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Opening Arguments

[whitespace] Art Danner
George Sakkestad

Third Strike? District Attorney Art Danner hopes to influence the choice of his successor, even while his own judicial appointment is in doubt.

With DA Art Danner poised to go, the line is forming to succeed him. Does chief deputy Kate Canlis have the inside track?

By John Yewell

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY District Attorney Arthur Danner III may finally be about to get a judgeship--13 years after he first applied for one. Even if he doesn't, the competition to succeed him--which has been under way for weeks and may not end until the next election in March 2000--has already turned the local legal community on its ear.

As this issue goes to press, a judicial appointment by Gov. Pete Wilson to the Superior Court seat vacated months ago by Judge Richard Atack is imminent. The appointee must be sworn in prior to Jan. 4, when Gov.-elect Gray Davis takes office, and will face election in March 2000 for a new six-year term.

If the appointment eludes him, Danner--who beat incumbent Phil Harry when he was first elected in 1978 and was re-elected in June to his sixth four-year term--will have the remainder of a four-year term to serve, if he chooses. Either way, his preferred successor is waiting in the wings.

If all goes according to plan, Danner will hand the baton to chief deputy Kathryn Ann (Kate) Canlis. For her part, Canlis--who gave up a Municipal Court judgeship 15 years ago to get in line to become a DA--faces a difficult struggle for the support of the Board of Supervisors as she watches her personal history repeat itself in a highly politicized fight for Danner's job.

It is Danner's third attempt at a judgeship and will be Canlis' second shot at a DA job. In 1985, Danner was passed over when William Kelsay and Thomas Black were appointed to the Superior Court bench. In 1989, when Sam Stevens was made a Superior Court judge, Danner withdrew at the last minute, ostensibly because he decided he wanted to continue as DA.

Most opinions about whether Danner will make a good judge tend to run along the lines of those voiced by one local attorney generally friendly to Danner. "Whatever they are as a DA or a public defender, once [the person is] on the bench you're totally surprised," he says. "It's the 'black robe syndrome.' " Sometimes DAs become more sympathetic to the defense and vice versa, he says.

But Danner faces another hurdle. As with all judicial candidates, Danner's application was reviewed by the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation, or JNE (pronounced "Jenny"). The commission solicits evaluation from other attorneys on an applicant's fitness for the bench, and the results remain confidential unless the governor appoints a candidate rated "Not Qualified" or the candidate chooses to release the results. In the past Danner has refused to divulge his JNE rating, although it is rumored that he has previously received a Not Qualified. That rumor is again making the rounds.

Danner's latest JNE rating was not available at press time, but Gov. Wilson--who vetoed a funding bill earlier this year for the State Bar Association, which runs JNE--has generally respected its recommendations. By the time Wilson's term is up he will have made 678 judicial appointments, and so far only two of those have been of candidates judged to be not qualified by JNE.

Danner himself bristles at the suggestion that he might not be qualified to sit on the bench. "Do I think I'm qualified? Absolutely," he says. "There's no serious question about that."

Spin control is already under way, with Danner loyalists pooh-poohing the commission's process as flawed. Danner took his own pre-emptive shot at JNE.

"It doesn't give me a lot of confidence," Danner says. "In our criminal justice system you're supposed to get to confront your accusers"--a reference to the confidentiality of JNE's evaluation process.

Wilson has four other applicants for the judgeship to choose from, all of whom were given clean bills of health from JNE:

  • Thornton Kontz is a partner in the law firm of Comstock Thompson Kontz and Brenner and a past president of the local trial lawyers association.

  • Cheryl Ontiveros is a private attorney in Salinas who lives in Aptos. Among her clients are the public housing agency of Monterey County and Albertson's markets.

  • John Gallagher is a partner in the firm of Bosso Williams Sacks Book Atack and Gallagher and has served as a public defender. He now specializes in business litigation and real property cases.

  • Paul Marigonda is an assistant district attorney under Danner and has worked in the office 10 years. He handles general felonies.

