Riverside County voters will go to the polls on June 7 to decide whether two-term district attorney Mike Hestrin will remain the county’s top prosecutor.
Hestrin is being challenged by appellate and habeas attorney Lara Gressley and Riverside County Superior Court Judge Burke Strunsky.
Any of the candidates could win the seat in the June 7 election if they manage to secure an outright majority. Otherwise, the top two challengers will advance to a second round in November.
Hestrin ran on a platform that he has the experience to continue being the county DA, won the trust of county criminal justice system leaders and characterized himself as a victim advocate who pursues aggressive prosecutions.
His challengers traded barbs with him on a bloated departmental budget, the number of resolutions of cases and the practical possibility of pursuing the death penalty when the state stopped carrying out executions.
The race had several flashpoints. Questions have been raised about the SAFE Family Justice Center, a non-profit organization housed in the district attorney’s office, and his stewardship of a donation to help the Turpin siblings after they were rescued from years of abuse.
The Desert Sun reported that the The DA’s office was plagued with missing case information and demographics in light of a recent change in the law requiring such data to be made available upon request in criminal cases.
And, most recently, a case in which a man accused of domestic violence assault brokered a plea deal and is accused of killing his child months later. A prosecutor from the district attorney’s office wrote a scathing brief in the case claiming that Strunsky, the judge who oversaw the plea should have sentenced him to prison. Strunsky disputed this claim and called it a “political war” meant to falsely label him soft on crime.
Gressley told the Desert Sun she takes issue with the prosecutor’s office allowing the man to plead a previous case in which he was charged with strangling a domestic partner for a lesser offense of public fighting.
Hestrin, who has been criticized by Strunsky and Gressley for his acceptance of contributions from law enforcement unions, has a significant fundraising advantage over the two challengers, outscoring each of them by more than $500,000. since January.
Hestrin raised about $615,000 this year, while Strunsky’s campaign earned about $113,000 during the same period, and Gressley’s team reported raising about $73,000 in contributions this year, according to campaign finance records.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
Christopher Damien covers public safety and the criminal justice system. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him at @chris_a_damien.