Although the June primary is eight months away, local attorneys
are already vying for District Attorney John Sarsfield’s job
– champing at the bit to unseat the prosecutor who seems unfazed
by the competition and the fight that lies ahead.
Hollister – Although the June primary is eight months away, local attorneys are already vying for District Attorney John Sarsfield’s job – champing at the bit to unseat the prosecutor who seems unfazed by the competition and the fight that lies ahead.

Hollister defense attorney Arthur Cantu, who lost to Sarsfield in 2002 and who has been one of the prosecutor’s most vocal critics since, officially announced his bid for district attorney this week. Local civil attorney Paul Breen, who said a number of people have approached him in the hopes he’ll add his name to the list of candidates, said he hasn’t made up his mind one way or another but is definitely thinking about it.

“I’m working on a number of large lawsuits right now and have put this on the back burner for now,” said Breen, who declined to say why he is thinking about ditching his civil practice for a possible bid for district attorney. However, he has until March 10 to officially throw his hat into the ring, according to county Registrar John Hodges.

With Breen still on the fence, the only two sure bets running at this time are Sarsfield and Cantu. And while it’s looking like it could be a small candidate pool, both Supervisors Reb Monaco and Don Marcus believe the democratic process will come through in the end and the best man for the job will take over.

“The people of San Benito County deserve the best of service from their criminal justice system,” Marcus said. “It is extremely important that our DA is willing to work with the board and (county administrative officer) to accomplish this. I wish all the candidates for district attorney well.”

Sarsfield hasn’t begun campaigning and said he’s not sure when he might start, but doesn’t care if two people run for his job or 200. He’s also not apprehensive about the campaign getting dirty or verbal barbs being shot back and forth.

“I survived last time, I’ll survive again,” he said. “And I’m not going to work on anybody’s timeline. When the time comes for me to announce what I’m doing, I will.”

Although Cantu was raring to step into the political ring with Sarsfield if a second recall attempt against the prosecutor made it to a ballot, the recall officially failed in July and Cantu has been mum on the subject until recently. But he’s hired Rebecca Jones to manage his campaign and is already swinging into full campaign mode.

“In my 10 years of experience I believe we can do much more in reducing gang violence and going after drug dealers. I know I really enjoy working in the criminal courts and I can only do so much in private practice in the justice system,” Cantu said. “What happens in this community is much more important than how much money I make. As the top law enforcement official I know I can do much more. I plan on working within the budget the Board of Supervisors and also being a courtroom prosecutor.”

Sarsfield has been criticized for not trying cases himself, which he has countered by saying he concentrates on charging all of the approximately 2,500 cases that land on his desk so there is a uniform charging structure. Sarsfield said he hasn’t detailed a timeline of when he’ll start campaigning, but that he’s currently focused on procuring additional funding and staffing for his office. Sarsfield closed his office to the public last week for all business other than charging arrests made that week and prior scheduled court appearances to allow his staff time to get caught up on between 200 and 300 cases that hadn’t been entered into the court system.

Sarsfield’s tenure in office has been plagued by a number of political hurdles, including two failed recall attempts – the first of which fizzled after his family’s two dogs were poisoned and died – and a sexual discrimination lawsuit filed against him by two women in the Victim Witness Department. The lawsuit, which was ultimately settled by the county for $35,000, produced an investigative report into Sarsfield’s office detailing a number of allegations made by the women in their lawsuit. A summary of the report was obtained by the Free Lance and besides sustaining a number of the allegations, it stated that Sarsfield retaliated against several of his employees because he viewed them as a threat to his administration.

In the midst of the lawsuit and recall attempts, the San Benito County Bar Association also voted that it had “no confidence” in Sarsfield’s abilities as district attorney, stating Sarsfield’s conduct constituted a “direct threat to the public’s ability to exercise their constitutional rights,” according to bar president Chenoa Summers.

Summers said the bar association hasn’t discussed endorsements and didn’t know if local lawyers will come out in support of a candidate or not. Traditionally, the local bar hasn’t gotten involved with campaigns and did not come out in favor of a candidate during the 2002 race, said bar member Peter Spurzem. However, Spurzem said there is nothing prohibiting the bar from voting to support a candidate and he would be amenable to doing so in the upcoming months.

“We’ll have to make an assessment and figure out what people want to do,” he said.

Erin Musgrave covers public safety for the Free Lance. Reach her at 637-5566, ext. 336 or [email protected]

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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