    Hitting the Ceiling

    THINGS HAVE CHANGED for Danner since his last shot at the judiciary in 1989. He is in the midst of a divorce from his wife of 35 years and recently bought a new home in Soquel. His combined judicial salary and DA pension, which has yet to be determined, would represent a nice bump over what he would have left after the divorce settlement if he does not get the appointment.

    More important, with his friend Pete Wilson leaving office, this may be Danner's last shot at that black robe. Despite being a Democrat, Danner carefully cultivated a relationship with Wilson, and he has no similar access to Davis. There is another judgeship coming open next year when Judge Richard McAdams takes the seat of the retiring Bill Kelsay, which McAdams won in the June election. McAdams' seat will be a Davis appointment, and it defies logic to think that if Wilson turns down Danner for Atack's seat, Gov. Davis would give Danner McAdams' job.

    For Canlis, it has been an equally difficult row to hoe. In 1983, she gave up a seat on the Sacramento Municipal Court to become chief deputy district attorney for Sacramento County under DA John Dougherty. After Dougherty stepped down in 1989, Canlis had reason to believe she would succeed him. Instead the job went to Steve White, a lawyer in the state attorney general's office, on a 3-to-2 vote of the county supervisors. Canlis resigned, then spent a year as executive director of the California District Attorneys Association. Canlis came to work for Danner in 1990 as an assistant DA but quickly moved up the ladder.

    "When she came to work here, it wasn't a coronation," says assistant district attorney and Superior Court supervisor Toni Allen. "She has risen to the top through hard work."

    But the sting of that earlier defeat still shows. "The decision was politicized to a degree that had nothing to do with my ability to do the job," Canlis says. But having lost once because the skids weren't sufficiently greased, she seems determined to see that that experience is not repeated. And by all accounts, Danner is pulling out all the stops to help Canlis.

    After 20 years of Danner, the possible opening in the Santa Cruz County DA's office has generated intense interest, and Canlis has a lot of convincing to do if she hopes to be on the right side this time of a 3-to-2 vote. The betting at the moment is running against her.

    Kate Canlis
    George Sakkestad

    Chief Deputy DA Kate Canlis

    The Looking Glass

    THE VOICE at the other end of the line sounds annoyed. "The only reason I'm calling you back," she says, "is because I have a policy of returning all calls."

    After that initial call and some more phone tag, Canlis agrees to an interview. She assures me that the tone of her first call was not meant to suggest displeasure or distrust of the press; she was merely stating policy. Her explanation at first strikes me as disingenuous, but as I get to know Canlis, it is clear that this no-nonsense approach is her MO. It is easy to see how she can rub people the wrong way--and why at the same time her supporters applaud her toughness.

    She ushers me into her second-floor corner office, with its view of San Lorenzo Park and the river. She is dressed all in red, down to her shoes, and comes out from behind her desk to talk. At first I seem to be getting "The Look," which I will learn later is a phrase her son uses to describe mom's harsh visage when someone has done something wrong.

    The office is full of memorabilia from a life immersed in the law. Much of the well-worn antique furniture came from her father, Michael Canlis, who served as San Joaquin County sheriff for 20 years; the county office building there is named after him. Canlis, who grew up in Stockton, speaks reverently of him. "He was a real progressive," she says, even helping some of his prisoners complete their high school educations. On one wall is a courtroom artist's watercolor of her arguing before a jury, as well as several tastefully framed posters. On another wall is an enlarged and framed Peanuts cartoon, signed by Charles Schultz, of Lucy and Linus. The series of cartoon frames seems to carry a message about Canlis:

    (Frame #1) Lucy: "You have no idea how annoying it is for me to have to look at you holding that stupid blanket!"

    (Frame #2) Linus: "Why don't you just face the other way?"

    (Frame #3) (Lucy turns away.)

    (Frame #4) Lucy: "This isn't going to work. I miss being annoyed."

    Canlis says she doesn't see herself in Lucy, but the friend who gave it to her did. As we get to know each other, the cartoon sticks in my mind. Like her or not, Canlis has a common human frailty: difficulty in seeing herself as others see her, especially those who disagree with her.

    "I'm not sure she realizes how she comes across," says one attorney. "She's smart, capable and charming, but she's rougher on people than she realizes."

