Our View: Let’s hear more from new DA

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As the county says goodbye to its longtime district attorney, residents welcome a new man to the post. Scott Owens is stepping into the lead role for Placer County for the first time, but he’s no stranger to the area. Owens grew up mostly in Auburn and Colfax and has worked in the Placer DA’s office for the past 20 or so years. Hopefully his professional and personal connections to the county will encourage Owens to be more open and transparent with decisions made by the District Attorney’s Office. The beginning to Owens’ takeover has already been marked by controversy. On Dec. 17, Owens called the Journal to release news that Brian Jagger, his campaign treasurer and district director for Supervisor Kirk Uhler, was being arrested that evening for allegedly taking over $15,000 from Owens’ campaign account. It couldn’t have been easy for Owens to make the call – and confront someone he considered a trusted ally – but facing it head-on and bringing it to the public’s attention was the right thing to do. Owens should continue that mentality as he moves forward. Throughout Brad Fenocchio’s tenure, the District Attorney’s Office has tried the same case multiple times without success. One notable case includes Granite Bay resident Caleb Madsen, who sat in jail for more than four years while his case was put before a jury three times. After the third mistrial, the DA dropped the case and Madsen was set free. The district attorney offered little to no explanation as to why the office pursued the case three times at the expense of taxpayers while no substantial new evidence was presented during each new trial. If the prosecutor felt, and obviously did in that case, that it was in the public’s best interest to continue retrying the case, it owed the public a better explanation. Recently, three Colfax teens were arrested and sentenced for throwing rocks and a barricade off an Interstate 80 overpass. Their actions severely injured a passing motorist and the three were charged as adults. However, the trio was sentenced to juvenile hall. No explanation was given as to why the teenagers were prosecuted as adults but punished as juveniles. Another decision that was made with little explanation involved the Galleria fire. The ongoing high-profile Placer County case garnered national attention in October after a transient set fire to and caused $55 million in damages to the Roseville shopping mecca. The District Attorney’s Office filed a gag order to halt the release of a city report revealing how police and fire responded to the incident two days before the report was scheduled to be made public. The timing of the order was suspicious and the prosecution did not explain why they chose to file the gag order when they did. The attempted gag order request drew criticism from residents and even the defense attorney representing the alleged arsonist. A judge denied the gag order and the report was released. But the gag order attempt on the prosecution’s behalf looked bad because it appeared as though they were trying to shield police and fire’s much questioned response to the fire. Transparency is also needed in Owens’ prosecuting policies in regard to other alleged crimes. What does he plan to do when marijuana grows are raided? Will he prosecute all marijuana possession arrests? Where will he draw the line and why? Will there be any other changes to prosecution policy? The Journal would provide this editorial space for Owens to explain his policies for his next four years in office. While there is a need for more transparency, there are also good things Owens will inherit, such as a talented staff. The District Attorney’s Office has prosecuted some tough and notable cases well, including securing convictions of former Placer County Sheriff’s Sgt. Paul Kovacich and murderer Mario Garcia. In January 2009, a jury found Kovacich guilty of murdering his wife, Janet, 26 years after the crime occurred. Garcia was convicted in November 2006 of killing Christie Wilson after the two were spotted leaving Thunder Valley Casino together in October 2005. The bodies of both women have never been recovered yet prosecutors pieced together the evidence they had to bring justice to the victims and their families. Moving forward, Owens and his team of prosecutors should be more open and justify to taxpayers their decisions to prosecute or decline a case.