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Death penalty foes urge care in replacing DA

Death-penalty opponents have taken up a call begun by local officials last week for the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to take more time and care in appointing a replacement for District Attorney Tom Orloff.

The Alameda County Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty — which includes local League of Women Voters chapters, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Death Penalty Focus, and various religious congregations — will ask the Board at its meeting tomorrow “to implement a fair, open and transparent process for selecting an interim District Attorney,” according to its news release. The Board has placed “consideration” of the appointment on the agenda but not made public what process, if any, will be used to select an interim appointee; Orloff urged the board last week to appoint Chief Assistant District Attorney Nancy O’Malley to succeed him, saying she’s the most qualified and knowledgable person to deal with the office’s issues.

“Our concern is with the process for filling a vacancy caused by an incumbent resigning a few months before an election,” Marion Taylor of the League of Women Voters in Oakland said in the coalition’s release. “By appointing someone now, they create a different race for the office when it comes up for election.”

“The interim District Attorney will have the authority to make key decisions, such as seeking the death penalty rather than permanent imprisonment, which costs the county millions of additional tax dollars,” said Stefanie Faucher of Death Penalty Focus. “The Board needs to consider the serious consequences of this decision for the people of Alameda County.”

“Appointing an interim District Attorney is one of the most important duties delegated to the Board of Supervisors and it is not a decision that should be made behind closed doors,” said Natasha Minsker of the Northern California ACLU. “We are asking the Board to implement a fair, open and transparent process to ensure that Alameda County residents can know how this critical decision will be made.”

The coalition says 67 community groups have adopted its resolution calling for the District Attorney to stop pursing death sentences, and more than 1,500 individuals have signed its petition.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RichW

    California voters re-instated the death penalty by initiative some time ago, as I understand it. All statewide polls indicate the public supports the death peanlty by a large margin. If these groups want to get rid of the death penalty – they may have good case given the cost of appeals, the moral issues, and the fact that innocent people sometimes are put on death row – they need to qualify an initiative for the ballot to do just that. The wrong way to go about this is to have some sort of limitus test when they are appointing a DA’s to fill an open seat. On the issue of the death penalty public opinion – like many issues – is sort of polarized. Proponents on both sides feel real strongly on this issue, so foisting a limitus test on DA’s at the county level isn’t the way to go. The way to deal with this issue is a ballot initiative. Let’s the voters decide. Perhaps the death penalty needs to go, but if it does it’s the voters who need to make this determination.