    Toni Allen sees the same problems in Canlis' critics.

    "People's perceptions of themselves vs. of others are sometimes markedly different," says Allen. "Some may see themselves slighted or harmed in ways that would surprise others."

    It may not be so serious a flaw in a DA, but it's a potentially deadly one in a politician. And this may be at the heart of Canlis' dilemma. She says she understands this is a political process and she needs to be more open, but it isn't clear the extent to which she is avoiding mistakes she may have made in 1989.

    "I've tried a lot of jury trials," she says, "but this is a different kind of process. I'm getting used to it."

    Part of that process, if she gets the three votes she needs from the supervisors, will also require her to run for election in March 2000 to fill out the remainder of Danner's four-year term. Then she will have more than a reporter to deal with; she'll have to make her case to the voters.

    Christine McGuire
    George Sakkestad

    Christine McGuire

    The Competition

    ON THE SAME WALL of Canlis' office are a number of pieces of baseball memorabilia, including a jersey from her husband's visit to a Giants fantasy camp. Like all good Giants fans, Canlis has nothing but disdain for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    "When I hear people say things like 'I bleed Dodger blue,'" says Canlis, "my first thought is to reply, "'Be my guest.'"

    Her husband and co-Giants fanatic is well-known local conservative and former KSCO radio personality Daryl Alan Gault. Canlis and her supporters are nervous about her marriage to Dag, as he is known, becoming an issue. It is bandied about by her detractors as a disqualifying blemish on her résumé, but one detractor even admitted privately the blatant reverse sexism in the charge, which suggests that Canlis is somehow a pawn of her husband's politics. It's not a charge that has much staying power: One thing everyone seems to agree on is that Kate Canlis is her own woman.

    She's also everything that Dag isn't. She's pro-choice; personally opposed to the death penalty; a lifelong Democrat and one of those hated (by Republicans) Jerry Brown judicial appointees. On paper, Kate Canlis is a perfect fit for Santa Cruz County.

    Why, then, isn't she a shoo-in?

    A long line is forming to replace Danner if he leaves. At last count nine attorneys--six internally, including Canlis, and three outside the DA's office--have expressed some level of interest in the job.

    The four most often mentioned candidates, besides Canlis, are Danner's other chief deputy, Jon Hopkins, and assistant DAs Bob Lee, Ariadne Symons and Christine McGuire. A fifth assistant DA, Jim Jackson, says he is not pursuing it, but he hasn't ruled himself out either. Jackson is a former public defender who has the distinction of having represented serial killers Edmond Kemper, Herbert Mullin and John Linley Frazier, who together made Santa Cruz the so-called murder capital of the world in the early '70s.

    The candidate besides Canlis with the most to lose in the process is Hopkins, whose role has been eclipsed as Canlis' has grown. His position is not protected by civil service, so if Danner gets the judicial appointment, Hopkins may soon be out of a job anyway, forced to step aside so a new DA can pick his or her own chief deputy. Many believe Danner would try to find a way to get rid of him before he takes the judgeship, if it is offered; doing so would allow Canlis to become acting DA, clearing up any confusion during the transition. Giving her a chance to run the office alone while the supervisors deliberate might also give Canlis a leg up.

    Danner would not confirm or deny those rumors but did say there had been discussions between himself and Hopkins over the latter's future.

    "Jon has told me that he wants to obtain employment elsewhere, and it may be that he does before my term ends," Danner says. "I've urged him to look at those options."

    "I haven't had any conversation where I've told him I wanted to leave before he gets appointed," counters Hopkins.

    Except for one year spent as executive director of the California District Attorneys Association, from 1986 to 1987 (three years before Canlis), Hopkins has worked in the Santa Cruz County DA's office since 1979. He recently returned from trying a homicide case in Lake County--an assignment some thought of as a form of temporary exile.

    At a recent fundraiser for Second Harvest Food Bank, Hopkins was seen huddling with incoming Supervisor Tony Campos, who some think may be the swing vote. Hopkins says, incredibly, that he did not talk about the DA job with Campos. Campos did not return phone calls. Hopkins says he hasn't made up his mind about running in 2000 if he is not appointed, but some observers believe he will.

