Allison Haley says she knew the job she was about to take in 2017 would be hard, but she didn’t realize how hard. From what we’ve seen so far, however, we think she’s up to it.
The county’s new district attorney has been in office for just over a year. The editorial board met with her this week to discuss her experience since taking over for former DA Gary Lieberstein, who retired at the end of 2016 with two years left on his term.
Haley told us she is enjoying the job – she does intend to run for a full term in the November election – but she’s working harder than ever before in her career. The top job is different from her previous roles as assistant in the office, she says – now she’s personally responsible for every decision, for every case, and every person in the office.
The hardest part, she said, is having to look victims in the eye and explain why, in her professional judgement, it is not possible to bring charges in a particular case.
We were impressed by what we heard from Haley. She remains as passionate and idealistic as she was when we first met with her a year ago, but she seemed changed and sobered by the responsibility she has shouldered. She has clearly grown in the role.
The overall impression we got was that Haley is deeply committed to running her office in a systematic, thoughtful way. She’s spent the last year collecting better data on conviction rates and she’s planning to spend her second year focusing on data on how and when charges are filed. Both efforts will help her better understand the operation of her own office and to help police agencies improve their evidence collection and report writing to make sure the people they arrest can be successfully prosecuted later.
Better data also translates into more opportunity to apply for grants or for making the case for more resources from the county, if need be, she said.
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She also said she’s taking a more hands-on supervisory role with all the cases that come through. While it’s a time-consuming process for her, it will help make sure that the approach and results from her team are consistent and less dependent on personalities and styles of particular prosecutors within the office.
Haley seems to be living up to her promise to us and others a year ago that she would be proactive and forward thinking. For example, she’s sent her prosecutors for training on human trafficking and prostitution, even though it isn’t as serious a problem here as some nearby jurisdictions. That way, her office will be ready should such cases begin to spill over into Napa more often than they do.
She’s been successful in improving the communication with the public as well. She instituted a system for dealing with the media, including the Register, that improves the public’s knowledge of major pending cases and the results of trials. She and her staff have been proactive with the Register’s reporters and editors in giving us information on cases, particularly where there is some unusual angle to which we should be sensitive.
One major theme of what we discussed was her efforts to demystify her job and build bridges with the public.
“For many people,” she told us, “the DA’s office is a bit of a black hole or a mystery.”
In addition to providing a steady flow of media releases, Haley has been appearing frequently in public to explain her job and be available to her constituents. She’s placed particular focus on the Latino community, which has been spooked by federal immigration policies and news that immigration officials have made arrests at some courthouses (though we’ve heard no reports of such arrests here in Napa). She said she’s been assuring residents that they will enjoy the protection and service of the district attorney’s office no matter their ethnicity or immigration status.
Based on our meeting and our observations over the past year, we believe we were correct in our editorial judgement when Haley took over – the office of district attorney is in good hands.