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Prosecutor seeks to unseat former boss as Santa Clara County district attorney

Daniel Chung wants to build continuity into the DA's office and prevent 'revolving door' policies

Daniel Chung, a former Santa Clara County prosecutor, is running for county District Attorney. Courtesy Christopher Lim.

A former Santa Clara County prosecutor who says he was fired for criticizing the District Attorney's Office is now challenging District Attorney Jeff Rosen's reelection bid in 2022.

Daniel Chung wants to replace Rosen, a 10-year incumbent, alleging that the DA maintains policies that do a disservice to crime victims and defendants and runs an office that is rife with inefficiencies, causing taxpayers too much money.

In February, Chung wrote an op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News criticizing "progressive" prosecutors for criminal justice reforms that would change classifications for some robberies and reduce jail time. He criticized reforms that create a "revolving door for repeat offenders" and place undue burdens on victims of violent crime.

Although he didn't directly criticize his boss, Chung was demoted two days after his public outspokenness. Refusing a severance package to resign, he was terminated from his job in the DA's office and unceremoniously walked out of the building by three DA's office investigators, according to a September lawsuit he filed in federal court. The lawsuit claims Rosen and the county violated his constitutional right to free speech.

Chung, 32, said if he is elected he would seek to transform the DA's office by streamlining the way prosecutions are handled. The current system shortchanges the victims of crimes and causes unnecessary and expensive delays, he said.

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Based on his own experiences inside the DA's office, Chung said he would also increase communication with staff and transparency.

"Nobody should be punished for choosing to express counter opinions," he said, regarding his own alleged sidelining and ultimate termination.

Chung, a Korean American, was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Milpitas. He currently lives in San Jose. A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, he prosecuted felony gun crimes in New York's Bronx County. In 2018, he joined the Santa Clara County DA's violent felonies unit and prosecuted domestic violence cases, he said during a recent phone interview. In 2020, he was awarded the Robert L. Webb Award, an excellence award presented by the Santa Clara County district attorney, according to his court filing.

Chung said his views aren't based on politics but rather on his long experience as a prosecutor interfacing with victims and defendants.

"I got a very close look at violent crime in the county," he said.

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Santa Clara County has a "hot potato" prosecution process, Chung said: A case can pass through the hands of as many as seven deputy district attorneys by the time it resolves. At each phase, a new prosecutor often steps in; the assigned attorney changes from arraignment to preliminary hearing and so on.

"That's just outrageous. It's a system where no one really takes ownership. It's assembly-line prosecution where people throw it along from one to the other," he said.

Along the way, evidence might not be gathered properly or evidence is lost; miscommunications can become detrimental to the case, he said. The earliest phases of a case are the most critical. If the prosecution hasn't put in the effort to build the case, it "can fall apart in an embarrassing fashion in court," he said.

The victim is being "significantly shortchanged" in this system, he said. Prosecution of cases takes years. The victim, who has to restate what happened seven or eight times with different prosecutors, is unduly burdened. The whole process is a disservice to the victim and their family, the defendant who should receive a speedy trial and the taxpayers, who are ultimately footing the bill, he said.

Chung has seen plea deals that are suddenly reneged by prosecutors after a new deputy district attorney takes over a case. The new prosecutor needs to get up to speed, evidence gets lost and the deals are worse over time, he said.

"That's just wrong," he said.

"One of the things I dreaded was opening an old case that was five, six or seven years old. It had gone through generations of prosecutors who could not figure out how to move the case forward: Where's the evidence? It's not there anymore. Do we still have contact information for the witnesses?" he said.

Chung instead would manage cases "vertically," having the same prosecutor handle a case all the way through from the defendant's intake to the sentencing, which would maintain continuity and speed cases along.

The current policies regarding defendants are also burdensome.

"If we are trying to hold the defendant accountable, we need to do it in a fair way," he said.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen. Embarcadero Media file photo.

Weak cases shouldn't be overcharged to extract plea bargains. The use of special allegations and enhancements for crimes, which can add years to a sentence, should be used sparingly with the object of protecting public safety, he said.

A district attorney should also focus on serving the community and should not be in the business of self-promotion and pursuing personal ambition. The DA's office should focus on policy upgrades such as revising the sexual assault manual and obtaining new software that allows prosecutors to better follow their cases, something he said hasn't occurred under Rosen.

"When a defendant gets rearrested, we don't even know," he said.

Chung said that building in efficiency would reduce costs of prosecutions while freeing up funding for programs that address the root causes of crime.

In response, Rosen's longtime political advisor Leo Briones said, "Jeff Rosen is a nationally recognized criminal justice reformer who has worked closely with the police and community groups to reduce crime, help crime victims, hold perpetrators accountable and safely reduce the number of individuals in jail. He has deep and broad support all over Santa Clara County and across the political spectrum.”