    Also running their names up the DA flagpole to see who salutes are Peter Chang, the Santa Cruz County DA from 1966 to 1974, who convicted Kemper, Mullin and Frazier and who is now in private practice in Santa Cruz; Ron Ruiz, a private defense attorney who lives in the county but has his office in San Jose; and Steve Muni, a former assistant DA in Santa Cruz from 1977 to 1987 who is now deputy DA in Amador County. Muni is the only openly gay prospect.

    The large number of people willing to challenge Canlis is symptomatic of a legal community deeply divided over who should follow Danner whenever he leaves. It's also not surprising that, as the putative front-runner, Canlis starts out as a marked woman. The competition also suggests that despite Danner's many years on the job, his influence over who would succeed him is limited. Some even say he's more of an albatross around Canlis' neck.

    There are other indications of this. On Dec. 8 the Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 1 to block a year-old request from Danner that five welfare-fraud investigators assigned to the county welfare department be transferred to the DA's office. Some observers saw this as a rebuke, suggesting that whatever influence Danner had--and, by extension, might be able to wield on Canlis' behalf--is waning. If he doesn't get the judicial appointment, Danner's continued effectiveness as DA could be in question.

    Canlis' bid has generated as much heat, if not light, as the other eight's combined. Indeed, Danner's possible departure has led to a torrent of animus and speculation, much of it of dubious currency and revealed only on a not-for-attribution basis. Few, especially critics, who are in a position to have an informed opinion about the choice are willing to express it on the record. Defense attorneys have to guard the interests of their clients and can't afford to alienate prosecutors. Inside the DA's office, being on the wrong side of a succession battle could get one exiled to drunk-driving cases. These are folks with enormous egos; the struggle over guilt and innocence is no place for shrinking violets.

    Peer Pressure

    BY OUR SECOND and third interviews, Canlis is more relaxed. "The Look" has been replaced by a sense of humor, even a little whimsy. But it has to be drawn out of her and seems unlikely to be a side of her that gets displayed much around the office.

    Canlis' supporters describe her as decisive, tough and no-nonsense, with superior managerial skills. One supporter calls her the "most deserving" candidate to succeed Danner: "She's an honest professional, competent and decisive." Toni Allen, who has been with Danner going on 13 years, calls Canlis her best friend in the office and "the best thing that has happened to this office since I came here."

    Even her detractors admit she is decisive and organized--two things they say Danner is not, which is why Danner has come so much to depend on her. But they also use words like arbitrary, vindictive, abrasive and even cruel.

    Many local attorneys who have worked closely with Canlis accuse her of lacking people skills, humiliating underlings in front of their peers and being divisive. One former staffer described her as having "the management style of Catherine the Great." The most frequent complaint is that Canlis plays favorites. There is an "A" list and a "B" list, they say, and to be on the latter is the kiss of death. Canlis denies ever hearing any discussion of "lists."

    Canlis admits she is tough. "If there were an Olympic event for shit-giving, I'd be a medalist," Canlis says. But she emphatically denies some of the more negative charges, such as that she will humiliate people in front of their peers. "I've never done that in my life," she says. "It's mean and not productive. You have to get people to cooperate." Allen says she "has never seen [Canlis] embarrass anyone in our office or be vindictive."

    But several Canlis critics say their experience suggests otherwise.

    Formerly the county's chief welfare-fraud prosecutor, Bob Noonan recently retired and now lives in Weed. Noonan says Canlis once dressed him down in the hallway in front of the staff over a complaint from a client. "She didn't even ask my side of the story first," says Noonan, who hastens to add that he is a firm supporter of Danner. It was not the only attempt to humiliate him, Noonan claims.

    Before leaving Nov. 27 after spending several months on disability leave, Noonan went to three supervisors and County Auditor Gary Knutson with allegations that welfare-fraud cases were being handled improperly since his reassignment from those duties in mid-September, including allegations of new hard-line procedures in arresting and prosecuting fraud cases, improper assignment of junior attorneys to the work and possible discrepancies in billing the state for grant money used to fund his position.

