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LA County DA candidates differ on key issues, agree to go after pot shops

Chief Deputy DA Jackie Lacey (R) and Deputy DA Alan Jackson.
Mae Ryan/KPCC;
Chief Deputy DA Jackie Lacey (R) and Deputy DA Alan Jackson.

The two candidates for Los Angeles County District Attorney faced off Thursday night in what is likely their last debate.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson differed on a number of issues, including a ballot measure that would roll back the state’s Three Strikes law.

Jackson opposes Proposition 36, which would require a third strike be serious or violent to trigger a 25-year prison sentence.

“It takes away the discretion,” he told about 100 people at a debate at the Japanese American Museum in downtown L.A.

Lacey said it’s unfair to charge someone with a third strike who has been accused of a non-violent or non-serious felony. She pointed out such cases already are usually not prosecuted as a third strike in L.A.

“Crime rates have gone down in L.A. with this policy,” she said.

The two also differed on whether California should issue drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. Jackson opposed the idea and warned it could “invite cartel activity,” referring to drug cartels.

Lacey said she supported giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. “I want everyone on the road to be licensed, tested and safe.”

Lacey, 54, is second in command at the D.A.’s office now. The current D.A. Steve Cooley has endorsed her, as have the labor unions that represent L.A.P.D. cops and L.A. County deputy sheriffs. Lacey would become the first woman and first African American district attorney in county history.

Jackson, 46, is a deputy district attorney who serves in the major crimes division. He’s considered once of the most skillful courtroom lawyers in the office. He prosecuted music producer Phil Specter for murder and he’s appeared regularly on the NBC TV show Unsolved Case Squad. Jackson’s backed by 20 smaller police unions and former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan.

While it’s a non-partisan race, the L.A. County Democratic Party has endorsed Lacey, a registered Democrat. The state GOP is backing Jackson, a Republican.

Both promised to repair a frayed relationship between D.A. management and the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, which represents more than 900 frontline prosecutors. That union sponsored the debate.

Lacey, as Cooley’s right hand, has drawn fire from some deputy D.A.’s who see Cooley as anti-union. She sought to reach out to them.

“You have to remember, I was your colleague. I’ve never forgotten that.”

“Isn’t time for change,” Jackson retorted. “As opposed to establishment that exists now.”

The two each said their experience best suits them for the top job.

Lacey touted her management experience saying, “I have touched almost every section of this office.”

Jackson said his continued work prosecuting cases makes him the better candidate.

“I understand what it takes to win and seek justice inside the four walls of a criminal courtroom.”

L.A. Weekly reporter Gene Maddaus, who moderated the debate, asked both whether they would continue to prosecute owners of medical marijuana dispensaries if city voters repeal a ban on pot shops. Both said yes.

“It's my position that over-the-counter sales for money of marijuana are illegal,” Lacey said.

“Those folks are simple drug dealers,” Jackson said.