Valley News -

DA fends off challenge from Riverside attorney


Last updated 6/6/2018 at 11:11am

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin was gearing up for another term today, after solidly defeating appellate attorney Lara Gressley in Tuesday's election.

Hestrin has been the county's top prosecutor since January 2015. The Temecula resident in 2014 ran on a plank of improving morale at the D.A.'s office, holding public officials accountable and achieving a higher conviction

rate. In campaign literature for Tuesday's election, he said those objectives have been met.

"Under my leadership, the Riverside County District Attorney's Office has achieved a 94 percent felony conviction rate -- the highest in the state,'' Hestrin said. "Because of the great work of our Crime Prevention Unit, we have seen a 46 percent reduction in juvenile criminal filings. And we have aggressively prosecuted those who commit elder abuse, fraud and other crimes against our seniors.''

Hestrin successfully unseated longtime prosecutor and former judge Paul Zellerbach in the previous D.A's race, which became less an issues-oriented contest and more a test of character after the then-incumbent was

caught taking down his challenger's campaign signs while on the clock. Zellerbach later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in connection with the offense.

Gressley, an appellate attorney and former deputy public defender for over a decade, ran against Hestrin on a platform of ending the "toxic win-at-all-costs culture'' that she contends is prevalent in the D.A.'s office.

"I will make sure that every case (brought) before the court should be prosecuted,'' Gressley says in her campaign materials. "That means taxpayer money will be spent where it matters most -- keeping Riverside County families safe from crime.''

According to the challenger, drug- and alcohol-addicted offenders should not be incarcerated without treatment or rehabilitation because they will fall into a cycle of recidivism. However, the Superior Court currently designates courtrooms to handle offenders eligible for alternative sentencing because of their addiction problems, and the county is under a consent decree to ensure individuals with behavioral or mental health issues receive adequate care.

According to Gressley, the D.A.'s office should do more in "correcting wrongful convictions,'' and under her watch, "prosecutors would be charged with uncovering the truth and preventing wrongful convictions.''

The attorney further states that it should be the D.A.'s job to "work with police agencies to reform divisive law enforcement tactics,'' and she promotes the idea of overhauling the state's bail code to reduce the number of

indigent people being held in correctional facilities awaiting adjudication of their cases, when their bail requirements are a few thousand dollars or less.

Hestrin boasts a record of fiscal responsibility, and despite agency gaps exceeding $10 million in every budget cycle since he was elected, the D.A. has managed to significantly reduce red ink over the course of each fiscal


His public integrity unit has been busy with multiple high-profile cases, including an alleged kickback scheme involving former Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, as well as a series of fraudulent acts in Beaumont that

culminated in felony and misdemeanor guilty pleas from six former municipal officials.

The incumbent said he will continue efforts to expand programs that help at-risk youth, modernize the technology that prosecutors and D.A.'s office investigators utilize to improve efficiency and ferret out and prosecute acts of public corruption.


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