An initiative to abolish the death penalty qualified Monday for the November ballot, once again thrusting Californians into the debate over capital punishment. If the measure passes, men convicted of some of Sonoma County’s most heinous crimes would have their sentences converted from death to life without the possibility of parole. Among them are seven men convicted of killing their own children and wives, of raping girls, of stabbing an elderly woman and of shooting a deputy.
When Jill Ravitch bellied up to the prosecution table in the Jarrod Miller murder trial, she became the first sitting Sonoma County district attorney in three decades to take a case before a jury. Some call it refreshing, others call it grandstanding.
By most accounts from the legal community, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch has done well in her first 12 months as the county’s top law enforcement officer, and is a marked improvement over her predecessor, Stephan Passalacqua, whom she defeated in a bruising 2010 election campaign.
Investigators in the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office were told Tuesday that they no longer will be allowed to routinely take home their work vehicles. The issue has been simmering in a months-long dispute between District Attorney Jill Ravitch and investigators in her office. Several county supervisors said the county should review and possibly reduce a long list of perks given to county employees on top of their salaries.
Jill Ravitch is not a double-dipper. The Sonoma County district attorney suspended her county pension payments in January after she took office. “I will never be able to recoup what I have decided to forgo,” Ravitch said. County pension officials incorrectly included Ravitch on a list of people receiving pension payments, published Thursday in The Press Democrat.
A statewide effort to reduce prison crowding that shifts a sizable burden to counties has been labeled the biggest change to Sonoma County’s criminal justice system in a generation. Beginning Oct. 1, low-level felons normally sentenced to prison will instead be kept at the county jail. And inmates usually released under state parole supervision will be transferred to county probation jurisdiction.
Valerie Brown’s surprise decision not to seek re-election to the Board of Supervisors means Sonoma County will have seen almost a complete turnover in leadership over a four-year period. Change is good, but is this too much at one time?
Sonoma County officials said Tuesday they are prepared to handle the influx of felons that will begin in two months when the state prison system starts transferring “low-level” offenders to relieve chronic overcrowding. However, the county will need to hire additional correctional officers by spring. And county officials are uncertain whether state funding for the program is adequate.
The plan sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature calls for sweeping changes to the criminal justice system, curtails local redevelopment projects, closes state parks and reduces welfare programs that serve hundreds of needy families and individuals in Sonoma County.
In their first day of informal votes on the county’s proposed $1.2 billion budget, supervisors agreed to consider restoring $5.9 million for the Sheriff’s Office helicopter and other prominent public safety programs, as well as efforts to aid at-risk youth, veterans and the mentally ill. See what programs will be saved.