District Attorney Candice Hooper did not run as an
administrator. She ran as a leader, as a tough prosecutor, as a
decision maker willing to take responsibility for her office’s
District Attorney Candice Hooper did not run as an administrator. She ran as a leader, as a tough prosecutor, as a decision maker willing to take responsibility for her office’s direction.

But the plea agreement reached between a deputy district attorney and the public defender that deflates the potential sentence for a man accused of shooting his mother three times – once in the face – exposed a lack of authority by DA Candice Hooper over a violent criminal case that demands her utmost attention.

In the deal reached July 13, Ruben A. Garcia’s possible prison time plummeted from the prior, potential term of 55 years to life to the likely 12-year sentence that comes with the agreement. When questioned on the Garcia plea bargain – more like a steal for the suspected shooter and attorney Greg LaForge – Hooper initially deflected the inquiry toward Deputy District Attorney Patrick Palacios, who handled the case.

Pressed about her involvement in the deal, and the DA noted she had some discussions about potential alternatives in a plea bargain before Palacios made the final decision. She did, however, admit to a hands-off approach to some of the toughest decisions her office faces by noting, regarding the Garcia plea deal: “I don’t sign off. I trust my deputies.”

That’s not the type of statement Hooper probably should use on campaign brochures if she decides to run for another term next year.

There is nothing wrong with letting assistant district attorneys – despite their relative inexperience – make decisions over some cases, among a multitude, on prosecutors’ chaotic plates.

Without such discretion, without the use of strategically inflated charging at the outset of some criminal cases and without sound use of plea bargaining, the system would grind to a halt. Its costs would escalate beyond control.

Hooper, however, should always have the final say and she should always know precisely which route an assistant DA is taking at and above a certain level of offenses, such as violent crimes. For the sake of accountability, she must allow herself the opportunity on all major cases to take the entirety of the related responsibility.

As the DA, she cannot merely shove off blame to others in the office. That may have flown in her many years as a deputy district attorney herself, but that kind of sentiment doesn’t even inch off the ground when you’re the top dog. How else, without a sole authority, can the public weigh her performance as a leader?

Garcia’s prosecution certainly qualifies as a major case, and now it carries the weight in the public’s eye of an apparently unjust resolution. Palacios in defending the plea deal – before swearing off contact with the Free Lance after a story was published on Hooper’s lack of authority over such agreements – noted how the mother was uncooperative as a witness.

It’s a challenge, but by no means a reason to throw in the towel, especially when other evidence in the case still might point to a possible conviction. Let’s not forget, this is the same suspect who holed himself into a Brighton Avenue home and perpetuated a four-hour standoff before finally turning himself in without a struggle. Was he doing that for fun?

In reality, the DA overcharged by pursuing 55 to life and the defense low-balled on the compromise, which is typical and expected. Such a steep drop in a potential sentence, however, is tough to swallow for most people, the vast majority of local residents who can’t imagine shooting their own mother.

Unfortunately for Hooper, she can’t even defend the resolution, other than to say she trusts her deputies.

Previous articleRicardo (Richard) V. Munoz, Sr.
Next articleScrapbook
A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here