Since assuming his position as Madera County District Attorney in January, former defense lawyer David Linn said he’s kept to his goals of a more efficient and focused prosecutor’s office.
When he walked through the doors after winning election in November, Linn said the first thing he noticed was the excellence of his staff, including 15 deputies.
But, he said, his prosecutors lacked proper training, their caseloads were too high, and the current atmosphere was centered solely on trials.
“I realized the true quality and ability of the staff we had, and I wanted to nurture that ability,” Linn said. “I met with them numerous times ... to see if they could accept my philosophy that the key is not how many trials you get. The key is how much justice you do. There is a big difference between the two.”
That philosophy, Linn said, has since addressed many of his office’s issues to help improve justice in Madera County.
For one, Linn has since hired seven new deputy district attorneys, all while remaining under a $2.7 million budget approved by the Board of Supervisors.
Those additional hires helped eliminate a massive backlog of cases such as DUIs, Linn said, which backed up prosecution and timely judicial process for years.
“All our cases are now current,” Linn said. “We had literally hundreds and hundreds of cases that hadn’t been filed, some more than a year old. But we’ve purged that so there’s no longer a backlog ... we stayed on top of the deputies to ensure they were rapidly charging their cases instead of letting them sit around.”
Deputies are now required to attend 36 training sessions - many online - every three years, Linn said, to help inform them on new laws in their criminal divisions and improve their success rates in court.
“As far as I know, before I came in, they were discouraged from going to continuing education and training,” Linn said. “I don’t know why that would have been. But I want them to make sure they’re able to go to a specialized training session that applies to them, whether it’s gang crime, murder, auto theft, or anything else.”
Additionally, before his entry, Linn said the district attorney’s office pressured deputies in taking cases to trial.
Though some critics have suggested he’s being too lenient on crime by offering plea agreements or other routes, Linn pointed to a lowered violent crime rate from last year and that sometimes, plea bargains or even dismissed cases can be the proper path.
“If we go to trial, we go to trial because we know we can win,” Linn said. “Some cases that we plea bargain, they’re not the world’s greatest cases, and we don’t think we can sell them to a jury. The risk is too great. If you have somebody who’s willing to plead to eight years in prison, why take them to trial on a chance they may get 12 years, or be free on the streets, if the evidence isn’t that great? That’s insane.”
Other changes have already proved helpful, Linn said.
In March, Linn opened the Mountain Division out of a satellite office in Oakhurst, which allows a full-time investigator and part-time deputy district attorney to handle mountain cases and speak with area residents. Linn said the California Highway Patrol can send case information digitally to the main office in the City of Madera as well, which further speeds up prosecution.
That month, Linn also established an Agricultural and Water Crime Task Force to take on equipment theft, illegally-drilled wells, and other ag crime.
“We are getting convictions after convictions with that,” Linn said. “A lot of them are just pleas, but we put jail time on them, which nobody ever got on ag crimes before, as well as full restitution for say, metal or equipment theft.”
And finally, Linn has begun to take over prosecution inside a courtroom instead of his office, most recently for a boy younger than 14 who allegedly started the Willow Fire last month.
He said some problems, like kids being recruited into gangs, remain in both the Valley and mountain, but he’s working to combat those as well.
In the coming months, Linn said he hopes to keep his office’s restructured organization on the right track for “proper justice” in Madera County, all while doing a job he loves.
“I’ve enjoyed everything,” Linn said. “This is the best job in the world, and I would think the people can look forward to better performance out of the DA’s office, and more knowledgable, better performance out of me.”
This is the first of a four-part series highlighting new elected officials from Madera County, including Sheriff Jay Varney, Auditor-Controller Todd Miller, and District 1 Supervisor Brett Frazier.
Disclosure: David Linn is married to Betty Linn, publisher of the Sierra Star.