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[whitespace] Ron Ruiz
Photograph by George Sakkestad

A Novel DA

Ron Ruiz is not your typical district attorney. He took the job as an outsider and has won allies after eight months. But does the public really know him? With an election four and a half months away, opponents are promising a tough fight.

By John Yewell

RON RUIZ SHOWS ME into his corner office on the second floor of the County Government Center. His desk is uncluttered, just small stacks of paper here and there and a few personal items. I'm not sure what I expected, but something seems amiss, and after a few minutes it dawns on me. The computer. It's behind him, not on his desk, and it's turned off. Who turns his computer off anymore, at least during working hours? The machine has a distinctly unused air. When I ask him about the computer, he says he knows how to use it, he just doesn't have much use for one. But when my pen runs out of ink, he reaches into a drawerful and offers me another. Lots of paper, extra pens. There's something telling in this throwback, low-tech approach to justice.

In this us-vs.-them world, we count on the district attorney to have an instinct for the jugular. When it comes to putting bad guys away, some people want the meanest sumbitch possible at the bar crying out for justice. Santa Cruz County's first new DA in 20 years doesn't fit that mold. Not that he's soft--he favors the death penalty, for one thing, and in his first eight months on the job has sought it twice. But as a longtime defense attorney, award-winning novelist and former Agricultural Labor Relations Board attorney, Ronald Leonard Ruiz is different.

Ruiz was appointed by the Board of Supervisors Feb. 11 from a field of eight to replace former District Attorney Art Danner, who had finally gotten the black robe he'd long coveted. Ruiz's term runs until the next election in March--or November 2000 if no one gets an absolute majority in the primary.

Since taking over, Ruiz has simultaneously had to learn to be a DA, familiarize himself with an office full of huge egos, make key personnel decisions without knowing the players, run a gauntlet of emotionally charged criminal cases, organize an office divided against itself, prepare his own election campaign and pick the buckshot out of his ass from political potshots delivered by supporters of his main opponent in March, former acting District Attorney Kate Canlis.

Ruiz is upbeat.

"I came in as an outside defense attorney," Ruiz says. "I think I've made a lot of headway."

A Road Less Traveled

RUIZ WAS THE smart kid from West Fresno, the other side of the tracks. He was educated by the Christian Brothers and was the first member of his family to graduate from high school. After leaving Fresno, Ruiz went to St. Mary's, the Christian Brothers college in Moraga. He loved literature, especially Dostoevsky and Faulkner. The real goal was to prep for law school--although not because he loved the law.

"I didn't want to be poor anymore," Ruiz says. "I wanted status in the worst way."

He went to Boalt Hall at Berkeley on a scholarship and hated it, dropping out after his first year and spending the next five years working at odd jobs. "I didn't dare go home," he says. "I'd let them all down."

He tried to be a writer, without much success--which was a humbling experience. Then he got married and became a father. He went back to law school at the University of San Francisco and got his degree in 1964. After law school there was a brief stint with the Alameda County DA's office. Between 1974 and 1980, he served on staff or as a member of the California Agriculture Labor Relations Board, after which he went into private practice as a defense attorney. During the next 19 years, he says, "I represented some very reprehensible people."

Through it all, he kept on writing--by hand, on legal pads.

It was an old friend, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Terry, who swore Ruiz in as district attorney 50 years after they met in the seventh grade.

"If you're looking for a guy that's really honest, dedicated to fairness and justice and not afraid to face tough issues and call them as he sees them," Terry says, "that's what he is." More recent acquaintances agree.

"Ron is completely honest," says assistant district attorney Ariadne Symons, who also applied for the DA job but who now supports Ruiz. "He makes decisions on the right things, not on friendships. He's naive politically, but that's quite refreshing."

Not everyone is enamored of Ruiz. His press has been mixed, and some have questioned his decisions in charging and prosecuting several high-profile cases. Residents of the Neary Lagoon apartments in Santa Cruz have been critical of his recent decision not to prosecute alleged hate crimes, claiming lack of evidence. And with Ruiz up for election in March, there is a cadre of political opponents within his office who fought his appointment and will continue to do so until the voters have spoken.

"I thought that once the board made an appointment it would calm the storm," remarks one local attorney. "But it hasn't blown itself out yet. It's going to get meaner and meaner."

