The job of a district attorney may seem straightforward – to decide what kinds of crimes will be prosecuted and how criminal justice will be pursued.
But that description is deceptively simple. The powers that the DA holds have a direct effect on every county resident, determining how safe our community will be and how well our lives, property and civil rights are protected. The top prosecutor helps set a tone – will our community be merciful and just or harsh and retributive.
It is vitally important that such a powerful job be in good hands.
The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board met in December with the woman who will take up those weighty powers this month, Allison Haley. She is the top deputy in the office now and was tapped by the Board of Supervisors to replace retiring DA Gary Lieberstein, filling out the remaining two years of his term.
Based on our meeting and on our discussions with other players in the law enforcement community, including Lieberstein, we believe we are indeed in good hands with Haley in the top prosecutor’s job.
Although she has not been a high-profile figure, in more than a decade in the DA’s office, Haley has earned a strong reputation among lawyers and law enforcement officers as being tough and professional, but also collaborative and forward thinking. She earned high marks for her handling of sensitive and complicated child sex abuse cases and she comes to the job highly recommended by Lieberstein, who has watched her develop from a junior attorney to his top deputy.
At our meeting, as she did in her appearance in October before the Board of Supervisors, Haley came across as intelligent, forceful, clear-thinking and passionate. She displayed a strong awareness of the heavy burden of responsibility that comes with the power of the office and she spoke convincingly about the need to use that power to achieve justice – even when that means deciding not to pursue certain cases.
We were struck by her refreshing directness and lack of pretense. She described herself as an introvert with little use for small-talk and she freely shared her own troubled family background, including a father who did time in prison for financial crimes, an experience that has given her unusual insight into the legal justice system. She was frank and open when we asked questions about topics where she was not expert or needed more study.
Haley seems to have a clear view of how she will preserve what needs to be preserved and change what needs to be changed in this transition of leadership.
She said she is committed to preserving several key legacies from Lieberstein’s 18 years in office, including support of the caregiver ordinance that protects seniors from unscrupulous care-takers, and she will build on his focus on mental health issues and reaching out to young people, supporting them early so they didn’t wind up in the justice system as adults. She is committed to continue the project of creating an integrated justice center to assist crime victims in getting protection and social services even as investigators are gathering evidence and preparing cases for court.
She said she plans to continue Lieberstein’s practice of aggressively charging shoplifters, mail thieves, human traffickers and gang members as a way to send a clear signal that they are not welcome in Napa County.
Although she spoke highly of Lieberstein as a prosecutor and a boss, she said she does plan some changes, such as reorganizing the management of the office and increasing supervision of her attorneys in the field. She plans to name a public information officer, someone responsible for outreach to the public through the news media and social media, and she plans to be more proactive in telling the public about the work of the DA’s office.
She pledged to be as transparent as possible with the public, even in sensitive cases such as officer-involved shootings. She said her office will join other law enforcement agencies in their efforts to build a positive relationship with the county’s growing Latino community.
In all, we were pleased and heartened by our encounter with Haley. We think Lieberstein chose wisely in promoting and mentoring her and we think the supervisors made a good choice in endorsing his suggestion that she replace him as district attorney.