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Dec. 11, 2023

Ex-DA Boudin still opposes early recalls, but says he’s moved on

“If you recall somebody months into their first year in office, you haven’t given them a chance. We have four-year terms for district attorneys for a reason and it takes time to implement policies,” former San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin said

Chesa Boudin. (The New York Times)

Chesa Boudin, who was ousted as district attorney in San Francisco, said in an interview last week that efforts to recall Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price are dishonest and unfair.

"People may agree with her philosophy or they may disagree with it, but if you don't give her a chance to actually try, then why bother having democracy and elections at all," said Boudin, who was recalled last year and now leads a criminal justice center at UC Berkeley School of Law.

Critics of Price, who took office in January, say her policies that are aimed at keeping people out of prison are fueling crime. Among their complaints are a failure to prosecute certain offenses and seeking lighter sentences for others. They also say she is too focused on prosecuting law enforcement officers and prison guards for misconduct.

There are no official crime statistics for this year, since Price has been DA. The Alameda Police Department said the total number of crimes reported in that city in 2022 was 5,564, up 900 from the year before. Violent crimes accounted for 58% of the total in 2022, down from 61% in 2021. However, lesser crimes such as fraud, disturbing the peace, etc., increased from 38% to 41% from 2021 to 2022.

Officials at the two recall campaigns -- Save Alameda for Everyone (SAFE): Recall DA Price and Reviving the Bay Area -- could not be reached for comment. They will need 73,195 signatures to qualify for the ballot. However, during a meeting last month, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors agreed to have voters decide next March on whether to extend the signature requirement to 93,000 in an effort to update the county's recall policy.

Price also could not be reached. In an interview with CBS Bay Area News in July, she said that sentencing enhancements -- for guns, gang activity or multiple convictions -- cause more racial disparities among those sent to prison.

The recall campaigns mirror ones that eventually led to Boudin's ouster last year and the two that have been unsuccessful against DA George Gascon in Los Angeles County. Gascon and Boudin have both pointed out that the recall efforts began soon after they were elected.

"If you recall somebody months into their first year in office, you haven't given them a chance," Boudin said Thursday. "We have four-year terms for district attorneys for a reason and it takes time to implement policies."

"She inherited a really poorly managed office and very challenging public safety circumstances in Oakland and other parts of her county," Boudin said. "The notion that she is somehow going to single-handedly solve those problems overnight is just dishonest and a double standard that no other district attorney has ever been held to in the history of Alameda County."

Boudin repeated the charge he made throughout his recall campaign -- that it was led by right wingers out of step with San Francisco's liberal voters. But 55% of voters rejected him in a recall election with a higher turnout than his 2019 election. News reports also said that Boudin was largely undone by an Asian American community fed up with racist attacks on them and their businesses -- and by disputes over San Francisco schools that Boudin was not involved with.

Despite his anger over the unfair way he believes Price is being treated, Boudin said he has moved on from electoral politics, at last for the time being.

"I'm committed to a life in public service. It's not an accident that I'm working at a public university, but I have no plans to run for office. I'm laser focused on building and growing our center to make sure that it is successful," he said.

Berkeley's Criminal Law & Justice Center, which he launched in June, serves as a research and advocacy hub where staff and law students analyze data to advance changes in criminal law and policy and address "foundational problems in the state's criminal legal system such as structural inequities related to poverty and racism," he said.

Boudin, currently the center's only attorney and full-time staff member, said he plans to negotiate co-counsel agreements with law firms next year to bring cases and write briefs. Funding comes through seed money from the university system and from small online donations and other funding streams, he said.

Boudin and law students last month filed an amicus curiae brief with the state Supreme Court in a challenge to San Mateo County's bail policy.

The post at Berkeley has allowed him to "play a small role [in the criminal justice system] so far, but hopefully a bigger role over time in building these bridges between people who are on the front lines of government work every day ... and connect them with the research coming out of a world class research university like Berkeley," he said.


Devon Belcher

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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