    Since the flap, Canlis says that she has returned fraud-case processing to the previous method of giving suspects extra notice to appear before an arrest warrant is issued.

    A review of Noonan's time cards by Metro Santa Cruz turned up one instance of a potentially improper charge to the state grant that funds the position. Jim Shepardson, a DA departmental clerk, says he inadvertently added a billing code to one two-week time card, believing that Noonan was still assigned to the job. No one, he says, had told him otherwise. Knutson, who is looking into the matter, says the state has probably not actually been billed yet for the time. At Noonan's rate of pay, the amount in question for the two-week period is in the neighborhood of $3,000.

    A recent request by Danner to the Board of Supervisors to have Noonan's former position continued was put off until the board's Jan. 12 meeting--an action which some have suggested is further evidence of an erosion in Danner's influence.

    "B" Movie

    EXAMPLES OF THE treatment of two assistant DAs, Gary Brayton and Patty Bazar, seem emblematic of how factions within the office react to Canlis' decision-making style.

    After almost 20 years in the office, assistant DA Gary Brayton insists that "if there were anyone that ought to have a grudge against Kate, it would be me.

    "Since Kate's arrival, I have suffered a series of demotions. I've even suffered a pay cut," says Brayton. And yet, he says, he has agreed with each decision she's made. "She has a good ability to assess people's talents and assign them to what they can do best, and communicate to people about those things."

    Sacramento County DA Jan Scully, who worked with Canlis for a number of years, reinforces Brayton's point of view. "I never had the sense that someone got a promotion because they were well-connected," says Scully. But she admits that "sometimes people would not appreciate Kate's frankness."

    By contrast, the controversy over management style came to a head in October 1997 when Bazar filed a complaint with the county's affirmative action office alleging gender bias. Danner and Canlis countered that their management decisions regarding Bazar were based on poor job performance. Bazar later filed suit.

    An opinion issued by county affirmative action officer Ana Ventura Phares found precarious middle ground, claiming there was "no direct evidence" that Bazar had been retaliated against, but noting "a perception among staff that gender, not performance, plays a major role in attorney assignments."

    The two cases reveal Canlis' dilemma: right or wrong, she calls 'em as she sees 'em. Toni Allen says this gives plenty of ammunition to critics, women in particular. "Women can be even harder on other women than men," Allen says. "Being assertive is not viewed as an attribute for women. You get the 'B' word."

    Many bring up the case of former assistant DA Catherine Gardner as evidence that Canlis can make the tough decisions, but that she sometimes does it in cold, heartless ways. Gardner was fired in July 1994 several months after disclosing to Danner that she was having trouble with an abusive relationship that involved the use of drugs. Danner kept Gardner on the payroll for four months, even though she did no work, then fired her after Danner won re-election that June and after the payroll flap became public. Canlis played a significant role in the decision to fire Gardner. It was the moment, many suggest, that marked the rise of Canlis' influence in the office.

    At the time many thought Gardner had been made to take the fall for the bad publicity. One attorney says Canlis simply decided that Gardner "didn't have a future in the office and did everything to ensure that." Gardner would not discuss the case with Metro Santa Cruz, but sources close to her case describe her as bitter that Danner and Canlis did not do more to help her in what she saw as a domestic violence case with herself as the victim.

    Canlis defends the decision and her role in it, saying that Gardner's cocaine use would have been a problem for the office when prosecuting future drug cases. "It seemed inconsistent to have her in the position," Canlis says.

    In unrelated comments, Canlis sums up her management philosophy in a way that suggests how she might have such vastly different reactions from staff.

    "I try to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses," she says.

    In search of a middle ground, one outside attorney familiar with the DA's office says there were two ways to look at Canlis as a potential district attorney. One was that it could be an overall good thing for the county, because of her experience and knowledge of what prosecutors need to do their jobs. The second option, however, would bode ill for the staff.

    "Divide and conquer tactic--that's her management style. She doesn't like coalitions to form against her," he says. "Does she bear grudges? Oh yes. She is clearly a person who will be divisive for people who work there." One critic says that Canlis "personalizes everything. She has an 'us-against-them' mentality."

