Madera County District Attorney Michael Keitz and challenger David Linn continue fierce political jousting in the race to be the top prosecutor — with each more than willing to point out what they see as the other's shortcomings.
Keitz, 59, of Madera, has served as district attorney for nearly six years. He's worked in the office for 22 years, formerly as a deputy district attorney.
Linn, 66, of Oakhurst, has worked as a trial and general practice attorney for close to 40 years.
Responding to a slew of criticisms from Linn, Keitz said of his opponent: "He's untested. He can only say what he would do. He hasn't lived it."
Keitz said criminal convictions in the county have increased 17% since he took office, citing the latest data available from 2013.
Linn isn't impressed. "Keitz is taking the low-hanging fruit to try and up his numbers" by choosing easier cases over harder ones.
Keitz said his office is severely understaffed. His 18 prosecutors each receive, on average, about 500 new cases a year — much higher than the 350-case average in most offices, Keitz said. Many cases are backlogged because of that, Keitz said. He said his office has one homicide case that goes back 33 years; another is 15 years old.
Both candidates say they want to increase staffing and salaries to combat high turnover rates because employees are overworked.
Linn says there are other reasons for the turnover, citing the controversial "Rowley report" — the result of a county decision to investigate employee complaints against Keitz. A judge ruled last year that the report be kept confidential after Keitz sued the Madera County Board of Supervisors to stop its release to the public.
While the Great Recession resulted in cuts to the DA's office, Keitz said, the future is looking better. This year, Keitz said two prosecutors were added because of increased funding. He's also applied for grants to provide additional dollars for specialized hiring.
Linn said another important component of winning funds — is working well with other agencies.
To make his point, the Vietnam War veteran referenced his years as a commander in the U.S. Navy. Linn said to win a war — be it overseas, or combatting things like drugs and violent crime at home — many groups have to work together. At the county level, that also means effective "coordination" and "communication," " which doesn't exist right now" because the DA's office isn't doing a good job of connecting, Linn said.
Keitz called Linn's attack "misinformation," saying there is a lot of cooperation between his office and other agencies.
But Linn said Keitz's failing is evident in the numerous Madera County law enforcement endorsements Linn has received, including retiring Sheriff John Anderson. Linn said he wants to have deputy district attorneys stationed in offices of some local law enforcement, such as the sheriff's substation in Oakhurst.
Linn said he'd also ensure more cases are prosecuted — and more quickly. If elected, he plans to prosecute his own caseload in addition to managing the office. To make that feasible, he'll live in Madera during the week and anticipates "15-hour days."
Keitz said when his office hasn't prosecuted a case, it's because it lacked needed evidence.
Regarding some Madera County issues, both talked about the importance of addressing violent crime, driving under the influence, drug sales, theft and gang violence. Both also say they'd push for a new headquarters. Yet how Keitz and Linn plan to solve some issues varies.
Linn said he'd put fewer juveniles and young people behind bars, turning more often to electronic monitoring and rehabilitation programs. Too often, young offenders are placed in jail as a "mixed-up kid and come out as a master burglar. ... It makes no sense."
Keitz feels he's done a good job prosecuting young offenders, highlighting some heinous crimes committed by youth. "You have to hold people accountable."
Regarding mounting problems at the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, Linn said if Keitz had prosecuted some previous cases, tensions wouldn't have boiled over, resulting in the Oct. 9 takeover attempt and resulting casino closure. Keitz said any case that wasn't prosecuted was because of adequate lack of evidence.
Linn sees himself as the more skilled in law, noting he's practiced before the U.S. Supreme Court. Keitz highlighted his service to Madera County and his ability to handle a $4.4 million budget.
Other accolades: Keitz served as a volunteer reserve deputy for the sheriff's office for 19 years; Linn is a past president of Rotary and the Oakhurst Community Fund. Linn is married to Betty Linn, publisher of the Sierra Star newspaper in Oakhurst, which is owned by McClatchy Co., which also owns The Bee.
Linn said being a lawyer gives you a chance to "change the world one case at a time, one day at a time," but being a district attorney can increase that number to the thousands. "That's what I'm really excited about."
Keitz called prosecution his "passion." "Madera County deserves good law enforcement. We're doing our darndest to give them the best that we can with the resources available to us."