By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County’s first woman district attorney, Jill Ravitch, was sworn in Sunday in a ceremony that summoned images of barrier breakers before her.
Ravitch, 52, of Sebastopol became the county’s 33rd elected top prosecutor before a standing-room-only crowd of more than 500 people, including the region’s legal and political heavyweights, at Sonoma Country Day School.
An old courtroom adversary, defense-lawyer-turned-Superior-Court-Judge Elliot Daum, administered the oath of office, but not before comparing Ravitch to Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player.
He also likened Ravitch to Rosie the Riveter, a World War II poster character who lauded the efforts of working women. He said Ravitch was taking the mantle from Rosie’s real-life inspiration, Geraldine Doyle, who died this week.
“The rising of this woman is indeed and absolutely the rising of us all,” Daum said before clasping Ravitch’s shoulders and later swearing her in.
Ravitch, who was met by big applause, called her ascension to district attorney over a prosecutorial career of more that 20 years an “amazing journey.”
She renewed her campaign pledge to be a hands-on leader and good listener.
“Hold me to my promises because we all deserve it,” Ravitch told the crowd. “What an amazing county. Let’s protect it.”
Ravitch, who takes office at noon today, was elected in June over two-term District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.
The ceremony drew dozens of the area’s legal and governmental elite, including at least 20 sitting or retired judges, district attorneys from five counties and the region’s law enforcement brass.
Also in attendance were representatives from Sacramento, county supervisors and elected officials from the county’s nine cities.
“This is very historic,” state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, said as she mingled in the foyer before the ceremony. “I think she’ll bring a fresh approach to the administration of justice in Sonoma County.”
Superior Court Judge Gary Medvigy, a former prosecutor, said “everyone is excited to see how Jill does.”
“I think the whole courthouse is very optimistic for positive change,” Medvigy said.
Santa Rosa criminal defense attorney Chris Andrian, one of dozens from the defense bar to turn out, called Ravitch “an outstanding lawyer and an outstanding person.”
“She’s really galvanized the community,” Andrian said, pointing to the large crowd. “It’s a great day for the county.”
Ravitch’s election was her second attempt at unseating Passalacqua, a former co-worker whom she supported when he ran against then-District Attorney Mike Mullins in 2002.
On Sunday, she invited Mullins, now a Solano County prosecutor, to share the stage and say a few words.
“I love irony, don’t you?” Mullins said to warm applause.
Ravitch came to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office in 1990 after a stint as a prosecutor in Alameda County. She went to UC Berkeley and University of San Francisco’s law school.
She developed a reputation for being one of the county’s top courtroom prosecutors before leaving for private practice in 2004. She became third-in-command at the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office in 2008.
Her second campaign for the $200,000-a-year job was a hard-fought battle and eclipsed previous spending records.
Combined, the two candidates shelled out more than $600,000, eclipsing their 2006 mark of $432,000.
The District Attorney’s Office has 125 employees and a $22 million budget.
Ravitch has said she will spend the first 30 days in observation mode before making wholesale staff changes.
But she said Sunday night she would appoint Deputy District Attorney Bud McMahon to be her right-hand as chief deputy.
McMahon, the longest serving attorney in the office, had been relegated to the juvenile division under Passalacqua. He was an active campaigner for Ravitch.
Ravitch also said former Assistant District Attorney Diana Gomez, who supported Passalacqua’s re-election and served in an at-will top management position, would be demoted.
The invitation-only ceremony took on some of the qualities of a light-hearted roast.
Her younger brother, John Ravitch, said the new D.A. got her famous courtroom moxie from her grandmother and her career direction from Hollywood.
At a young age, Ravitch camped out in her grandmother Mimi’s New York City apartment, eating tuna sandwiches, drinking Tab and watching “Perry Mason” episodes, said John Ravitch said.
She developed into a persuasive debater who, “at the age of six prevailed in every family discussion,” her brother said to peals of laughter from the crowd.
“If you do the arithmetic, it’s a very long winning streak,” John Ravitch said.
While the rest of the family pursued a music business, Jill Ravitch one day announced she was going to law school to become a prosecutor.
“Law school was something like, ‘What are you doing?’” John Ravitch said. “You’re watching too much TV.”
“Of course we all recognize Jill today as a hardworking attorney,” her brother said.
Daum, a former criminal defender, got in on the kidding, recounting the time he faced “Savage Ravitch” at trial.
Ravitch won over jurors from her opening statements and continued to hammer the defense through six long weeks of testimony.
“I learned a lot in that trial and I’m still picking up the pieces,” Daum deadpanned.
Daum tried to assure defense lawyers who feared Ravitch’s legal prowess, saying said she would always at least listen to settlement offers.
But in a reference to campaign attacks by Passalacqua, Daum warned defense attorneys not to expect favors from Ravitch.
“It may be you won’t be able to walk out of there with that sweetheart deal we’ve heard so much about,” Daum said to applause.