Into the Lion's Den

RUIZ SURPRISED EVERYONE when he came out of nowhere to win the job, a decision that was preceded by months of highly politicized jockeying. Danner campaigned hard for Canlis, who was his chief deputy at the time and served as acting district attorney between the time Danner ascended to the bench and the time Ruiz was installed.

Over 20 years Danner had made his share of enemies, and he turned out to be an albatross around Canlis' neck. His efforts on her behalf were widely viewed as an attempt, whatever her attributes, to shove her down people's throats. And Canlis all by herself had made a few enemies, who view her as abrasive and a player of favorites.

The office needed someone who could come in without the baggage of a connection to the pro- or anti-Danner/Canlis factions. While Ruiz benefited--and Canlis suffered--from this perception, Ruiz's road to the office wasn't much smoother. His record as a defense attorney played against him in the minds of many, particularly the 19 assistant DAs--half of the office--who signed a Jan. 19 letter to the board supporting Canlis.

But then her backers committed a serious political gaff. Sensing that Ruiz was gaining support, assistant DAs Siddhartha Sundaram (who has since left) and Dennis Wong wrote a letter Feb. 1, which was distributed to the media and law enforcement agencies. The letter said that Ruiz's past defense of the leader of a notorious prison gang would "destroy our ability to convince victims and witnesses of gang crime to trust us and testify against other gang members," because of "the obvious perception ...that Mr. Ruiz assisted the leader of the Nuestra Familia and thus will continue to assist other gang members."

The letter then said the authors "do not suggest that Mr. Ruiz would do this," but of course that is exactly what they had suggested. The result was a backlash against Canlis, who in the end was passed over by the five-member Board of Supervisors without receiving a single vote.

Eyes on the Prize

AS WE SETTLE IN to begin the interview, I'm reminded of our first meeting eight months earlier. There was a disarming fatalism about Ruiz then, an uncalculated candor for a man about to enter a political star-chamber, where anything he said could be twisted into a weapon and used against him.

At 62, and with two critically successful novels under his belt and a third on the way, Ruiz the writer was just hitting his stride. He could have retired and taken up writing full time. Fate even conspired to tempt him to do just that. On Jan. 20, minutes before leaving for a DA candidates' forum, Ruiz received a phone call telling him that his second novel, Guiseppe Rocco, had received the Premio Aztlán prize as the best novel by a Latino in 1998.

Any second thoughts he had about applying for the job were not long-lived. "I soon found out I was going to be seriously considered," Ruiz told his audience at a June 17 reading from Guiseppe Rocco at Bookshop Santa Cruz, "because the Board of Supervisors was unhappy with the office as it stood."

One of those board members who was unhappy with the status quo also became an early Ruiz supporter.

"I thought, this is the kind of person you want to have exercising that kind of discretion as DA," Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt says. "He was very straightforward, candid, sincere, thoughtful. He took his time and wasn't trying to impress anyone."

Ron Ruiz, by all accounts, is still not trying to impress anyone--which impresses some and dismays others.

"He's not politically astute," says one local defense attorney, echoing the opinion of many. "But what I question most about Ron is why he'd want the job in the first place."

Ruiz says one of the main reasons he wanted the job is because mandatory sentencing laws had taken the dispensing of justice out of the hands of judges.

"There is power in the sense that we have discretion over how you initially charge," Ruiz explains. "We try to be fair to all sides based on the initial police report." It is, he says, an opportunity to do good in ways he hadn't had before.

Enforcing California's three-strikes law is itself a sobering experience, Ruiz says. District attorneys have the discretion to charge a strike for third felonies, but the ramifications can be devastating. Increasingly parole boards are turning a deaf ear to applicants. As a result, a 25-years-to-life sentence from a third-strike conviction is likely to mean just that: life. For a felony property crime like burglary--where the loss may have been minimal--sending someone to prison for the rest of his life can seem downright Dickensian.

"My criterion is public safety," he explains. "Where the public is really threatened, or a person's background indicates a threat, or where the other two strikes alert you to a threat, then three-strikes is warranted.

"You're playing with big marbles, putting someone away for life," he continues. "But there are instances because of the threat to public safety when you have to. I mean that."

Matters of Style

BUT THERE IS A PART of the job that Ruiz was utterly unprepared for: the politics.
"He inherited a bigger mess than he realized," says one former assistant DA, who asked that his name not be used. "People were lining up to stab him in the back and make life difficult for him."

