Former Humboldt County Prosecutor Allison Jackson says she has a wide-ranging base of support that’s united in the belief that the District Attorney’s Office needs to change for the better.
“I would liken it to the Titanic with the bow up in the water and the band hanging from the railings — there’s no leadership and there’s really no administration of the office,” she said.
Jackson’s emergence as a candidate is no surprise, as it’s been rumored for months. But she said it was not an easy decision, as she’s enjoying a civil law career with the Harland Law Firm.
“The tote board was real heavy on the ‘don’t-do-this side,’” she said. “But on the ‘do-this’ side was the knowledge of what needs to be done and the leadership to do it, and thinking that there’s about 129,000 people — every child, every woman, every man -- that deserves something better.”
What they deserve is the assurance that those who commit crimes will be appropriately held accountable and that the rights of defendants will be preserved, she continued. Those aspects are being undercut by incumbent District Attorney Paul Gallegos’ “almost complete inability” to hire and maintain mid- to senior-level prosecutors, said Jackson.
She added that she’s not the only one who’s noticed that lack of case preparation is resulting in day-of-trial plea bargains that leave crime victims and their families feeling short-changed. Over-charging of defendants is also happening, Jackson continued, for the same reasons.
“These things are occurring so frequently, it’s almost mind-boggling,” she said.
Jackson’s bid to replace Gallegos is part of a power struggle that began shortly after the DA was first elected. He survived a 2004 recall attempt which saw then-Prosecutor Worth Dikeman as a candidate. Jackson supported Dikeman when he challenged Gallegos again in the 2006 election.
Gallegos’ supporters see Jackson as a conservative who would reverse the change the DA has fought for and delivered. She rejects that view.
“I’m interested in forward progress,” said Jackson. “Some things have to change because they’re simply not working and what’s needed is a return to what’s thought of in the profession as an acceptable and appropriate way of prosecuting certain crimes.”
Vertical prosecution — specialization in crime categories like child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault — only exists superficially now, she continued. “That really has to be fixed, I don’t believe in accepting mediocrity, you need to strive for excellence.”
Nor does Jackson view herself as a conservative candidate. “I’m a fourth generation Democrat,” she said. “Holding people accountable for their crimes, protecting defendants’ rights and honoring victims’ rights — that’s not a conservative/liberal thing, that’s the one thing that actually unites us all.”
Jackson described how she would lead, saying that the “sole, primary function of the DA is to be the administrator of the office” — which contrasts Gallegos’ stance that the community expects a DA to try cases personally.
“When you give up your administrative function just to go and play in a courtroom, you’re letting the community down and that’s what’s occurred here,” Jackson said. She added that if she’s elected, she’ll probably have to try some cases due to a shortage of senior deputies but her plan is to rebuild the office so that’s not necessary.
Marijuana prosecution, particularly of medical cases, is an important election issue. Jackson said she grew up in the Santa Cruz mountains, a haven of hippie culture, which “gives me a different perspective than other people might have.”
She said she will guard the legal right to use marijuana medically but she also wants to guard against exploitation of the community. “What we in Humboldt are owning, because of our tolerance, has been the greed of people who come here from out of the area,” Jackson continued. “They’ve come up here and they’ve exploited our tolerance and that’s resulted in some pretty horrific things in grow houses and in neighborhoods, and some pretty significant environmental damage.”
Asked what her guidelines for medical marijuana will be, Jackson declined to quantify growing area or plant numbers. She said the totality of evidence has to be considered to determine if the concept of medical cultivation is being capitalized on at the community’s expense.
“I’m really looking at going after and enforcing prohibitions against large scale, clearly commercial grows,” she continued. “And I can guarantee you, if you’ve got cancer or if you have MS or acute back pain, you’ve got nothing to worry about from me.”
And like the other candidates, Jackson is in favor of marijuana legalization in the state and she wants it on a federal level too. “If you know you’ve got this many people that are using it — and we do — you’ve just created a black market that has made a lot of people very wealthy at the same time has created huge burdens, at least for this community.”
Marijuana prosecution isn’t something Jackson is known for. In her ten years as a county prosecutor, she specialized in cases involving crimes against children and women. But she believes her involvement in prosecuting a marijuana case led to her exit from the office.
Gallegos fired her in 2004, shortly after the recall election, a move that intensified an already bitter political clash between those who support the DA and those who believe he’s done harm to the office.
Jackson has said that her complaint against marijuana defense attorney Ed Denson — who is a Gallegos supporter — is the reason the DA fired her. And when asked about the circumstances of her firing, she reiterated that it was because she reported that Denson knowingly submitted a client’s altered medical marijuana documentation as evidence.
“It was never investigated, it was buried and the underlying cases were dismissed and I was fired — and I wear that as badge of honor,” she continued.
Gallegos has said that Jackson’s firing was not because of the complaint or anything related to it and Denson has firmly denied the allegation. Jackson’s candidacy is likely to re-ignite politically-related speculation about why she was fired.
Replacing one’s boss is probably the best revenge for having been fired but Jackson said it has nothing to do with her decision to run. “My decision to run is solely based on the fact that we have people that are not being held fully accountable for what they’ve done to others, we have victims and victims’ families that have been hurt and are not getting their justice and as a community, we are being diminished because of that,” she said.
Jackson’s belief in those principles is long-held and she said decided she wanted to be a prosecutor when she was 21 years old. In that year of her life, her mother, her step-father and her family’s dog were killed in a car crash.
The driver of the other car was charged with DUI but Jackson didn’t feel well-served by the system when the case was resolved.
“I really do emphasize with victims and I understand, really to my core, why it’s important to build a case and to prove it,” she said.