1:1 with Jackie
by Tony Medley
who is running for District Attorney to replace Steve Cooley in June,
was born February 27, 1957 in Los Angeles. She graduated from Dorsey
High School in Los Angeles and received her bachelor's degree in
Psychology at UC Irvine. She received her J.D. from USC in 1982. I
interviewed her at the California Club in downtown Los Angeles.
What made you think you wanted to be a lawyer?
took a class called the introduction to the study of law. The class
required you to go into a courtroom one day a week in Santa Anna, and
sit and observe and write a paper. I found myself so interested in what
was happening in the courthouse that I realized that this was someplace
I wanted to work for the rest of my life. I enjoy the simple theater of
not knowing what was going to come out of a witness's mouth, or the
judges, and the whole dynamic of the courtroom.
How did you decide you wanted to be a prosecutor?
when I graduated I worked at a small firm and I was very bored by
depositions. I couldn't understand why lawyers would ask so many
questions so many different ways. A friend of mine said to come over to
the Santa Monica city attorneys office because they were hiring. Then I
became hooked by putting on my own trials, with persuading the jury, and
helping victims and working with witnesses and police officers. I sort
of stumbled into what I believe is my life's calling.
How did you join the DA's Office?
the Santa Monica city attorneys office only did misdemeanor cases and I
wanted more challenging cases. I wanted to do felonies, so I applied and
joined the DAs office in 1986. I worked my way up through the chairs and
I'm now the number two after 26 years.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
There have been many but certainly Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley has been a
big influence. He was the first mentor I had in the office that said,
"I'm going to give you a chance. I'm going to give you
opportunities and certain cases," as he did with a lot of us who were
under his watch. There are cases that are routine cases and then there
are cases that are what I call career making cases. Sometimes you will
see a head deputy or supervisor give his or her favorite lawyer all of
the important career making cases. Steve's position when he got in was
that he took all his cases back and reassigned them so that everybody
had a chance to prove themselves as a good trial lawyer. For someone
like me who, at times, can be somewhat reluctant to brag on themselves
and to self promote it was extremely helpful to me. I think because I
was not a self promoter and because I did not brag a lot of what I did,
I don't think I got the opportunities that I would've gotten before
Steve Cooley came along. There is one other person who has influenced my
moral compass and that's John Asari, who is a legend. He was very big on
teaching young prosecutors to do the right thing no matter what. His
message was, "Look, if the case isn't there you have an ethical duty to
dismiss it." Those times that I spent listening to him have really
influenced who I am today as a prosecutor. I'm tough in terms of violent
crimes, but am always fair and measured and calm at the end of the day
in terms of making rational decisions.
it's not a win at all costs proposition?
No, and it shouldn't be.
Yes, but it happens.
course it does. I always feel like, how would I like to be treated if,
God forbid, I were in that situation? You want to be held accountable,
but you don't want someone who is unfair, who hides evidence, who
misuses the power that they have just in order to say, "I got a
have you dismissed cases just because you are convinced they were not
Yes. But most of my big cases have been well investigated and I was
convinced that the person was guilty of the charges.
What was your most important case?
most important case was a hate crime murder case that I tried. Back in
the 90s there was a group of Nazi low-riders, young men and women who
were trying to revive a lot of the racial violence of the past. They had
a desire to elevate their status in their group. In order to do that
they had to kill a minority. So right around Thanksgiving they were in a
McDonald's and there was a homeless African-American man, Milton Walker,
46 years old, addicted to drugs, out on the street, no family. He got
into an argument with another woman, who was also homeless. That caught
their attention. They followed him after the argument and into a vacant
lot and they literally beat him to death with objects they found on the
ground, a 2 x 4 and a tire iron. They did it in order to earn the rights
to get a lightning bolt tattoo. They were young, in their 20s. The crime
was particularly cruel and vicious. It was a difficult case because they
all made statements. We had to have three separate juries. So instead of
one group, I actually had to argue to three different groups of 12
people for the same crime.
That must have been hard.
It was hard. You had to make sure you didn't bring in statements from
another defendant into that jury trial. I tried it in front of a famous
judge, Lance Ito, and we got convictions in all three of those cases,
and it was the first time in LA County history that anybody had been
tried and convicted under the hate crime statute. It was a challenge.
