May 25, 2014

Two challenge Madera County district attorney in June primary

Madera County District Attorney Michael Keitz will face two challengers in the June 3 primary: David Linn of Oakhurst and Miranda Neal of Raymond.

The challengers, both from the foothills of eastern Madera County, are eager to take the seat of Keitz, a Madera resident who has served as district attorney for about 51/2 years, and has been a prosecutor in the county for 22 years.

A central issue in the race is how the DA's office is being run.

Linn and Neal have cited morale problems within Keitz's office as well as employee complaints. Those allegations have put Keitz under scrutiny over the past year due to the controversial "Rowley report."

A judge ruled last May that the report -- the result of a county decision to investigate the complaints -- be kept confidential after Keitz sued the Madera County Board of Supervisors to stop its release to the public.

But Keitz said he invites his staff "into the decision-making process" and that they receive recognition for their achievements, adding he periodically holds employee appreciation events.

The candidates

* Keitz said this of the county's biggest law-enforcement problems: "Perhaps the most shocking is the rise in homicides related to gang activity."

To combat the problem, Keitz said he is adding another prosecutor to assist with homicide and gang cases.

Keitz's strengths include a "proven track record" of keeping homes and families safe, he said.

Since taking office, the county's criminal conviction rate increased by 17%, Keitz said, even with a shortage of resources in a downturned economy.

He shared some endorsements to tout his qualifications, including Bill Jones, former California secretary of state; Mike Reynolds, father of the state's Three Strikes Law; and Crime Victims United, a group that lobbies and pursues legislation for public safety. Keitz said he also was a Madera County volunteer reserve deputy sheriff for 19 years.

Keitz said this about how his office prioritizes cases: The DA is responsible for upholding all laws, but he doesn't file cases that don't meet the burden-of-proof requirement.

* Linn, a trial and general practice attorney for 40 years, said restructuring and restaffing the District Attorney's Office would be a major priority. "I lead by example and I will not ask my staff to do anything I am not willing to do."

Other goals: Improving relations with law enforcement and the county, building a district attorney's office near the new Madera County Courthouse, and "timely filing" of criminal complaints.

Linn said he has practiced law before the U.S. Supreme Court. If elected, he plans to prosecute his own caseload in addition to managing the office.

Linn is a Vietnam War veteran who retired as a commander with the U.S. Navy. He has the endorsement of retiring Madera County Sheriff John Anderson and the Madera County Correctional Officers Association.

Linn is married to Betty Linn, publisher of the Sierra Star newspaper in Oakhurst, which is owned by the McClatchy Co., which also owns The Fresno Bee.

How does he plan to prioritize cases? Serious felonies and in-custody defendants will be rapidly processed, he said, and all cases will be filed before the statute of limitations runs out.

* Neal, currently a deputy county counsel in Madera County, has been an attorney for 23 years. She previously worked as a deputy district attorney in Fresno County and as a public defender in Madera County.

She criticized the incumbent's "lack of ability" to manage the office and retain employees. Neals wants to "empower" the office's prosecutors and also sees finances as a major issue, vowing to "work within the budget and work smarter."

Neal said for the past seven years she has handled nearly all cases involving children's welfare brought by the Social Services Department, and that she also handles probate cases.

If elected, how would she prioritize cases? The most "dangerous offenders" would be tried first. And, she added, she will "quickly identify" cases where jail time could be avoided for another type of penalty.

Her strengths? Neal said her education, government experience, and ability to handle large case loads.

Other big issues

All candidates say they support rehabilitation programs and those aimed at reducing crime.

None oppose the death penalty, but their views on it differ slightly.

Keitz said those who commit the "most heinous murders are proper candidates" for the punishment. Linn said it's "appropriate for the most heinous crimes," but added death penalty prosecution along with appeals cost taxpayers "well in excess of $1 million" per case. Neal said it "must only be contemplated for the most extreme circumstances," adding 19 states have abolished the death penalty, and no one has been put to death in California in 15 years.

The candidates view California's Three Strikes Law differently. Keitz said the law has been "one of the most effective deterrents in recent history in reducing crime." Linn said it's "necessary" to deal with repeat offenders, but needs to be applied with more flexibility. Neal said she would handle the law on a case-by-case basis but "blind application" of it was "unjust" and it was amended for that reason.

When asked how to make the state's prison realignment work more efficiently for Madera County -- a mandate that has caused early releases of lower-level offenders statewide due to jail overcrowding -- Keitz put it back on the Legislature, saying negative outcomes stem from the state's decision, and the lawmakers have failed to increase prison capacity over the past 20 years.

Neal said district attorneys have to "exercise discretion in deciding which cases should be routed toward realignment rather than prison" and also be aware of rehabilitative programs.

Linn said it's important to realize California can't put "every minor criminal" in prison. "Programs such as house arrest and electronic monitoring should be used to reduce the prison population."

Candidates for Madera County DA:

Michael Keitz

Age: 59

Occupation: Incumbent, Madera County district attorney

Residence: Madera

Education: Juris doctor degree from San Joaquin College of Law; and bachelor's degree from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Family: Married with one son

Website: www.KeitzforDA.com

David Linn

Age: 65

Occupation: Attorney

Residence: Oakhurst

Education: Juris doctor degree from Pepperdine University; master's degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills; and bachelor's degree from Purdue University.

Family: Married with two daughters

Website: www.linnformaderada.com

Social media: https://www.facebook.com/david.linn.1460?fref=ts

Miranda Neal

Age: 56

Occupation: Madera County deputy county counsel

Residence: Raymond

Education: Juris doctor degree from Loyola Law School; and bachelor's degree from University of California, Los Angeles.

Family: Married with one daughter

Website: www.miranda4da.com

Social media: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Miranda-Neal/247638108741697

More political coverage:

Go to www.fresnobee.com/elections for more about the June 3 primary election.

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