Are you ready for a new District Attorney on Tuesday?

You guys are probably all already aware of this, but just in case you somehow missed it – Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff, totally randomly and out of nowhere, announced at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting that he has decided to retire after 15 years in office.

Nobody thought Orloff was going to run for re-election next year, but the sudden retirement (he wants to spend time with his grandchild) was unexpected. At the same Board of Supervisors meeting, he asked the Board to appoint his Chief Assistant, Nancy O’Malley, to fill his seat until next year’s election, when she will run for the office herself, and, according to Orloff, win. That last part is of course a lot more likely when she has the advantage of incumbency.

I will keep any specific issues I have with Tom Orloff his office to myself, except to say that as a general rule, I have very little patience for politicians, particularly longtime officeholders, who leave their office unexpectedly shortly before the end of a term in a manner that practically guarantees the election of a hand-chosen successor. I understand why people do it, obviously, but I find the behavior to be extremely contemptuous of the democratic process and I have a very difficult time respecting anyone who chooses to end their career in this way.

Anyway, I’m not the only person who thinks this whole thing is creepy. District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks also does not like the idea of the Board appointing Orloff’s suggested replacement to the County’s top law enforcement position with no public input and only a week’s notice. She sent out the following e-mail last week asking people to come to the Tuesday’s meeting and protest.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors will appoint a new District Attorney Tuesday, September 15, 2009, at 9:00 am. The item is #8A on their agenda. They appear set to appoint Nancy O’Malley at the request of Tom Orloff.

This is an elected position. While the Board has the authority to appoint; it should only do so pursuant to a public process. In the instant case they are making an appointment with less than a week’s public notice and without a public process.

We need to pack the Board chambers on Tuesday and demand a public process for the selection process. Please help turn out as many people as you can. This position is too important for them to make this appointment in secret.

You can also send an e-mail directly to the entire Board of Supervisors, asking for a public process, straight from this page.

I can’t make the meeting because of the Airport Connector coming to Public Works that morning, but I did send a message about it. Some people think Orloff has done a great job (see today’s MediaNews editorial), while others seriously hate him (see the comments on today’s MediaNews editorial), but whether you like Orloff (or O’Malley) is not the issue at hand. This issue is transparency and the public’s right to have a say in who holds public office.

18 thoughts on “Are you ready for a new District Attorney on Tuesday?

  1. Born in Oakland

    “Regarding Orloff, maybe there is a medical reason for himself or family?? I wouldn’t mind if Dellums stepped down prior to the end of his term. There are also some South Carolinan politicians the public wouldn’t miss.

  2. len raphael

    though i see your point about how elected officials time their retirements to pick their successor, i was more concerned about council member’s call to “pack the Chambers”. She didn’t like the way Orloff handled the Bart shooting but “packing” the room isn’t going to get a better candidate and probably not even someone closer to council member’s politics. mostly it improve her political standing.

    i’d like to see a DA who was less political and applied applied the same tougher on criminal prosecution decisions in Oakland that she or he made for Fremont and Hayward etc.

    A DA selected in part via our council member’s method would not be an improvement.

    -len raphael

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    Desley, and others, are simply asking that the new District Attorney be selected through the exact same public process normally used to make appointments to important public positions (such as the Board of Supervisors, or the AC Transit Board of Directors) in the event of a vacancy. I have a very hard time seeing how that isn’t a substantial improvement.

  4. PM

    A more transparent process, with public input, is certainly better than what Orloff has proposed, but ignoring the political motives of the people opposing O’Malley’s appointment is naive. Why didn’t Brooks make a stink when Wilma Chan left office early? And would Brooks complain similarly if Keith Carson left office early and endorsed her as his successor? (She was his chief of staff not that long ago.) Same for the ACLU. Their opposition is about the application of the death penalty, not about the appointment process.

    I don’t disagree with the criticism of the process, but there’s a lot more going on here with the opposition to O’Malley than meets the eye.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    Well, I made a point in the post of saying that my problem is with the process, not necessarily with O’Malley.

    I’m not ignoring anyone’s motives, but I think that it would be very foolish and short-sighted to ignore the process and transparency issues at hand here simply because one happens to not like Desley Brooks or Russ Giuntini. In the event of a Supervisor leaving office early, the Supervisors would not simply appoint a replacement a week later with no public input. The outgoing officeholder is of course always welcome to endorse a preferred successor, but the decision should still be made with public notice and input.

