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Meet the candidates: District Attorney

San Benito County incumbent, deputy DA vie for office

The elected district attorney is the county’s top prosecutor of criminal cases in San Benito County. The DA leads an office of 17 employees, including five deputy prosecutors and three investigators. 

The office and its staff prosecute hundreds of felony and misdemeanor cases each year, including theft, fraud, child molestation, murders and other violent and property crimes. 

Running for the office in the 2022 election are incumbent Candice Hooper Mancino, who is running for her fifth consecutive four-year term; and Joel Buckingham, who has 16 years experience as a prosecutor and is currently a Deputy DA in the San Benito County office. 

Joel Buckingham

Why are you running for the office of District Attorney?

I have worked in the office for three years, and I do not believe the community can wait four more years for energetic leadership that engages with the community on the issues that are occurring today. I see fentanyl deaths, threats at school, driving that feels out of control putting motorists at risk, shootings, and I see the District Attorney’s Office doing very little to communicate to the community that this must change.  

Joel Buckingham

I want to ensure that the office is communicating to the community that we will protect each and everyone of us and hold responsible those who harm us.

What do you think are the biggest criminal justice concerns in San Benito County? How would you address those concerns?

Demoralization, simply, at every level. I think a substantial number of crimes go unreported because the citizenry thinks very little will happen, of those that do get reported, I think law enforcement often feels like very little will happen, and then even when cases get filed, very little seems to happen. 

I want by my renewed energy and effort to provide a new level of hope and engagement that crimes will be taken seriously, and the District Attorney will fight to protect the citizens of this county including in “property” crimes, and others.  

What do you think the DA’s role should be in attempting to reduce accidental deaths and other problems related to opioids?

One, the DAs office can make clear that we do not seek to stigmatize or shame anyone who is suffering from an addiction and is ready to come clean. Addiction is very common, and instead of assessing blame we must let people know that we are looking for their future, not their past.  So do not let shame or pride keep someone from seeking help. 

Two, the DAs office can engage in more communication with the public about how drugs have changed and become far more dangerous than they were in the past.  

Third, the DAs office can support Drug Court programs, and communicate that, yes, we will hold people accountable, and if your drug addiction harms the community we will engage in more remediative and rehabilitative measures.

Do you think the DA’s office should do more to address violent crime, particularly gang-related violent crime in the community? If so, what should be done?

Yes, my efforts would include trying more cases to jury trial and demonstrating that we are ready and able to try cases that include gang enhancements. I believe I am the only member of the current office who has successfully obtained gang enhancements after a jury trial (not by plea deal).  

I believe that I would give confidence to local law enforcement that such cases will be taken seriously and fully prosecuted. There are other tactics I would seek to pursue, but I do not believe them prudent to divulge.

Candice Hooper Mancino

Why are you running for the office of district attorney? 

My job as District Attorney is the best way I can take care of that community. I am running for re-election because I feel it is an honor and my duty to protect our way of life and the safety of our citizens. 

San Benito County District Attorney Candice Hooper Mancino

My relationships in the county create a unique ability to get policies and programs established that serve our communities. My administrative experience in the office makes me the only reasonable choice for District Attorney. 

What do you think are the biggest criminal justice concerns in San Benito County? How would you address those concerns? 

The three biggest criminal justice concerns for San Benito County are gangs, drugs and homelessness. Combating criminal street gangs is a major focus of our office. Gangs are responsible for most of the illegal firearms and illicit narcotics that enter the county. 

My office encourages drug and mental health treatment to help the homeless get back on their feet. Without treatment they will never have a chance to succeed and escape homelessness. 

What do you think the DA’s role should be in attempting to reduce accidental deaths and other problems related to opioids? 

The role of the District Attorney is to take advantage of the programs such as drug court and mental health diversion. Working with the probation department and dedicated community programs we support the efforts to get people off the addiction merry-go-round and back to living a life free of drugs. Combined with strenuous efforts to combat the flow of opioids into our community by prosecuting those responsible for distribution of opioids, the District Attorney’s office will reduce these problems. 

Do you think the DA’s office should do more to address violent crime, particularly gang related violent crime in the community? If so, what should be done? 

The California legislature’s passage of Assembly Bill 333 of 2022 weakened the strong protections afforded by the STEP act and went against the will of the people of the State of California, by making it much more difficult to effectively prosecute violent gang members. 

Despite these legislative attempts to side-step the will of the people, we have developed additional resources and training to bring the full force of the law to combat street gangs.