Deputy District Attorney, Robert “Bobby” Grace, is a quiet-spoken man with loud ideas about how justice should work. Originally from San Bernardino, he graduated from the University of California Los Angeles after serving a stint as student body president from 1982 to 1983. He went on to Loyola Law School and did his externship at the County District Attorney’s Office, where he has worked ever since.
During his 23 years in the DA’s Office, he’s worked in the Hardcore Gang Division, family violence/domestic violence division and is currently assigned to the high profile major crimes unit, where he’s served since 2005.
Grace is a through-and-through progressive, but sees a number of Cooley’s initiatives worthy of continuing and furthering.
He cited Cooley’s change in the application of Three Strikes, as an example in which he required that the third strike be a violent felony, so that an ex-felon with two strikes doesn’t get life in prison without possibility of parole for stealing a slice of pizza.
“That was a good policy,” he said. “But there are some other things we should be doing to follow up on that, such as ending the practice of seeking the life without possibility of parole sentences for juveniles under the age of 18.”
Grace believes juveniles should have an opportunity to earn their way out of an indeterminate sentence. If they are not 18 years old, no matter how heinous the crime, it is difficult for a person that young to have the same criminal pattern that an adult would, he said.
The issues he’s running on include increased government transparency, state accountability in fully paying for prison realignment and operating a robust DA’s Office with fiscal restraint.
“I think there’s a trend in all areas of government in the direction of transparency,” he said in an interview with Random Lengths News Publisher James Allen. “The more transparency you have, the better you’re going to see the administration of justice… I’m for anything that sheds more light as opposed to darkens things.”
Grace has made it a campaign issue to aggressively go after city employees who sign illegal consulting contracts with employers, directly referencing the issues the City of Vernon and the City of Bell have faced in recent years.
“That’s probably one of the biggest areas of local corruption that we’ve seen in the last few years,” he said. “It definitely undermines the credibility of city councils and local agencies… The best way to deal with that is by enforcing the Brown Act and making sure that any business contracts are done in open city council session or open agency sessions so that the public and the press are aware of who signing these contracts.”
When it was pointed out that employee contracts and real estate deals could be conducted in closed session, Grace replied that he believed that was bogus in the sense that the personal contracts, saying things like health care could be kept from public view but the actual size of the contract and the length of the contract are all matters that are fair game and people should know because it relates to the city budget.
Grace is supportive of realignment, though he believes much needs to be done to ensure that the state follows through on paying local law enforcement agencies to deal with probation and reentry issues.
“I think the District Attorney has to get behind realignment, and the district attorneys and law enforcement agencies across the state need to hold the state legislatures feet to the fire with the promise they made to not only give money to local law enforcement agencies to reimburse them for the additional cost of parole and probation, but also to fund the rehabilitation and reentry programs that’s going to be necessary to see the reductions that they want to see,” he said. “That’s really the key … that the state really comes through with that money for rehabilitation and reentry programs. There’s no way you’re going see crime reduction under realignment otherwise.”
If he had his way he would build a program modeled after one in Hawaii, where first time offenders go through intensive supervision and reentry rehabilitation programs. He argues that since the majority of those caught up in the system are low level offenders related to drug use or property related crimes, it makes sense to devote resources toward first time offenders to break that criminal cycle and get them out of the system.
“What we want to do is lower the recidivism rate,” he said. “And, that’s the best way we can work toward breaking the cycle of criminality among people that would be apt to do it again. On the juvenile side, we know from research that as soon as a juvenile gets into the system it’s almost impossible to get that kid out before they’re 21.
“So, I want to create the same kind of program for juveniles, call the the juvenile justice initiative, where we focus intensely on first time offenders within the juvenile justice system and really get those kids into school and get them into tutorial programs and into counseling programs so that we can stop that cycle.”
The nonpartisan League of Women Voters and two prisoners’ rights groups sued California elections officials recently to restore the voting rights of tens of thousands of criminals being shifted to county jails and community supervision under realignment. When asked his position on the issue, Grace said he sees the continued disenfranchisement of ex-felons as a vote suppression tactic employed by states across the nation.
“Nobody has ever shown me that because you’re convicted of a crime that mean you can’t exercise your right to vote. This is what the 2000 and 2004 election were all about. The reason the course of history may have been changed is because of vote suppression efforts in the South.”
In regards to environmental justice, particularly as it regards the Rancho LPG, Grace was asked if he would take a similar stance as Cooley or Trutanich in taking a hands off approach in challenging such companies with questionable environmental impact reports.
“My position is to do an independent survey of my prosecutors and investigators who have been trained in environmental investigations and come up with my own viewpoint on the matter,” he said. “And, if it were determined that crimes were committed, we would use the full force of the county law to try to make them come into compliance with what county rules and if there any evidence that city law was broken, I would work with the city attorney and provide them with the information that seem to indicate the facility was in violation of city law.