  6. len raphael

    v, you did clearly distinguish between persons and process. my impression of brooks is that she’s is much brighter than typical oakland politician, but her output is limited to occassional pieces of huey long rhetoric.

  7. freddy

    Hold on a sec – a prosecutor since 1970, the DA since 1994, 66 years old….

    The Johannes Mehserle trial on the horizon….

    I’d retire, too. This thing is going to be nothing but ugly. It’s a lose-lose-lose situation. No matter how this is resolved, it will result in accusation, racial tension, scandal, riots, the works – who would want to go out on that note?

    That’s why he’s leaving.

  8. Desley Brooks

    I didn’t make a stink when Wilma Chan left her seat on the Board of Supervisors to go to the Assembly because there was a public process to replace her. Among the candidates who sought to replace Ms. Chan were David Kakishiba, Barry Bingham and Alice Lai-Bitker.

    As far as Keith Carson vacating his seat early and endorsing me, Mr. Carson represents West and North Oakland. I live and represent residents in Central East Oakland.

    I am unaware of any other public Governing body that has sought to appoint a new member absent a public process. When the AC Transit Board filled Rebecca Kaplan’s seat it was through a public process. Just last week the Alameda County Board of Education filled a vacancy — through a public process. An appointment as important as the County District Attorney certainly should be filled through a public process.

  9. Max Allstadt

    I’m absolutely in agreement with those who support managing Orloff’s succession through a public process. This is an extremely important position. Oakland needs someone in this job who won’t short-change Oakland.

    As far as anybody’s issues with Orloff’s job performance go, it’s absolutely valid to use his screw ups as a catalyst to get the public to demand a fair process for his replacement. If the outgoing DA screwed up this much, it follows that there should be a more rigorous vetting process for the next DA.

  10. Max Allstadt

    Also, we ought to have a law which at the very least says that an incumbent who was an appointed replacement for less than half a term cannot put “incumbent” on a ballot.

  11. len raphael

    Max, what do you mean by short changing Oakl/and? It could be said that other than the Grant case, where people in oakland wanted prompt hanging justice, the DA’s office gives Oakland the plea bargains and lighter sentences that many voters here want.


  12. Max Allstadt


    The DA’s office under-prosecutes quality of life crimes, and Oakland needs action on those sorts of things more than much of the rest of the County.

    Also, capitulating to public demand and indicting Mehserle for murder may have served the short term will of the people, but in the long term, it endangers our city? Why? I believe that anything less than a murder conviction will lead to more unrest, or at least it’s very risky.

    I haven’t decided for myself if Grant was killed intentionally, accidentally, negligently, or in an act of panic. But I am pretty sure that a murder charge is going to be hard to make stick against any on-duty law enforcement officer who was in the process of making an arrest or a detention.

    What that means is that we now face an imminent conviction of a lesser charge, or worse, an acquittal. So if there are riots following the end of the trial, I’ll blame Orloff for overreaching on the charge, and setting up high expectations that don’t materialize.

  13. len raphael

    Max, i’ll have to think more on your criticism of the DA’s charges, but it would make a very interesting packing house if there were a combo of people w your point of view and those the council member was encouraging to show up at the same place at the same time.

    -len raphael

  14. Born in Oakland

    I agree with Max – quality of life crimes should be important. On riots, I don’t know. Did not Fruitvale and International get trashed when the Raiders won the AFC Championship a few too many years ago, and did not a riot ensue when they lost the Super Bowl a few weeks later? Hard to say about riots and whom to blame. But one could ask Orloff how many of the rioters were charged and convicted.

  15. Max Allstadt

    Don’t get me wrong, Len, Desley Brooks’ efforts around the Oscar Grant killing have been among the most important.

    I only disagree about the strategy of the murder charge. I feel like it was pandering, and like those who supported it were taking an extreme position.

    However, extreme positions often focus public attention and open doors for more nuanced reform to actually take place. We need BART police reform. And not the watered down trash that came to light recently. BART is mismanaged, it’s leadership structure is intractably gnarled.

    If the louder protesting voices create the political capital to get the job done, and we can avoid a second riot, I can accept some of the more extreme statements I’ve heard as part of a larger process of reform.

  16. Debra

    Its sad how my son Mortaigus Hart will had to go to Jail because of a lie that a young lady who said my son did somethings to her, now she feel so hurt she lie and she call the DA office and nobody is helping my son. As i was writing this the lady call me and said she at the court house and they put her out, she was trying to tell them she Lie.
    If there any body out there can help us email at