Politics is a tough business, some would say corrosive to the soul, and Ron Ruiz is a true political ingenue. It's easy to argue that a more public-relations-conscious person would have a better chance of succeeding--at least in the short term. People used to Danner's media-conscious style find Ruiz's lack of gregariousness distressing. "I regard that as part of the function of being a DA," says one assistant district attorney who requested anonymity.

Having that skill might have helped Ruiz in cases where the finer legal points were less important to a case than the need to give the press and public the impression that justice was being done.

Some consider his taciturn manner a plus. "The most interesting people in political life are complicated," Wormhoudt says of Ruiz.

As an outsider coming into a polarized office, Ruiz had no natural constituency. Some say that in trying to turn the office around and improve morale he moved too fast, making lineup changes without knowing the roster, placing people in key positions without a full appreciation of their skills.

"He walked into a minefield without knowing where any of them were planted," says one former assistant DA.

After working with him a few months, many colleagues, including some who supported Canlis, have been won over. The county District Attorney Inspectors Association voted 10 to 2 on Sept. 23 to endorse him for election. On Sept. 15, at the monthly meeting of the assistant district attorneys, an effort by a group of Canlis supporters to pass a vote of no-confidence in Ruiz was tabled for lack of support.

Many believe that, given more time, Ruiz can prove himself. Don Dietrich, president of the Deputy Sheriffs' Association, is among them.

"I wish we were having this conversation a year from now," says Dietrich, speaking for himself. "He hasn't had enough swings at the plate yet."

"If people give him a decent amount of time," adds Ruiz friend Judge Terry, "they'll be satisfied they have somebody who will bring stability."

The former defense attorney admits to being unprepared for life in a political cauldron. "I've never been a politician," Ruiz says in our interview. "I'm learning as fast as I can."

Not fast enough, it would seem, for some. His newness on the job and lack of political sophistication have more than once invited controversy.

"What would you expect of someone who's arrived at his age never having had to function in this capacity?" asks one Canlis supporter. "He gets blind-sided because he doesn't anticipate anything."

Still, Ruiz's efforts have begun to pay off in support within the wider law enforcement community. He has been endorsed by police chiefs Terry Medina of Watsonville and Stephen Walpole of Scotts Valley--both of whom expressed doubts about his original appointment--as well as the Latino Peace Officers Association. And while he hasn't taken a position in the race, Sheriff Mark Tracy says his relationship with Ruiz has been good.

"I've found Ron Ruiz to be a person of high ethical standards, easy to deal with, a very good communicator," Tracy says.

Meanwhile, Canlis is organizing. She has hit the speaking circuit--last week it was the Rotary Club--and has hired the high-powered Sacramento consulting firm of McNally Temple Associates to advise her campaign. With her husband, Daryl Alan Gault, leading the way, Canlis plans an aggressive campaign.

Kate Canlis Witness Against the Prosecution: Since being passed over by the board of supervisors, former acting District Attorney Kate Canlis has come out swinging in her campaign to unseat Ron Ruiz.

Photograph by George Sakkestad

Bumps in the Road

HIS FIRST MAJOR charging decision got high marks. Three weeks after taking office, Ruiz announced he would seek the death penalty for two of four defendants in the Nov. 17, 1998, murder of Watsonville businessman Gaylord Chilcote.

The victims' family and friends expressed satisfaction with the decision, which was reached after consultations with people on both sides of the bar. Ruiz was credited for making a tough call in a county with a jury pool not thought to be disposed to confirming death sentences. And it cooled the jets of critics who assumed Ruiz's supposed defense bias would cause him to go soft on violent criminals.

"I support the death penalty," Ruiz says, "but believe in using it sparingly and in as evenhandedly a way as possible."

One of the county's leading death-penalty opponents, Supervisor Wormhoudt says the decision did not change her opinion of him.

"I am opposed to the death penalty, and I knew he was not opposed to it when I voted for him," Wormhoudt says. "I will try to change the law, but I won't oppose a DA just because he obeys the law. I would vote for him again today."

Ruiz managed to stay out of the headlines until late April, when Enrique Martinez, an inspector in his office, resigned over allegations of domestic battery. Martinez is accused of beating two former girlfriends, in one case breaking an arm.

Then Santa Cruz County Sentinel reporter May Wong got hold of the internal probe of the case. The resulting story revealed that Danner had known about the allegations in July 1998 but did not follow up on them. Although Danner's chief deputy at the time, Canlis claims she knew nothing of the allegations until she became acting DA the following January.

