With the primary election three months away, the three candidates running for Madera County District Attorney, incumbent Michael Keitz, and challengers David Linn and Miranda Neal, will square-off in a debate 7-9 p.m., Friday, Feb. 28, at the Oakhurst Community Center.
Sponsored by the Oakhurst Democratic Club, the debate format will be based on League of Women Voter guidelines. Each candidate will be given two minutes to respond to questions asked by moderator Peter Cavanaugh. Candidates will then be given 90 seconds for rebuttal. Candidates will not be allowed to direct questions to each other.
Questions will not be taken from the audience the night of the debate, and anyone wishing to submit a question prior to the event can do so by sending questions to Democratic Club Program Director Ellie Schermerhorn at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling her at (559) 658-2342.
Keitz will focus on his experience
Keitz, who has been the county district attorney for the past five years, said he will focus on his 22 years of experience working in the district attorney's office.
"Although the recession, the annual countywide budget cutbacks, and the early release of inmates through prison realignment have brought unprecedented challenges to my office, my experience has allowed me to guide my office and continue proactively seeking justice for the people of Madera County," Keitz said.
Keitz said, not withstanding the impacts of those issues, during his time as district attorney, he has seen his office's conviction rate increase significantly over the past several years with the most recent figures showing a 15% increase for last year alone.
"To me, this is a great testament to the men and women working in my office on behalf of the victims of crime, as well as the people of Madera County," Keitz said.
"People need to understand that when they cast their votes this June, it won't be for the deputy or assistant DA, who has more experience than either of the other two candidates, it will be for the person who has to make the tough decisions every day, and as your district attorney, I have the experience and have made those decisions," Keitz said.
Linn believes DA office is dysfunctional
Linn, whose wife is Betty Linn, publisher of the Sierra Star, said he is pleased that voters will have the opportunity to evaluate the three candidates.
"I want people to understand how the district attorney, the county's chief law enforcement officer, affects the life of every resident of Madera County and is an essential part of the community," Linn said. "I also want the citizens to understand how the district attorney's office has been made ineffective and dysfunctional for the last six years."
Linn said he wants the people who attend the debate to know how well-qualified he is as an attorney and administrator, which is why he feels he should be elected DA.
"I hope that after the debate, the people will know that Mr. Keitz has failed to do his job," said Linn. "I also hope that the people learn that Ms. Neal, a long-time government employee without any administrative experience, is incapable of restoring the district attorney's office to a properly functioning department that can follow the law, prosecute the bad guys, do justice and protect the law-abiding citizens by restoring public trust in government."
Neal wants to prevent attorney turnover
Neal said she will, if elected, prevent turnover of staff and loss of skilled attorneys in the DA office by her ability to work with people and empower them.
"I will be a courtroom attorney, as well as a manager, thus promoting teamwork," Neal said. "I will encourage growth and excellence by allowing deputies more discretion to practice law, and to grow and learn from experience."
Neal said she is able to handle cases with high-emotional impact dispassionately.
"I will respond rather than react emotionally or for political impact," Neil said. "The ability to assess cases, thus to facilitate proper settlements and to protect the community while efficiently using resources, is essential for this office."
Linn has paid for full page ads in the Sierra Star, Madera Tribune and Chowchilla News, outlining 10 reasons why he is challenging Keitz. Those reasons, according to the ad, allege Keitz has cost taxpayers $1.5 million because of law suits related to hostile work conditions in his office, poor leadership, suing to cover-up a report that summarizes the intolerable working conditions in his office, and used $40,000 in taxpayer money to cover-up the report.
The ads also state Keitz stopped in-house continuing legal education that provides critical training to prosecutors and that Keitz, due to his not personally handling cases, including murders and arson, assigns them to attorneys with no prior experience in these types of cases.
Keitz, in a prepared statement, responded to the Linn ads saying that throughout his more than two decades that he has served the people of Madera County as DA and as a deputy DA, he has never been confronted by such a disingenuous attempt to smear his integrity.
"My opponent believes that innuendo, half-truth and demagoguery will win people over to his side," Keitz said. "It seems to me that this hasn't worked for him in his prior races, but it's important that anyone seeking to hold public office, and particular, that of the chief law enforcement officer of the county, should understand the basic need for candor and honesty, most importantly, the people of Madera County deserve nothing less."
Debate moderator Cavanaugh is a retired broadcast executive, Sierra Star columnist, and a member of the Oakhurst Democratic Club's Executive Committee. He is former president of the Flint Area Advertising Federation, former chairman of the NBC Radio Network Affiliates and former chairman of the National ABC Radio Networks Affiliates board of directors.
"We're expecting a very spirited debate and this is a great opportunity for the public to hear the incumbent and two candidates running for this very important county office," Cavanaugh said.
A large crowd is expected to attend the debate. It is the first such event in the county, and is focusing on what may well be the most heated county campaign on the June ballot. If a candidate does not receive 51% of the vote on June 3, the two top finishers will advance to the November general election.
The Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce has scheduled two upcoming candidate night debates:
Thursday, April 17, 6-8 p.m., Oakhurst Community Center: Sheriff and district attorney candidates.
Thursday, May 1, 6-8 p.m., location yet to be determined. Candidates for District 5 supervisor, auditor-controller, assessor, and tax collector - treasurer.
Oakhurst attorney Greg Chappel will serve as moderator for the chamber debates.
County incumbents who are running unopposed at this time are County Clerk Rebecca Martinez, Superintendent of Schools Cecilia Massetti, District 2 supervisor David Rogers, and Superior Court Judges Ernest Li Calsi and Michael Jurkovich.
The Declaration of Candidacy period ends March 7.