Good turn-out for DA debate

The debate between incumbent Madera County District Attorney Michael Keitz and challengers Miranda Neal and David Linn was held Friday evening at the Oakhurst Community Center before nearly 150 interested citizens who came, despite a heavy rainfall, to learn more about the candidates before casting their vote in the June 3 primary election.

The night, sponsored by the Oakhurst Democratic Club, was moderated by Peter Cavanuagh.

Candidates were asked to address several topics in a two-minute style debate including issues about each candidates qualifications, the functions of the District Attorney’s Office, and how to make the DA’s office more cost effective.

The debate also touched on public criticisms of the district attorneys office including high internal turnover, district attorney collaboration with the sheriff’s department and necessity of jury trials versus negotiated settlements.

Other issues discussed during the two-hour long debate included the rise in elder abuse cases, possibility of gang-injunctions for the Oakhurst Community Park and the legalization of marijuana, opposed by all three candidates.

Oakhurst attorney Linn addressed concerns over the ability of the current DA’s office to properly prosecute criminals and distinguish between everyday citizens in troubled situations and the real street criminals who deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Linn also discussed the inefficiencies with the current DA’s office and gave several suggestions as to how he would address those inefficiencies.

“Everyone has a reason for running for a political office — my reasons are very simple — I want to do justice, I want to see justice done in Madera County, I want to protect the people, my friends, my family and the people that live in Madera County,” Linn said.

Neal addressed several issues pertaining to the importance of inter-department communication and focused on discussing the importance of having close staff relationships.

“In the 20 years I have worked in for Madera County and Fresno County I handled hundreds of court trials,” Neal said. “I feel that I can bring out the best in people, I am a peoples person, I can communicate and I feel that is one thing we are lacking at this time in Madera County.”

Keitz addressed several issues that loom over his current administration and said turnover is a common thing in the Madera County DA’s office due to lower wages than surrounding counties and heavy workloads. Keitz made statements about his qualifications and his passion for serving the people of Madera County as their District Attorney.

Keitz said his office currently handles between 8,500 and 10,000 cases per year, with fewer than average number of office personnel and attorneys.

“We live in uncertain times ... realignment has placed a lot of challenges on us,” Keitz said. “Violent crime is up, as is regular crime — don’t risk your public safety on someone who is not qualified and does not have the years of experience I have.”

The candidates will face-off again in a debate sponsored by the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce at 6 p.m., April 17, at the Oakhurst Community Center.