    Morale Suasion

    THE STRUGGLE FOR Danner's job, premature as it may be, has been described as a "blood bath," a "free for all" and a "dogfight." The biggest guessing game in legal and political circles is which way the supervisors will ultimately lean. And the lobbying has been intense.

    "Art is trying to ram Kate down the supervisors' throats," says one Danner critic. Danner himself says simply "I've done what I could" for her.

    For her part, Canlis says she has talked to people in law enforcement, but says she is "trying not to be a pest or confrontational." When asked if Dag is helping out with political friends, she insists he is not. But an aide to Republican Sen. Bruce McPherson says Dag met with the senator early on in the process. "It's general knowledge he's doing a lot to push up his wife's chances," the aide says.

    Such conflicting stories make it hard to pin down who's doing what and just where things stand for Canlis and the other candidates. Some believe Canlis has two votes; others say that, despite Danner's efforts, she hasn't locked up any votes yet.

    The supervisors won't say whom they support, if anyone, but three agreed to talk about the lobbying.

    Second District Supervisor Walt Symons (no relation to Ariadne) says that when the prospect of Danner's judicial appointment first became public about two months ago, he got a lot of calls and was frequently lobbied at meetings and events. Symons' voting record indicates pro-Danner leanings, but he says he has not made up his mind about Danner's successor, should the need arise. If he had kept a tally, he says, "no one would be ahead" at this point.

    Fifth District Supervisor Jeff Almquist has been approached by several candidates and their supporters. He says he has been told there are morale problems inside the office and that there is "some amount of dissension."

    "Some younger attorneys say there is not a strong enough career track in the office," says Almquist. Gary Brayton disagrees.

    "There's scuttlebutt about that there's a terrible morale, a great restlessness among the troops," says Brayton. "There's not anything like a pervasive feeling of that."

    Third District Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt, a frequent Danner critic, says she has been lobbied extensively. "I've received lots of calls, from people both in and outside the legal community." Most of the calls have been from people intending less to build up one candidate than to tear down another.

    "Most calls have been negative against so-and-so," she says, with office politics getting a thorough airing. "It's been surprising to me how candid some people have been about the difficulties. Some have suggested bringing in someone from the outside," she says. The result, she says, has been a kind of pox-on-all-your-houses reaction by some supervisors.

    "All the candidates are going up there and cutting each other up," says one attorney with connections to the supervisors.

    The board has no set process in choosing a successor, but Symons and Wormhoudt say the supervisors are in the early stages of devising one. It will likely include establishing criteria for making a selection, then appointing a committee of former judges and attorneys, one appointment per supervisor, to recommend names from which the board can choose. That process could take weeks, or even months.

    Ariadne Symons
    George Sakkestad

    The Shadow Knows: A well-traveled Ariadne Symons hopes to settle in as the next DA.

    The Others

    THE OTHER CANDIDATES in the race present an interesting range of options for the supervisors, although there is a body of opinion which suggests that, with all the jockeying for the job, the person most likely to get it may be someone who has not yet emerged.

    Although she's worked for Danner for two years, Ariadne Symons sees herself as an outsider and says "bringing in an outsider would be a good thing." Symons is the most openly critical of the current administration.

    A native of Canada, Symons was an assistant DA in North Carolina before coming to Santa Cruz. She has also served as a deputy DA in Orange County and for the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's office in Washington, D.C.

    "People have to feel supported, that they're doing the right thing. That's what's missing in the office: it's not a positive place," says Symons. Assistant DAs, she says--and she is not the only one to say it--are not given enough autonomy.

    "We have a lot of good people that are not being given a fair opportunity." Echoing others who charge favoritism, Symons is on the record: "There is a sense in the office that decisions are not based on merit, and that undermines morale."

    Symons says that whether or not she will run if there is an election in 2000 "depends on who's DA."

    One outside attorney expressed some skepticism about Symons, mostly because she is something of an unknown.

    "No one knows much about her," he says. "She comes across as someone with larger aspirations. She's ambitious."