Rather than quietly investigating the source of the leak to Wong, Ruiz went public, promising to fire the person responsible. Instead of becoming a story about what Canlis knew and when she knew it, his action had the appearance of picking a fight with the Sentinel that he was doomed to lose. The incident turned into a negative for Ruiz and left no fingerprints on Canlis. The leaker was never discovered, and the matter was eventually dropped.

The affair struck some as positively Nixonian, and would be the first of several missteps over the ensuing months that would create the impression that he was in over his head.

Press Gang

WHILE THIS INTRAMURAL squabble between Ruiz and the Sentinel didn't get the public's blood up, the case of Ben Chirco did.

Chirco is the rural Bonny Doon property owner who brandished a gun while catching kids vandalizing abandoned vehicles on his property. After the story hit in late June, the public was whipped into a frenzy by talk-radio hosts outraged that a man was going to jail for defending his property against young punks.

With the press focusing on the public reaction, the fact that Chirco was a convicted felon in possession of a gun--a virtual one-way ticket to the hoosgow--got lost. While publicity-shy Sheriff Tracy was hit hardest by the bad press and the original charging decision was made on Canlis' watch, Ruiz cut the deal on the sentence and got tarred with the same brush--even though law enforcement officials agreed with the charge.

One Canlis supporter, who spoke on background, agreed with the charge against Chirco, but not Ruiz's handling of it. Danner, he says, would have sensed the potential for controversy and been out front on day one. By the time Tracy and Ruiz's explanation got out, pro-Chirco momentum had been established, and no one was listening anymore.

Meanwhile, in the Sentinel letters to the editor, Ruiz's detractors were getting an assist, perhaps inadvertently.

On Aug. 6, two anti-Ruiz letters appeared, one from Gerald and Virginia Lichac of Santa Cruz and another from Don Parkhurst of Scotts Valley. Both letters were later reprinted in their entirety, the Lichac letter on Aug. 9 and the Parkhurst letter on Aug. 11, furthering the impression of a greater public outcry than existed. Only a very attentive reader would have noticed that they were the same letters.

Still, it was early in the game. Ruiz had only been on the job for six months, and these stumbles had not yet put him seriously on the hot seat with the public. That would soon change.

Say It With Flower

RUIZ FOUND MORE TROUBLE in early August, just as the Chirco case was fading. Former District Attorney (1966-74) Peter Chang--who had also applied for the job and whose lawyer has indicated, improbably, that Chang may run for the post in March--came under investigation for tampering with a witness.

A client, 37-year-old Laurie Flower, had been charged with having sex with a 13-year-old boy in her foster care. Chang is alleged to have helped the boy flee to Hawaii to avoid testifying against Flower and then to have encouraged both Flower and the boy to lie about it. The case quickly turned sordid, as Chang is also alleged to have coerced Flower into having sex with him in consideration for his legal services. Search warrant documents detail Flower's account of the sex acts, and Flower's ability to describe the inside of Chang's home lent credibility to her testimony. Flower agreed to testify against Chang.

Concerned with a possible conflict of interest because of Chang's potential candidacy, Ruiz asked the state attorney general to take over the case, but the AG's office declined after determining, Ruiz says, that there was no conflict.

Some defense attorneys argue that prosecuting Chang is a mistake, that the better course of action would be to refer him to the state Bar Association for disciplinary action. Cutting a deal with Flower, they say, turns justice on its head by letting the greater offender off easier.

"Why is it a sweet deal for Flower?" Ruiz argues. "She pleaded to what she was charged with and got a 16-year suspended sentence, with probation for that time, plus a year in jail." As an attack on the system itself, supporters of the charges argue, Chang's actions justify the two felony charges filed so far against him. Sources say a third felony charge may be pending.

"She would probably have gotten probation anyway with or without testimony against Chang," Ruiz says. Within the DA's office, investigators and prosecutors agree that the sentence Flower accepted was probably the one she would have gotten anyway had the case gone to trial, whether or not she testified against Chang.

But Ruiz's predilection for candor stood him in poor stead.

As Chang was being booked on
Aug. 13, Ruiz explained to reporters the four circumstances behind the plea agreement with Flower: she had no priors, was found to be amenable to treatment, was not a sexual predator and no force or coercion was used in her relationship with the boy.

In explaining this last point, Ruiz said that interviews with the boy and Flower suggested a "genuine" attraction between the two.

