first human trafficking case in California.

Based on her expertise with DNA and other forensic evidence, Bock was tapped to lead the Cold Case Unit, which focuses on solving old murder and sexual assault cases.

Bock also oversees other specialized felony units, including Public Integrity, Child Sexual Assault, Sexually Violent Predator and Restitution, which recovered more than $15 million for victims of violent crime last year.

In 2009, Bock received the Fay Stender Award from the California Women’s Lawyers Association for her “ability to affect change and her commitment to representing the underprivileged. And in 2010, the California Legislature recognized Bock as “Woman of the Year” for her groundbreaking work to stop human trafficking.

“American children are being sold for sex in our own backyard,” Bock warned, as she talked about what she has learned from her decades as a prosecutor. She said solving cold cases "provides closure that is priceless for families of victims” and is part of keeping the community safe. She talked about the fact that she is an independent prosecutor, who won’t be conflicted by police misconduct and crime lab scandals, unlike our current D.A. And she wrapped up by voicing her desire to serve—and remain in—San Francisco. “I am committed to giving back and serving the city I love,” Bock said.

Meanwhile, across the city, D.A. Gascón had just a neighborhood prosecution program in the Bayview and Mission districts. According to a Gascón press release, the program, “brings immediacy to the resolution of crimes that diminish the livability of local communities by employing a restorative justice model” and “brings the D.A.’s Office into the community, positioning the office to be more directly and immediately responsive to the needs of community members."

Gascón promised that the program will engage “residents in the process of determining an appropriate sanction focused on repairing the harm done to the community and setting the offender on the path to long-term productivity. This approach will bring a swifter and more certain resolution to offenses that have repeatedly gone unchecked for too long.”

The idea is that designated Assistant D.A’s will be assigned to  local police station to pre-screen eligible individuals and determine if the offenses they have been cited for by police are suitable to be heard in neighborhood courts. “Under the supervision of the District Attorney’s Office local residents are trained in restorative justice to adjudicate matters, instead of having cases charged and heard in criminal courts,” Gascón stated. "The adjudicators represent a wide swath of the community and include merchants, home owners retirees and students.”

Gascón says a range of non-violent offenses, including drinking in public, vandalism and petty theft, fit the criteria for matters that can be reviewed in the neighborhood court.“Eligible individuals cannot be under the supervision of the criminal justice system,” he stated. “Individuals who volunteer to have their matters heard in the neighborhood courts agree to abide by the prescribed outcomes that focus on restoring both the community and the offender. Individuals who are successful in meeting the terms avoid the blight of a mark on their criminal record. By taking this restorative justice approach, the program seeks to break the cycle of crime. It increases the accountability of the offenders to the community and the community’s stake in the offenders’ rehabilitation.”

Gascón claimed the program saves money by significantly shortening the length of time it takes to resolve offenses. “Typically the offenses being heard in a neighborhood court in one to two weeks from the time a citation is written would take nine months to a year to be heard in a criminal court," he stated. "The average cost of having these cases charged and heard in a traditional criminal court would be $1500 per misdemeanor compared to $300 in a neighborhood court.”

Gascón concluded by noting that this new neighborhood prosecution program will operate under the direction of the newly-formed Collaborative Courts Division of the D.A.’s Office and is scheduled to spread citywide. “The Bayview and Mission district launches are part of D.A. Gascón’s initiative to increase accountability and integration of the former Community Court programs,” Gascón’s press release stated. "The neighborhood prosecution program model will eventually be adopted and employed city-wide, district by district as a replacement for the former model.”

Bock for her part seemed less than impressed by the fairness of Gascón’s program. “People dealing with quality of life crimes deserve a District Attorney,  a defense attorney and a judge,” she said. “You can’t shortchange justice “

And she wasn’t shy about sharing her thoughts on the conflict of interest Gascón faces when dealing with the ongoing police misconduct and crime lab scandals.“George Gascón is between a rock and a hard place,” Bock said. “He was in charge of the police district during that time period," she observed. "And it’s important that the police don’t get thrown under the bus in the process.”

And unlike Gascón, Bock is personally opposed to the death penalty.“I will oppose any effort to further that law, and I would support ballot measures to change it,” Bock said. “It hasn’t had a deterrent effect, it doesn’t make the community safer, but it is the law of the state.”

As D.A., Bock would implement the same procedures that former D.A. Kamala Harris had in place—a committee where each case is reviewed in fact and law, and not reflective of a personal opinion. “I would look at each case,” Bock said.

“I want to make this city as safe to live in as I have fought in Oakland to achieve,” Bock continued, noting that when she graduated, she faced a choice of a corporate job or public service. “I chose public service,” she said.

Unlike Gascón, Bock does not think the city's recently enacted sit-lie legislation has resolved anything. “Sit-lie is a perfect example of why political hot-button measures don’t work,” Bock said. “People should be able to use the sidewalks. But at the same time, there are people with serious mental health issues. Sit-lie hasn’t solved any problem. And the good news about me is that I am not a politician.”

Congressmember Jackie Speier enthusiastically endorsed Bock. “This is a very important race for San Francisco, and it’s not a political race,” Speier said. “It’s a race about safety and prosecution and making sure we have a District Attorney who is going to be here for thecommunity.”

Speier noted that Bock has worked for some of the finest law firms, has dedicated more than 20 years of her life to prosecuting heinous criminals, has deep roots in San Francisco, and is on the board of numerous non-profits.

“She has been successful in over 1,000 cases—tough cases, including murder, torture and sex trafficking,” Speier continued. “She is someone who has the capacity to handle this job like no one I’ve ever seen. Her passion for her work knows no bounds.”

“And she is truly committed to San Francisco,” Speier added. “It’s no secret that the present occupant of the D.A.'s office is interested in being a highly placed person in the F.B.I. I think Gaston will be good in some respects should he seek that.”

“Politics is a funny thing, the process works the way it does, but the people of San Francisco have an opportunity to compare and contrast—and this is a stark contrast,” Speier concluded, pointing to Bock’s “impeccable credentials and proven track record in the prosecution of criminals,” and describing her as “the best and brightest” as she lauded Bock's leadership skills and talent as a prosecutor.

Lula Flores, who flew in from Washington, D.C. to announce the National Women’s Political Caucus early endorsement of Bock, described Bock as a “progressive forward-thinking candidate."

“We need more women in leadership safety positions,” Flores said, noting that Bock “represents diversity and is the most qualified and most experienced candidate.”

“She will do the best job,” Flores continued. “San Francisco is home to a myriad of leaders, it is the place that has grown so many of our national leaders.”

And Shronda Wallace recalled how her mother’s 1989 murder had been “all but forgotten, but then Sharman Bock took charge.”
Wallace described how, using DNA from the crime, Bock “re-created the scene, identified the killer, proved he intended to kill my mother, convicted him, and put him in prison without parole for the rest of his life. Through her determined and relentless prosecution of this cold case, not only did Sharman Bock make me feel safer, but she brought me desperately needed closure, and that is something I will never forget.”