Op/Ed: SF DA Race

By Kevin Brown
The Guardsman

Of the five candidates running for San Francisco District Attorney, the top two contenders David Onek and George Gascòn have absolutely no court experience, which is interesting considering that the DA is responsible for deciding which cases are seen in court and for the prosecution of such cases. 

This makes a bit more sense however when you take into account that incumbent Gascòn was never voted into office but was promoted from police chief to DA by ex-mayor Gavin Newsom in an ethically questionable political move.

Onek’s background

Although neither candidate has any court experience, Onek would be a much more effective DA for San Francisco. He’s more progressive and passionate about completely reforming the state’s failing criminal justice system.

“California’s criminal justice system is broken,” Onek said. “Not bent, not strained, not in need of a little attention but utterly broken.”

Onek will work hard to bring together all organizations involved in the legal system in order to cooperatively identify, address and correct the justice system’s many flaws.

He successfully facilitated this type of communication while on San Francisco’s Police Commission when he helped convicts procure employment upon release by bringing together law enforcement, prison guards union, prisoner outreach organizations and potential parolee employers.

“Collectively,” he said, “we developed a set of recommendations to improve job opportunities for people leaving prison, and the results of our meetings were mutually beneficial to all parties involved.”

Having been raised in a political family in Washington, D.C., Onek spent weekends in the White House with his dad who worked for President Carter and Senator Ted Kennedy. After attending Brown and Stanford Law School he worked with the Haywood Burns Institute in San Francisco, which focuses on juvenile racial issues.

Juvenile law a priority

Unlike most law professionals who consider juvenile law to be inferior to the actual justice system, almost an afterthought, Onek continues to be passionate about helping at-risk youth avoid future legal troubles and prioritizes juvenile justice reform as a way to fix the problems in the entire justice system.

“We can fix the adult correctional system by fixing the issues within the juvenile system that ineffectively deter future criminal activity,” Onek said. “Most people in the adult correctional system went through the juvenile system and it obviously didn’t work because they’re still involved in crime.”

He has always been strongly anti-death penalty and is adamant about modifying California’s “three strikes” law to focus only on violent offenders.

Gascon’s baggage

Gascòn might have been a good police chief, but shouldn’t continue to be DA due to his connections to the police force, which will  inevitably create unacceptable conflicts of interest.

This has already impeded his performance as DA when earlier this year he had to turn over investigations of the Henry Hotel scandal to the federal government because his involvement with the SFPD made it impossible for him to do his job.

Otherwise, Gascòn hasn’t exactly been a bad DA thus far. A Cuban exile, he has shown compassion on immigration issues throughout his career. After many years, he has finally come around to opposing the death penalty.

However, Onek would be much better suited for this position since San Francisco needs a progressive DA who will be able to investigate the police force without running to the feds.

Ultimately, the deal breaker for Gascòn are his police affiliations, which can’t be stressed enough, make his legitimacy as DA  impossible.