Santa Clara County Public Defender Sajid Khan. Courtesy Sajid Khan.

Chung's other rival, Public Defender Sajid Khan, is running as a "true progressive" for the DA's seat with a focus on rooting out systemic racism, shrinking mass criminalization and addressing the root causes of crime. Chung casts himself instead as a "moderate."

Khan is a reformer who supports eliminating disproportionate sentences under the three strikes law; supports ending the money bail system that disproportionately impacts poor and marginalized people; and advocates for diversion programs and alternatives to imprisonment. He would not prosecute children as adults nor cases in which police violate the Constitution or engage in racially discriminatory practices when collecting evidence, according to his website.

"He's a super nice guy," Chung said of Khan, but Khan has never been a prosecutor.

"He has only been a public defender and his job has been to poke holes in the prosecution's case," he said.

A prosecutor's job is to build a case that is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

"When he comes into office, he can't just clean house. There are a lot of limitations."

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Prosecutor seeks to unseat former boss as Santa Clara County district attorney

Daniel Chung wants to build continuity into the DA's office and prevent 'revolving door' policies

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Dec 24, 2021, 8:16 am
Updated: Fri, Dec 24, 2021, 5:48 pm

A former Santa Clara County prosecutor who says he was fired for criticizing the District Attorney's Office is now challenging District Attorney Jeff Rosen's reelection bid in 2022.

Daniel Chung wants to replace Rosen, a 10-year incumbent, alleging that the DA maintains policies that do a disservice to crime victims and defendants and runs an office that is rife with inefficiencies, causing taxpayers too much money.

In February, Chung wrote an op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News criticizing "progressive" prosecutors for criminal justice reforms that would change classifications for some robberies and reduce jail time. He criticized reforms that create a "revolving door for repeat offenders" and place undue burdens on victims of violent crime.

Although he didn't directly criticize his boss, Chung was demoted two days after his public outspokenness. Refusing a severance package to resign, he was terminated from his job in the DA's office and unceremoniously walked out of the building by three DA's office investigators, according to a September lawsuit he filed in federal court. The lawsuit claims Rosen and the county violated his constitutional right to free speech.

Chung, 32, said if he is elected he would seek to transform the DA's office by streamlining the way prosecutions are handled. The current system shortchanges the victims of crimes and causes unnecessary and expensive delays, he said.

Based on his own experiences inside the DA's office, Chung said he would also increase communication with staff and transparency.

"Nobody should be punished for choosing to express counter opinions," he said, regarding his own alleged sidelining and ultimate termination.

Chung, a Korean American, was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Milpitas. He currently lives in San Jose. A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, he prosecuted felony gun crimes in New York's Bronx County. In 2018, he joined the Santa Clara County DA's violent felonies unit and prosecuted domestic violence cases, he said during a recent phone interview. In 2020, he was awarded the Robert L. Webb Award, an excellence award presented by the Santa Clara County district attorney, according to his court filing.

Chung said his views aren't based on politics but rather on his long experience as a prosecutor interfacing with victims and defendants.

"I got a very close look at violent crime in the county," he said.

Santa Clara County has a "hot potato" prosecution process, Chung said: A case can pass through the hands of as many as seven deputy district attorneys by the time it resolves. At each phase, a new prosecutor often steps in; the assigned attorney changes from arraignment to preliminary hearing and so on.

"That's just outrageous. It's a system where no one really takes ownership. It's assembly-line prosecution where people throw it along from one to the other," he said.

Along the way, evidence might not be gathered properly or evidence is lost; miscommunications can become detrimental to the case, he said. The earliest phases of a case are the most critical. If the prosecution hasn't put in the effort to build the case, it "can fall apart in an embarrassing fashion in court," he said.

The victim is being "significantly shortchanged" in this system, he said. Prosecution of cases takes years. The victim, who has to restate what happened seven or eight times with different prosecutors, is unduly burdened. The whole process is a disservice to the victim and their family, the defendant who should receive a speedy trial and the taxpayers, who are ultimately footing the bill, he said.

Chung has seen plea deals that are suddenly reneged by prosecutors after a new deputy district attorney takes over a case. The new prosecutor needs to get up to speed, evidence gets lost and the deals are worse over time, he said.

"That's just wrong," he said.

"One of the things I dreaded was opening an old case that was five, six or seven years old. It had gone through generations of prosecutors who could not figure out how to move the case forward: Where's the evidence? It's not there anymore. Do we still have contact information for the witnesses?" he said.

Chung instead would manage cases "vertically," having the same prosecutor handle a case all the way through from the defendant's intake to the sentencing, which would maintain continuity and speed cases along.

The current policies regarding defendants are also burdensome.

"If we are trying to hold the defendant accountable, we need to do it in a fair way," he said.

Weak cases shouldn't be overcharged to extract plea bargains. The use of special allegations and enhancements for crimes, which can add years to a sentence, should be used sparingly with the object of protecting public safety, he said.