The quote set off a firestorm of criticism. As one local defense attorney commented, Ruiz should have put that one to the "guffaw" test before saying it.

Critics did a quick gender role-reversal calculation and decided that if the alleged "affection" would not be taken into account between an older man and a girl, then the same applied in this case.

But that's not necessarily the case, according to Pam Kato, one of the two assistant DAs handling the case. Kato says there is no gender-reversal calculation argument to make.

"I've had cases of 30-plus-year-old men and 13-year-old girls where the man gets probation for similar reasons [to Flower's]," Kato says. "Often, the victim doesn't want him to go to jail--and the law says we have to protect the victim from trauma as much as possible."

Abhorring the crime and determining what form of justice the law will allow are two different things. In the eyes of the law, both Kato and Judge Terry say, each case of sexual abuse has to be treated according to individual circumstances.

"The adult is not always a monster," Kato says, adding that many cases don't involve stranger/predator behavior. "Affection sometimes plays a part. It exists. We see it all the time."

In addition, Kato made a statement nearly identical to Ruiz's two days earlier in the press, describing a "strong love relationship" between Flower and the boy, yet escaping criticism.

"That's probably because I'm not running for office," Kato says with a laugh.

But once in trouble over the quote, Ruiz could never quite extract himself. Rather than declining to comment further, he continued trying to explain the legal point.

Ruiz is still learning that law and politics are played on two different playing fields by two different sets of rules. And there's an old rule in politics: It doesn't matter if you're right or wrong; if you have to explain your point, you've lost.

Willy Horton II

THE NEXT SHOE DROPPED two days after Chang's booking, when the Sentinel ran an op-ed piece by Canlis taking Ruiz to task over his handling of a domestic violence case involving the March 21 death of Leticia Coronado. Canlis' piece was in response to a Ruiz op-ed piece a month earlier in which he pushed a plan for a special "domestic violence court," along the lines of "drug courts," which invest a lot of time in overseeing the probation of the convicted.

Leticia's husband, Isaac, had been charged Feb. 11 with two felonies and a misdemeanor for beating his wife two days earlier. He made bail and walked out of the courtroom, and Ruiz's office eventually agreed to a single misdemeanor count on March 1. Three weeks later, Leticia was dead. Canlis claims Ruiz should have vigorously prosecuted Isaac Coronado and that doing so might have deterred him from killing his wife.

Ruiz says that Canlis' letter "was full of falsehoods," and it is at least true that Canlis left some things out. According to investigators, even if the case had gone to trial, Isaac's freedom on bail--which county bail guidelines granted him--gave him access to his wife anyway. Whether the murder could have been prevented by aggressive prosecution no one can say.

Ruiz's chief deputy, George Kovacevich, who handled the case--and who signed the Jan. 19 letter supporting Canlis--says several factors argued against taking the case to trial. Investigators familiar with the case agree.

Steve Smith, a longtime DA's office investigator and a former member of the county Republican Central Committee who now supports Ruiz, fired back at Canlis for attempting to use Isaac Coronado the same way George Bush used Willy Horton in the 1988 presidential campaign.

"She backhandedly accused us of complicity in [Leticia's] murder--or of incompetence," Smith says angrily. "They go after Ruiz because he's not a sound-bite kind of guy, not adept at dealing with the media. But as investigators, we all know what it takes to prosecute domestic violence cases. It hurt everyone when [Leticia] was murdered. But you can never predict what a suspect is going to do. The facts just didn't add up in the Coronado case, especially with the victim unwilling to testify. Canlis presumed we didn't consider the facts."

Tom Gilbertson, the Sheriff's Department investigator who handled the original domestic violence case against Isaac Coronado, agrees with Smith. "It's unfortunate that a tragedy like this gets used for political purposes," Gilbertson says.

Scott's Valley's chief Walpole echoed the politics charge, and hints that Canlis' record on domestic violence invites its own scrutiny.

"Canlis [as an assistant DA] made some calls that I strongly disagreed with that she didn't prosecute," says Walpole. "Any one of those calls could have ended up like this one. I felt she knows better. I think it was pure politics."

Selective Memories

ALONG WITH THE CHIRCO and Chang/Flower cases, the incident that received the most public attention was the high-profile resignation of assistant DA Martha Carrillo, who left Santa Cruz County Sept. 10 to take a job with the district attorney's office in her native Los Angeles. Efforts to contact Carrillo for this story were unsuccessful.