“We should get the state involved, because there are three different sphere of influence and the state has more resources.”
When asked what he could as county DA do to ensure that Rancho LPG is adequately insured against a worst case scenario, Grace replied that he would coordinate with the state’s insurance office to demand that Rancho is adequately insured against a catastrophic accident or case of malfeasance on their part.
“I’m not going to stand by and allow an environmental hazard occur and not make sure I’ve done everything I could do from my position to make sure that every government agency that may have a part in this do what they are supposed to.”
With the current budget constraints, the DA’s office won’t be able to maintain a set number of people whose sole job is to investigate environmental crimes, Grace explained. But he pledged to form a cadre of lawyers who in addition to their regular jobs are trained to prosecute environmental crimes and free up the time necessary for those lawyers to prosecute such crimes.
High profiled cases:
Blackwidow Murders of two elderly women who enlisted then murdered homeless men in a life-insurance scam;
Chester “Grim Sleeper” Turner, a South Los Angeles serial killer in the 1980s who wasn’t captured, tried and convicted in 2007, one of the most prolific serial murderers.
Prosecutor of the Year, LA County Bar Association Criminal Justice System (2008)
Pursuit of Justice Award, Association of Deputy District Attorneys (2002)
Outstanding Community Service Award, LA County Board of Supervisors (1999)
For more information, visit www.bobbygrace4da.com
Position on the Death Penalty:
Grace believes that for the death penalty to survive in the state of California “there are a number of things that’s going to have to be done to make it viable.” He said that first, the state will have to find the money to train and pay appellate lawyers to work death penalty cases.
First, Grace notes that there’s currently a 5 to 7 year lag time before a death row inmate even sees an appellate lawyer, making a mockery of the notion of swift justice.
Second, he notes it’s going to take money from the state to ensure that the death penalty is administered in a fair and efficient manner–particularly as it regard in finding the appropriate drug cocktail that to end a death row inmates life.
“All of this should have been done ahead of time,” Grace explained, “so we don’t have to keep going back to court time and time again all because of the questions of whether the lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment.”
Finally, there’s going to have to be a streamlining of both the state and federal appeals in terms of the death penalty. Because it’s basically unfair to the victims of crime as well as the defendants themselves to not have an orderly transition in respect to state appeals and federal appeals.
“California will never be like Texas, Georgia, or Alabama because we’ve always determine that it is better to be slower in respect to the process rather the faster to makes sure we are not making a mistake and to allow for the admission of DNA to show that someone is innocent,” he said. “And, that can come out in the appellate process. But to have executed only 13 people since 1976 is really no death penalty at all. So unless these things are changed then viability of the death penalty is in question.
“And, I’m sure the voters in November is going to take that into account.”
On Medical Marijuana
Grace acknowledges the support of medical marijuana in the state, but noted that the local municipalities and cities were left to interpret state law leaving a hodgepodge of inconsistent regulation throughout the state.
“Two things are happening, people that need medical marijuana aren’t able to get it because there is no clear pattern of who can enforce and tax these shops and from a law enforcement perspective, we have not been able to get clear advice on who’s going to be responsible for these zoning violations that they’re too close to schools, which is a major issue.”
Grace cited a recent Rand report that the think tank had to backtrack a bit, in which it said that criminality was not attached to medical marijuana shops.
“They had to back off because they said they didn’t do the proper research,” he said. “I know from being a prosecutor and having seen a lot of different cases, that because it’s a cash based industry, they are big targets for take down robberies… So, really, as a public safety issue, state regulation is absolutely necessary.”
Grace doesn’t believe the federal government is ever going to allow the sale of medical marijuana, but he’s concerned, from a law enforcement perspective, that supply of of medical marijuana will be under the control of an outside nation, most probably Mexico.
“We know the individuals that control marijuana growth,” he said. “They’re also involved in other criminal activities. I’m not sure that the state of California or individual businesses in the state of California want to be in business with the people who will ultimately be in control of international sales of drugs.”
Grace understand the argument of having a domestically grown supply to take profits out of the hands of criminals, but asks the critical question of who will make sure that happens, the federal government, will they be able to identify businesses like the alcohol industry, they were already set up inside the United States and outside of it where it was legal, where they could immediately step in and produce alcohol. He noted that it would take years for business and enterprises to get together to produce on that same scale.
For Grace, that extends to making public the names of officers involved in officer involved shootings.
“You have to be aggressive in terms of upholding as lawyers, and as prosecutors you have sworn duty to act independently because we have a responsibility in ensuring the fair administration of justice,” he said.
“The perfect example of this is the Rodney King case where the District Attorney’s office had to make a decision on whether to file on those particular officers. One of the things they decided was, because some of those officers had numerous complaints and because we had access to that information, that was something that we took into account in respect to illegal force.”