There was no second chair at all. I was all by myself.
Steve Cooley is a Republican and you're a Democrat. How does politics
That's true, but the race is a non partisan race. The district attorney
ought to be nonpartisan, particularly when you're talking about running
a public integrity unit. Corruption can come in all different sizes and
all different political parties. The last thing you want is for someone
to claim that you're going after me because I'm from the opposite
political party. I'm a Democrat and he's a Republican but for the last
12 years our management team has been made up with people from both
political parties. And we work very well together because the mission is
always the same, what is the right thing to do here? Not what is the
politically expedient thing to do?
is supporting you over another Republican who is running.
is supporting me over a Republican who's running, over a Republican
turned declined to state friend. I think that's huge. I'm very proud to
have his support. He's had an opportunity to watch me work. When you
know him you know that he doesn't say things lightly. He's measured. He
could choose to stay out of this. He's retiring; he could choose not to
endorse anyone. But he cares so much about the mission of the office and
we have worked together so successfully that he's chosen to step out
there and work to help get me elected.
Have you done any polling?
you don't know how you're doing?
you have any organization?
have a campaign team. I have a day-to-day manager, a fundraiser, and
Are you going to do anything differently if you get elected?
First of all, I think the district attorney has done a great job. He's
been nonpolitical. Crime rates are at a 16 year low. He's been
courageous in a lot of the changes that he's made. The challenges for me
will be different. I will build a lot on what he's already done. The
district attorney really hasn't had to deal with what we believe will be
the lasting effects of realignment and A.B. 109, the shift of local
prisoners to state prison. That is a sea change in our criminal justice
system. What I would like to do is to expand the use of what are called
alternative sentencing courts. That would mean we would put many people
on probation who are suffering from drug addiction or alcohol related
behavior or mental illness. I think that's the way to go if we're going
to be dealing effectively with A.B. 109.
Has there ever been a person of color or a woman as District Attorney?
Never. I'll be the first.
you're groundbreaking two things. Has that been a problem?
hasn't been a problem. It's been a big footnote to the election. This is
the first time that a woman or a person of color has even had a chance
to be elected District Attorney. But more important, I happen to be the
best qualified. I happen to be the only candidate who has had oversight
over hard-core gangs, major narcotics, sex crimes, our juvenile justice
system, all of these different things. I'm the only candidate who has
ever successfully supervised more than a handful of people. Most of the
people running have only supervised, at the most, 10 or 12 people. In my
first position I supervised 200 employees. In my second position, I had
roughly the same amount of employees. In my third position I supervised
500, which is half of the office. In my current position 2200 people
report to me. I'm responsible that 2200 people report to work every day
and do what they're supposed to do. No one who is running can say that
they've had that responsibility and handled it successfully. I have for
the last 12 years helped the man in charge of the largest Dist. Atty.'s
office in America run it. The other people who are running have no idea
what that's like. Most of the people who are running are excellent trial
lawyers who are trying to skip over to immediately administer this large
office. The skills that you need to be a trial lawyer are very
different. As a trial lawyer, you must be a gladiator. When you are
talking about leading people, it is a different skill set. To take a
trial lawyer and put them at the top of a leadership position is almost
an experiment. Because what you're banking on is that they will be as
successful in one role as they have been in another without any training
One of your opponents vowed that he would not run for this office when
he ran for City Attorney.
promised. And he's breaking that promise. So my question for him and the
voters and his supporters is, what makes you think he'll keep the next
promise he makes? This morning I was at a café called Aroma in Studio
City. When I introduce myself to people and when I tell them what I'm
running for and who I'm running against they say, "You know, I don't
like that guy. Isn't that the guy who promised he wouldn't run for
anything?" And it was a big public promise; it was a signed pledge. It
was videotaped. He made a big deal out of saying that his opponent was a
politician, using that office as a stepping stone to what, the DA? It's
and then to so quickly, two years later, to do the same thing? He hasn't
proven himself in his current position. He's got a small criminal
division. What have they done? What has his leadership done or
accomplished within the purview of the criminal division?
Will you be as nonpartisan as Steve Cooley?