Patterico's Pontifications

2/29/2024

John McKinney for Los Angeles County District Attorney

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:00 am



The following is for my readers who are registered to vote in Los Angeles County. The rest of you can safely skip it unless you’re interested.

Since I do have many L.A. readers, many have asked me for my thoughts about who should be the next District Attorney of Los Angeles. I have a firm recommendation: John McKinney.

I have known John for over 20 years. We were office mates in Compton early in both of our careers. I got to see firsthand what other people in the office would come to see over time: a highly talented and charismatic trial attorney who radiates calm confidence and good judgment.

John is more than a great trial attorney, but before we get to that, I think it’s worth taking a moment to talk about the fact that . . . well, he’s a great trial attorney. John started trying serious cases in the Hardcore Gang Division, where I worked for nine years. (The Division has been renamed under George Gascon, but it will always be the Hardcore Gang Division to me.) It is a unit that handles gang murders almost exclusively, with a smattering of gang-related attempted murders. John thrived there and moved on to the Major Crimes Division, which is the most elite unit in the office. Major Crimes handles the biggest cases around. John successfully convicted the killer of Ermias Asghedom, aka “Nipsey Hussle,” a Grammy-award-winning rap artist. Such high-profile cases can be a pressure-cooker, but John is always the calm eye in any storm.

But John gave his all to every case, whether it made huge headlines or not. I remember walking into a courtroom in Long Beach where John was cleaning up his belongings after having just sentenced a murderer he had tried and convicted there. We exchanged friendly words and he left, at which point I chatted with the judge and the court staff outside his presence. They told me that he had given possibly the most organized and impressive presentation of a case they had ever seen. (That’s pretty good, because they had seen me put on a case too–and without any false modesty, I’m not too bad . . . as long as you like your presentations thorough, as opposed to bare-bones. My juries have always seemed to appreciate the thorough approach.) The comments that the judge and court staff made about John left an impression on me. I have always been impressed with the work of the Major Crimes DDAs, but the praise of a judge and his staff is some of the highest praise you can get, and John had it.

Being a top-flight trial attorney has not always been a characteristic of elected District Attorneys in our county–but if you’re a thoughtful trial attorney with judgment, I think that can give you an important perspective that people in the top spot sometimes lack. If you’ve been in the trenches; talked to moms who lost their sons to gang violence; spoken to unreasonable prospective jurors; wrangled with difficult and/or unreasonable judges; faced obstreperous defense attorneys who casually malign your character without a sliver of a basis . . . if you’ve done these things, it gives you a frame of reference that helps you assess cases and policies with an informed outlook.

Here’s what you need to know about John: he cares about holding violent criminals accountable for their crimes and keeping society safe. He believes in proportional justice for people who have committed less severe crimes. He has sound judgment and a serene and poised demeanor. He also has an interesting background that gives him greater insight than most have about crime in the inner city. You can read all about his background on his “about” page, but here’s a teaser that tells you John has a life experience that is not necessarily typical of every prosecutor:

I was born and raised in Passaic, NJ. Passaic is an old industrial working-class city in Northern New Jersey, about 30 minutes from New York City. My mom and dad passed away when I was two years old and five years old, respectively. My eldest sister, who had three children of her own, took me in and raised me and four others as a single mother. My sister worked full-time on the second shift, making it even more challenging for her to parent five children aged 5-13.

My sister, Ora Jones, whom I often refer to as mom, was a superwoman who led by example. She sacrificed much of her own life to provide for our well-being. Anything good about me is because of her. She instilled the values of hard work, persistence, sacrifice, respect for others, and service to others in all of us. I carry those values with me to this day.

I was born in one of the most tumultuous years in U.S. history, 1968. Being born in 1968 meant I was in my early teens when crack cocaine dropped like a bomb in cities all over the country. Seemingly overnight, a neighborhood became a “hood.” Seemingly overnight, many hard-working and respected men and women became crack-addicted zombies. Many of my friends who were good students or great athletes began hustling on the streets for fast and easy money. An already uneven playing field for young men my age became a minefield. The temptation to sell crack and make lots of money and the pitfall of addiction combined to create a dangerous landscape. Along with the drug trade came the ancillary problems of violence, crime, and more aggressive policing. This was the cauldron in which my young adult character was forged.

Fortunately, I had made it to my early teens before that bomb went off. My safe and nurturing home environment, combined with the values instilled in me early in life, helped me navigate a challenging environment that required a significant amount of discipline. Many of my friends, whom I loved then as I do now, succumbed to the attractive nuisance of drug dealing or addiction. Some of my friends went in and out of a revolving door of incarceration, while others, even less fortunate, started getting high on their own supply. Some who got involved in the drug game lived, and some died. There was no escaping the impact of drugs in the 80s in my neighborhood. We were all impacted by the crack epidemic in one way or another. For those who survived those dark days, we never want to see that history be repeated.

John knows how crime affects people in underprivileged areas in a way many District Attorneys can only imagine.

Plus, to be an effective District Attorney, you have to be a good communicator. And John is that.

Another anecdote: early in Gascon’s tenure, I attended a candlelight vigil for victims’ rights–a concept that Gascon did not seem to hold in high regard, in my opinion. The vigil was in front of the Hall of Justice, and John spoke. He was articulate and compelling. You felt his passion for his job and for victims, and his empathy for the harm they have suffered–not just at the hands of defendants who violently took the lives of their loved ones, but also at the hands of a system (now tragically including the District Attorney) that seems to think they just need to keep their mouths shut.

Well, that’s not John. And after I heard his speech, and after the event was winding down, I approached him and told him: you know, you could do a much better job yourself than the guy who’s there now. Have you given any thought to eventually running against him? And with a smile and a twinkle in his eye, John allowed as how he was already thinking about that.

I’m thrilled that he decided to move forward with it. But John doesn’t have the money of a Nathan Hochman. So you’re not necessarily seeing a lot of TV commercials for John, or hearing radio ads for him, or getting mailers from him.

But you know whose backing John does have? John has the backing of the Deputy District Attorneys of Los Angeles County. A plebiscite was held in January, and John ran away with it. That should tell you something about the kind of D.A. he is. Here’s a quote from the story in the Met News (a great local legal publication that almost always gets it right) about the plebiscite:

Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney John McKinney is overwhelmingly favored by the county’s prosecutors to head their office, a plebiscite reveals, with McKinney attracting 67.4 percent of the 355 ballots cast, and incumbent George Gascón drawing only 1.7 percent.

The plebiscite was conducted by a 13-member group calling itself Ethical D.A.s, headed by Deputy District Attorney John Lewin. It acted, Lewin said yesterday, in response to an endorsement on Dec. 20 by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys’ Board of Directors of Eric Siddall, who was the ADDA’s vice president until he announced his candidacy.

There are “less than 10 people” on the board, Lewin noted.

He complained that the ADDA refused to urge participation in the plebiscite and will not announce the results.

The tallying of online votes was done by Simply Voting Inc., a Montreal-based company. Lewin noted that its services have been utilized by the ADDA.

His comments yesterday to the MetNews appear below.

In the plebiscite—the results of which were released Sunday—Siddall came in second, with 15.3 percent of the votes, and with Deputy District Attorneys Maria Ramirez receiving 12.4 percent and Jonathan Hatami attaining 2.3 percent.

John beat the closest contender by nearly 50 points.

I like Eric Siddall and Maria Ramirez. And even Hatami–who has a reputation in our office of being a bit full of himself–would be far better than Gascon.

But you should vote for John McKinney. This is an election where the people who make it to the runoff will be separated by just a few thousand votes. Your vote will matter.

Vote for John McKinney for D.A.


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