A district attorney should also focus on serving the community and should not be in the business of self-promotion and pursuing personal ambition. The DA's office should focus on policy upgrades such as revising the sexual assault manual and obtaining new software that allows prosecutors to better follow their cases, something he said hasn't occurred under Rosen.

"When a defendant gets rearrested, we don't even know," he said.

Chung said that building in efficiency would reduce costs of prosecutions while freeing up funding for programs that address the root causes of crime.

In response, Rosen's longtime political advisor Leo Briones said, "Jeff Rosen is a nationally recognized criminal justice reformer who has worked closely with the police and community groups to reduce crime, help crime victims, hold perpetrators accountable and safely reduce the number of individuals in jail. He has deep and broad support all over Santa Clara County and across the political spectrum.”

Chung's other rival, Public Defender Sajid Khan, is running as a "true progressive" for the DA's seat with a focus on rooting out systemic racism, shrinking mass criminalization and addressing the root causes of crime. Chung casts himself instead as a "moderate."

Khan is a reformer who supports eliminating disproportionate sentences under the three strikes law; supports ending the money bail system that disproportionately impacts poor and marginalized people; and advocates for diversion programs and alternatives to imprisonment. He would not prosecute children as adults nor cases in which police violate the Constitution or engage in racially discriminatory practices when collecting evidence, according to his website.

"He's a super nice guy," Chung said of Khan, but Khan has never been a prosecutor.

"He has only been a public defender and his job has been to poke holes in the prosecution's case," he said.

A prosecutor's job is to build a case that is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

"When he comes into office, he can't just clean house. There are a lot of limitations."

Comments

Ben Z.
Registered user
Barron Park
on Dec 25, 2021 at 10:43 am
Ben Z., Barron Park
Registered user
on Dec 25, 2021 at 10:43 am

Mr. Rosen has failed victims, particularly me and my children. He has prosecuted me with a meritless claim. The DA has done so with reckless disregard for my children's safety.

This could be an indication of how his office treats other people within the community. I call on him to change his ways.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Dec 26, 2021 at 8:36 am
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Dec 26, 2021 at 8:36 am

I hope he wins. Progressive politics (soft on crime) are a "disservice" to crime victims. Soft on crime is ineffectual and goes against the grain of the DA's office. Tough on crime or at least fair on crime sends a message. They're prosecutors, not social workers. That being said, I can see why he was fired. You have to be careful criticizing your employer and your boss in an op-ed. Kudos to Mr. Chung. He was willing to risk his job in support of victims and their families, and it's commendable. His heart is in the right place, and he is well suited for the DA's office.


Stephen Morales
Registered user
another community
on Dec 26, 2021 at 11:58 am
Stephen Morales, another community
Registered user
on Dec 26, 2021 at 11:58 am

To allude that current Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen is soft on crime is somewhat misleading as the recent progressive trend towards addressing criminals as socio-economic victims has curtailed the extent of atypical jail incarcerations pending trial and established criminal proceedings.

Political proponents of bail reduction and/or its elimination are primarily responsible for the recent increase in crime as this measure essentially diminishes the efforts of law enforcement to arrest and incarcerate those who either pose a threat or present an ongoing menace and nuisance to society as a whole.

Societal permissiveness will not ensure safe communities and the best way to avoid this pitfall is to lock up all arrestees until they are released or cleared via a criminal court of law.


TimR
Registered user
Downtown North
on Dec 27, 2021 at 9:04 am
TimR, Downtown North
Registered user
on Dec 27, 2021 at 9:04 am

He'll get my vote! A DA's duty is to the law-abiding citizens of a county; they're not there to help criminals.


paulsimon99
Registered user
Midtown
on Dec 27, 2021 at 12:38 pm
paulsimon99, Midtown
Registered user
on Dec 27, 2021 at 12:38 pm

Go Go Daniel! You get my vote!


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Dec 27, 2021 at 4:10 pm
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Dec 27, 2021 at 4:10 pm

Crime has nothing to do with race or socioeconomic status. That's an excuse. All races and socioeconomic status commit crimes. People of color from lower socioeconomic status commit a higher percentage of violent crimes, and white, wealthier men (or wealthier men in general) commit a higher percentage of white- collar crimes. And middle-class men and women of all races commit crimes too. To say that someone commits a crime because they're poor is marginalizing the poor. People commit crimes because they're dishonest. It's based on character, not race or class. That's reality.


Deborah
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Dec 28, 2021 at 11:41 am
Deborah, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Dec 28, 2021 at 11:41 am

I don't know who is the better candidate, Chung or Khan, but either will be a vast improvement over Rosen who, from what I've read over many years of reporting about him in the Mercury News, is a man who shouldn't be in office! I hope Chung and Khan don't both have to run same time against Rosen and I hope people get the memo!


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