Running on Smart Justice: Danette Meyers for D.A.

  • 05/13/2012
  • Terelle Jerricks

By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

After 26 years, Danette Meyers is one of the longest serving deputy district attorneys and one of the most highly decorated in the race.

With the diversity of candidates in this year’s race, there’s a great chance that whoever is elected would be a first. In Meyers case, if elected, she would be the first woman and first African American to become Los Angeles County’s District Attorney. The first impression she made when she sat down with Random Lengths editorial staff was that of a fearless duty-bound servant of justice.

“I believe there are three things in life that this country calls upon us to do if called: Serve in the military, to vote, and serve on a jury,” said Meyers, about the process of jury service. “I think that those are three things that we as citizens must do in order to live in a free country as this.”

When asked about conscientious objectors, she replied: “You have the right to object when you go and you serve.”

Then, she noted that she has had a number of jurors who answer the call of service and profess their objection.

“They are honest about it,” she explained. “I have more respect for them than I do for the people who are not honest about it and they get up and they basically say, ‘Look, I think the system is faulty. I think the system only caters to the rich and famous. I think that minorities who come into the system get a raw deal.’ I’ve had jurors say that over and over again.”

Meyers was born and raised in Compton. Just when racial covenants were abolished, allowing her parents to buy a home there.

“I watched how crime affected that city, Meyers explained. “When I was born there, it was one of the most beautiful cities in the country. I used to shop there growing up as a kid and I went to Catholic school. I used to go to Hildas in downtown Compton when there was a Bank of America and Securities Pacific Bank. And, I watched how the gangs and violence tore that place a part and businesses left.

“When your revenue stream leaves, jobs leaves, people leave. And what you have left is horrible horrible atmosphere and a horrible town and that’s what Compton became. So my approach as D.A. is to fight violent crime. I want to make sure that the small business person can stay in business and that he doesn’t have an insurance bill that keeps him out of business and people that hurt other people go to jail.”

If there are any weaknesses in her candidacy, it would be in area of environmental justice, where she has little case experience. But even here, she envisions modeling the District Attorney’s Office in the mold of former District Attorney Gil Garcetti — who has endorsed her — under whose tenure environmental crimes were vigorously prosecuted by the Environmental Crimes Unit. That unit was ultimately closed down when District Attorney Steve Cooley took office in 2003, leaving only one attorney to cover all environmental crimes in Los Angeles County.

“I still have roots in Compton and I go back and forth because my mom lives there,” she said. [Places like that] and the surrounding areas like Carson, Wilmington, and the Pike have always been subject to folks who commit toxic dumping, who put up facilities that are environmentally unsafe for folks, legislators don’t respond to the outcries by the public.

“You’re not going to see a lot of things that go up in those neighborhoods in places like Beverly Hills, San Marino and the like. So I have to tell you I would be a very different D.A. than what Steve Cooley has been and very different than what Carmen Trutanich has been.”

Realignment and the Justice System
Meyers has been critical of the handling of Assembly Bill 109, also known as “Realignment,” which transfers authority of most non-violent inmates to county control as well as the administration of the death penalty.

“I’ve told people the AB 109 needs to be re-tweaked  because I don’t think the legislature or Lee Baca realized they didn’t have enough brain power up there to realize they didn’t know what they were doing at the time they activated AB 109,” Meyers explained.

Meyers says she understands how huge a problem prison overcrowding is.   

“I think you just have to be smart about how you mete out justice,” she said. “ One, you’ve got to decide who’s going to take up a bed in the department of corrections. It should be the most violent criminal.

“You have a lot of people who are in there for drug offenses, or (that) are in there and addicted on cocaine or methamphetamines. Those folks you need to take out of that system and devise some rehabilitation programs for those people. And, I really believe that the cost of incarcerating them that money you would save by not incarcerating them could be poured into rehabilitation programs and rehabilitation services. You can incarcerate them for five years and they will come out with the same problems if not bigger problems.

“The other thing,” she noted, “is the death penalty.”

“I think we have over 700 people on death row. I’ve tried six death penalty cases with four of those ending up on death row. In my lifetime none of them will be executed,” she said. “We have spent $14 billion maintaining a system that is useless.”

She believes the death penalty could be reformed in one of two ways: either abolish the death penalty, which she doesn’t think will ever happen, or limit the number of death qualifying crimes, a tactic she prefers.

“We currently have  22 death qualifying crimes. We don’t need 22 death qualifying crimes. I think you should get five of the worse.”

“All the other stuff we got, I think people would be satisfied with life” in prison without possibility of parole. Even the most conservative Republican would go along with that because they see now how much it is costing to continue a system that’s really not resulting in anything,” Meyers explained.

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Info box
West Hollywood/Beverly Hills Democratic Club
LGBT Democratic Club
Beverly Hills Police Officer’s Association
Former District Attorney Gil Garcetti
Founding Head Deputy District Attorney of the Environmental Crimes Division
Reverend Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray, Former Head of the First A.M.E. Church

Prosecutor of the Year, LA County Bar Association
Prosecutor of the Century, City Bar Association
Top 100 Lawyers of California, Daily Journal

Take away quotes regarding Medical Marijuana
“I believed that people that need medical marijuana for medical purposes ought to be able to have it, and I think that there ought to be licensed dispensaries that are regulated…

“I do not believe in legalizing any drugs in the state or in the country for many many reasons. I don’t believe that once you legalize drugs it would take the [drug] cartels out of it… I get the argument, but I’m not convinced that if you legalize it the harm will go away. In fact, I think if we legalize it, it may increase it [crime and related violence].”

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    Justice is an important thing for a free country to live in. Thanks for sharing the opinions of the experts. These ideas would help to improve the justice system to have a just life for everyone.

    • 9:14 pm - 07/06/2016

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