Carrillo was one of the assistant DAs who signed the Jan. 19 letter in support of Canlis. On her way out the door, Carrillo sent a letter to the media ripping Ruiz, calling his administration a "leadership vacuum" and his management "unsupportive." The story was above-the-fold front-page news.

On Ruiz's promise to improve office morale, Carrillo wrote, "You have failed." She accused the misdemeanor prosecution team of being in "disarray," and Ruiz of failing to hire more Latino attorneys, particularly in the Watsonville office.

Carrillo's letter also showed a flair for self-aggrandizement, referring to "idealistic young prosecutors like me" while speculating whether "my courage will prompt some change." She also praised the previous Danner/Canlis administration. "Despite entering at the lowest rank, I was supported at every level by management genuinely interested in me as a person as well as my development as a skilled and ethical prosecutor," she wrote.

What Carrillo left out is that she owed Danner--and possibly Canlis as well.

According to DMV records, Carrillo was busted by the Highway Patrol in Aptos on a DUI charge on Oct. 19, 1996, a few months after joining the Santa Cruz DA's office. As an "extra-help" employee without civil service protection, Carrillo could have been fired, which might have effectively ended her legal career. But she wasn't. The charge was reduced to "wet and reckless"--meaning that alcohol was a contributing factor in her driving--and her driver's license was suspended for four months. Eventually, Danner hired her permanently.

Canlis refused to comment on Carrillo's DUI charge or its reduction.

It is also widely rumored within the legal community that Canlis helped Carrillo in other ways--in particular, by lending her money to buy a car. When asked to confirm or deny this, Canlis gives the George W. Bush reply--refusing to play "gotcha."

"Once I start down the road listening to gossip and answering questions that are unduly personal ... I'm not going to go there," she says.

When it is pointed out that her answer is unresponsive, she replies: "That's the only answer you're going to get."

There is even some question whether Canlis' supporters had a hand in writing the Carrillo letter. Assistant District Attorney Gary Brayton, a Canlis supporter, calls the letter "100 percent substance" and admits discussing it with Carrillo in advance.

"I had prior awareness of it, and we talked about it," Brayton says, "but I had no part in writing it." In some books, "prior awareness" is a definition of conspiracy, and the phrase suggests some truth to accusations that Canlis' supporters within the DA's office are plotting against Ruiz.

As for the treatment of Carrillo, Jim Jackson, Carrillo's supervisor in the misdemeanor unit, claims Carrillo's letter was a cheap shot.

"The misdemeanor team is not in disarray," Jackson says. "And the reason there have been no other Latino hires is because we're still working off the civil-service hiring list left over from the Danner administration. She was the Latina attorney in Watsonville, and was moved out at her request to get more trial experience. We did everything we could to help her."

Jackson and others insist Carrillo jumped, she was not pushed, and that she left for more money and to be closer to her family.

Culture Shock

THE EAGERNESS WITH WHICH he accepted the job has mellowed, revealing the fatigue of 12-hour days and weekends. After the beating Ruiz has taken in the press, meeting with me goes against the advice of his campaign advisors.

"They told me I shouldn't talk to the press so much," he says.

Although Ruiz still squeezes in the occasional literary reading, his life is completely taken over by his new job and the obligation to campaign for the March election.

"The irony is," he told a recent audience of book lovers, "I don't have time to write because I'm the DA, but my books are selling better because I'm DA."

Someone asks him why he writes. He considers this for a moment.

"All I've ever wanted to write about is the human condition," he continues. "Maybe that's presumptuous as hell. But somehow, in some way, you transcend everyday existence. Maybe you transcend death a little bit." Most people are good and decent, Ruiz says, and enforcing the law is a way of trying to do right by them.

But elections often bring out the worst in people. One assistant DA, Morgan Taylor (who also signed the Jan. 19 letter supporting Canlis), says he likes both Canlis and Ruiz and wishes there were room for both.

"That's not too likely," Taylor says. "I regret they're pitted against each other. Now they'll be demonized."

Ruiz's supporters, not surprisingly, argue that he has had limited time to master the job and prove he can make a difference. When the long knives are out, 13 months between appointment and election is short.

"It took 20 years to build the culture in that office," Wormhoudt adds. "Anybody who thinks you can turn it around in so short a time is wildly optimistic."

And, Ruiz adds, "there's a book in what's going on here."

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From the October 20-27, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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