‘A prosecutor should not permit his or her professional judgment or obligations to be affected by his or her own political, financial, business, property or personal interests.” So reads section 3-1.3 (f) of The American Bar Association Standards Relating to the Administration of Criminal Justice.
As I try to picture you and your staff discussing whether to press charges against Deputy Gelhaus, I can in fact barely see any of your faces. Everything is blocked out by an enormous elephant in the room.
Nor can I imagine what you might be saying, as that elephant’s loud call drowns out any other conversation. That elephant demands nothing be done to jeopardize support for Sonoma County law enforcement during election season. The elephant’s wail becomes particularly piercing as it reminds all of you that you and Sheriff Freitas are campaigning together.
All I can hear from the humans in the room is muffled mumbling, much like the adult voices of a Snoopy cartoon—people trying to make noises that sound responsible and authoritative, in control.
But you’re not in control, the elephant is. And he’s not going anywhere between now and June.
I imagine that with the bulky pachyderm in the room, it’s hard to get over to your bookshelf to read some of the guiding ethical standards for your profession, so I’ll read to you from one of them: “A prosecutor should avoid a conflict of interest with respect to his or her official duties.” (ABA Standards Relating to the Administration of Criminal Justice, section 3-1.3 (a)).
You have said that you’ve contacted the attorney general regarding recusal, and that it is not required. But this does not change the fact that it is at your discretion to recuse your office. I understand that you cannot recuse your office from every case involving charges against a law-enforcement officer during an election year. But this situation is different.
If your office does not recuse itself, and does not prosecute Deputy Gelhaus, these events will mark the time when people will have lost faith in the ability of your office to put the needs of the larger community over the short-term desires of law enforcement. And it will widen and deepen the rift and the fear that exist between the law enforcement community and the larger community of which it is a part.
Kevin O’Connor lives in Graton and is a social worker currently studying for the bar exam.
Open Mic is a weekly op/ed feature in the Bohemian. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered, write [email protected].