    Although he hasn't worked in the Santa Cruz DA's office since 1987, potential candidate Steve Muni defends Danner and Canlis, saying some of the criticism over loss of autonomy may be unfair. "Things happen as a natural part of expansion," Muni says. He calls Canlis "a forceful personality--frighteningly capable, extremely determined, a rough adversary."

    After his 10 years in the Santa Cruz County DA's office, Steve Muni was in private practice for eight years before moving to Amador County in 1996. In addition to his law degree he has a degree in international law from the University of London.

    "I'm not actively a candidate," says Muni. "If I thought I was wanted or could make a difference, that would make a difference to me."

    Christine McGuire is a senior trial attorney and veteran prosecutor, as well as the co-author (with husband Richard Standridge, Capitola financial officer) of five books, with a sixth on the way. Her first book, Perfect Victim, published in 1988, told the story of McGuire's prosecution of the notorious "Girl in the Box" case, about Colleen Stan and her seven-year imprisonment as a sex slave.

    She was a VISTA volunteer for Nevada Indian Legal Services in the 1970s and is the co-founder of the Santa Cruz County Child Death Review Team. McGuire has been careful not to lobby on office time, but says she has talked with supervisors.

    "I wish there was a book on how to do this," she says, adding that she will run for DA in 2000 if there is an election whether or not she is appointed by the supervisors. McGuire adds that she doesn't believe the competition to succeed Danner is affecting the internal working of the DA's office.

    "There is no 'blood bath,'" She says. "We are all respectful of each other."

    While an assistant district attorney in Tehama County in 1984, McGuire once had a guilty verdict overturned because it was later revealed that she had a romantic relationship with the defense attorney in the case. "In retrospect," McGuire says candidly, "it was not a wise thing to do."

    One defense attorney says of candidate and Santa Cruz native Bob Lee: "Lee could convict anyone, guilty or not." Indeed, Lee says he has never lost a case that has gone to a jury. He has been an assistant DA in Santa Cruz since 1988 and says he has successfully handled almost every position in the district attorney's office. He has specialized in sexual assault and child molestation prosecutions.

    Ron Ruiz has been in private practice for 34 years and spent five years as a member of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board during the Jerry Brown administration. Because of changes in sentencing laws in recent years, Ruiz says DAs are more powerful than ever, and that creates special obligations for them. "You have to put some humanity into the system that isn't there now," he says. Ruiz has also published two novels, both legal thrillers.

    Although he has talked to at least one supervisor, Ruiz is leery of getting too caught up in the politicking at this point. "Things seem to be pretty divided," says Ruiz. "I'd like to stay out of it."

    Former DA Peter Chang is still undecided, but says he will run if he decides he can make a good case for returning to the post he last held 24 years ago.

    "I believe a lot of healing has to take place," Chang says. "Reliable sources tell me there's a bad morale problem." He says if he is appointed there would not be wholesale changes right away. "I'd judge the validity of rumors and then go from there. Passing judgment from the outside is unfair and probably inaccurate." But he says he's heard enough to know that "things need to change."

    Bob Lee
    George Sakkestad

    Mr. Nice Guy: Bob Lee's genial demeanor masks a strong prosecutorial record.

    Only the Beginning

    ONE ATTORNEY SUGGESTS that the election of Gray Davis as governor could change the political dynamics for district attorneys statewide.

    "Under past Republican administrations, becoming DA was viewed as a political stepping stone," he says. You had to be a DA to become a judge, whereas now you might see more defense attorneys appointed to the bench. "With a Democratic governor, the [DA's] office will be depoliticized. People will have to care more about the office itself."

    That can be a near-impossible issue to parse, because the role of ego gratification or simple raw ambition can't be denied. Candidates like Canlis, McGuire, Symons and Hopkins are all competent attorneys, all are clearly ambitious, and all profess a deep concern for the office.

    Whatever else may motivate her, whatever her true people skills, Canlis' desire for the job is evident.

    "I've served under four DAs," says Canlis. "I'd like an opportunity to put some of my ideas into practice."

    If Danner does not get the judgeship, enough turmoil has been stirred up in recent weeks that a pall has been cast over the DA's office that may last for some time.

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  • From the December 24-30, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

    Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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