Lunch with a Leader: Jackie Lacey

by Jeremy Loudenback

The Bedrosian Center kicks off its 2014 Lunch with a Leader series with a visit from one of the nation’s most important criminal justice leaders. Elected as Los Angeles County District Attorney in December 2012, Jackie Lacey assumed control of the largest local prosecutorial department in the nation, an office that prosecutes nearly 60,000 felony cases a year in the country’s most populous county. (Event is Tuesday, January 28th)

Lacey’s tenure at the helm of the district attorney’s office comes at a pivotal time for criminal justice across the county and state. California is facing unprecedented challenges with prison overcrowding under realignment, which has forced counties to assume new roles in dealing with the shift of many mostly nonviolent prisoners and parolees from state to local control. Lacey’s office has been charged with implementing the complex and sweeping law, which has been especially challenging in the context of the dangerously overcrowded Los Angeles County jail system, the largest in the world.

In addition, the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department has come under national scrutiny in recent weeks; an FBI investigation into allegations of misconduct and abuse in Los Angeles County jails resulted in the arrest of 16 sheriff’s officials and the retirement of long-serving Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

Though she is Los Angeles’ first woman and first African American to head the district attorney’s office, Lacey is no neophyte to the realities of working in a county with 88 municipalities, 47 law enforcement agencies, more than 30 criminal courthouses, and eight jail facilities. The graduate of Dorsey High School began her career working as a deposition lawyer at a small firm before spending more than 27 years as a prosecutor in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, working her way up to chief deputy district attorney (second in command) in the previous administration, according to her endorsement in the Los Angeles Times:

Lacey began her legal career in the trenches, where she prosecuted everything from quality-of-life misdemeanors to murder, rising over the years to her current job as chief deputy district attorney in Steve Cooley’s administration. Management and policymaking in a huge governmental organization are nothing new to her.

Her message is steady and consistent: public safety, fair play, justice. She makes the same case using the same words and the same tone to rooms full of police officers and criminal prosecutors as she does, for example, to an audience of activists in a South Los Angeles church.

As a prosecutor and a policy-maker, Lacey will have some large shoes to fill. A 12-year veteran, Cooley inaugurated new two divisions to battle corruption in the justice system and among local elected and appointed officials, the justice system integrity division and the public integrity division, respectively. Recently, under Lacey’s leadership, the public integrity division saw the convictions of former Bell city administrator Robert Rizzo and former assistant Bell city manager Angela Spaccia. Having stepped out of Cooley’s shadow, Lacey has started to chart her own agenda and policy priorities.

Lacey has also worked with California State Attorney General Kamala Harris to implement a new initiative to reduce recidivism and to explore better ways to enforce gun laws. She’s also working on how to best implement Proposition 36, which centers around resentencing for offenders previously convicted under the controversial three strikes law. She has also pledged to increase the use of alternative sentencing courts.