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DA Report Card ~ March 2006
From Disappointment to Disaster

At the end of Passalacqua's first year as Sonoma County District Attorney our report card was titled "D for Disappointment"; disappointment that Passalacqua seemed incapable and unwilling to carry out his campaign promises to end the abuses that riddled the office. Now, two years later, our assessment goes from Disappointment to Disaster. Added to broken promises, Passalacqua's done significant damage to the office, and worse yet, to the cause of justice for the community that is his mandate. Here's our report.

Under DA Passalacqua our DA's Office has:

~ Suffered An Unprecedented Loss of Attorneys, Particularly Among Top-tier Prosecutors

In his campaign, Passalacqua promised to utilize the legal talent in his office and to end his predecessor's abuses of personnel. Instead, Passalacqua has presided over an unprecedented loss of the office's legal brain trust. At least 19 of the 43 attorneys in the office have left or been driven out during Passalacqua's tenure.

Most disturbing is that so many of those who have left were top-tier prosecutors in the office. Moreover, many were top-tier female prosecutors, each of whom had anchored the office with solid felony violence-against-women prosecution skills. This kind of damage cannot be easily repaired. Nor can it be explained, as Passalacqua attempts to do, by those who retired.

~ Failed to Improve Rape/Domestic Violence Prosecution Rates

For the year 2005, our DA's domestic violence prosecution rate stands at 48% which is a mere 5 or 6 percentage points over DA Mullins' rate.* Mullins was ousted in large part because his domestic violence prosecution rate was one of the lowest in the state. Passalaqua's rape prosecution rate is also unimproved, in fact is no better than 15 years ago. In 2005, of the 177 rapes of adults reported to police agencies in Sonoma County only 7 resulted in a prison sentence, and another 13 cases resulted in sentencing to a year or less in jail.

In addition, Passalacqua has reduced the overall number of prosecutors assigned to violence against women and children from Mullin's 6 full time attorneys to now 4.5. This has led to a further deterioration of communication with victims rather than the promised improvements.

Passalacqua covers for these core failures with thick empty rhetoric about caring for victims and with his delusional, 3 year fixation on establishing a Family Justice Center in Sonoma County. Though such a center based on the San Diego model is not a bad idea in and of itself, the proposal for Sonoma County has been broadly vetted, discussed, hashed and rehashed, and rejected many times as unrealistic for our county. Nonetheless, for three years now, Passalacqua continues to dress-up and drag this dead horse out in front of the public - because it's the only one he's got.

~ Been Responsible for a Drop of More Than 50% In Victims Assistance Funds to Local Victims

The Victim Assistance Program is the local branch of the state crime victim compensation fund. Though funds given to victims are state funds, our DA's office is responsible for processing individual victim's claims.

Under Passalacqua, these critical funds to local victims have gone down by over 50%. For the year 2003, $710.000 went to local crime victims. In 2004, only $346.000 went to local victims, and in 2005, only $374.000.* Passalacqua wrongly blames this on the state reduction of fund distribution - but the state reduction was only 20%. From day one, Passalacqua has ignored the constant complaints he's received about his mismanagement of this program - including those from his own victim advisory committee. Despite hiring a new director last fall, there is no way to undo the terrible harm he has caused to thousands of victims.

~ Scrimped on Spanish Language Accessibility

One of Passalacqua's key campaign promises was to make the DA's office accessible to Latinos who constitute 1 out of every 5 people in the county. Early on Passalacqua hired a bilingual dv counselor, a bilingual receptionist, and one Latina/o attorney. To be sure, this made a pinhole opening in what was previously an impervious wall. But from that point, progress toward creating meaningful access for the Spanish-speaking community quickly came to a screeching halt.

There was only one more bilingual hire, no office policy set to assure that all were committed to equal access to non-English speakers, and no Language Line training. Like his other promises, Passalacqua's campaign centerpiece promise of language accessibility was made more to get him elected than to bring justice and protection to the Latino community.

* Statistics in this report based on DA and Police responses to Women's Justice Center 3/06 public information act requests.

The Gutting of Miriam's Office

Miriam Gaon is Sonoma County's most veteran victim advocate. Knowledgeable and conscientious, Miriam has worked for victims in our DA's office for 17 years. She has particular expertise in adult and child sex crimes, and in homicide cases.

Miriam's office sits midway down the long, stark DA hallway of one somber attorney's office after another. It used to be a room chock-a-block full of empowering wall posters, children's toys, local victim stories, comfortable chairs, and colorful pictures everywhere. It was an upbeat oasis in an otherwise bleak DA's office. Over the years, Miriam's office embraced the fears and bolstered the fortitude of literally thousands of victims and witnesses in Sonoma County as they've waited to testify or discuss their cases with prosecutors.

Two years ago, DA Passalacqua ordered Miriam to strip the office bare of every last item and remnant in the office, leaving only the adjoining children's room intact. In one day, the powerfully supportive environment Miriam had created for victims over the years, along with its significant local victim history, was wiped out.

Passalacqua said he planned to replace it all with pastoral scenes. This, in itself, reflects Passalacqua's penchant for patronizing and pacifying victims, rather than empowering them. But today, two years later, the walls of Miriam's office remain completely bare, a sad monument only to the emptiness of Passalacqua's promises. Fortunately, Miriam recognizes the value of what was removed and has stored everything in her garage in anticipation of saner days to come.

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Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center,


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