RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Tensions continue to rise in the race for Riverside county district attorney. Two days after Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach withdrew from a scheduled debate with his opponent Mike Hestrin, Zellerbach decided to participate Friday morning. According to the D.A.'s staff, Zellerbach submitted a letter to the Riverside County Bar Association explaining his decision to bow out of the debate. The letter was never made available to the public. The debate was held by the Riverside County Bar Association.
Zellerbach's initial decision to withdraw from the debate came a week after he allegedly pulled down campaign signs belonging to Hestrin in the June 3 primary election. In an interview after the debate, Zellerbach was asked more questions about his tampering with signs. "If someone comes up to your front yard and places a campaign sign in your front yard, that's not authorized, what are you going to do as a homeowner?" said Zellerbach. "You're going to take it out and remove it, and that's what I did, thank you."
Zellerbach then cut off the interview. Before he walked away, he addressed the ongoing investigation surrounding videos showing him pulling out campaign signs of Hestrin's in Indio last week. "I did silly things, I probably shouldn't have done, but they certainly weren't criminal," said Zellerbach. "And I apologized for that, but no one's perfect." Zellerbach cut the county a $203 personal check Friday as reimbursement for the miles he put on a county-owned Ford Escape that he was supposed to be using for official business in the Coachella Valley, rather than toting around campaign paraphernalia.
Law enforcement sources have told CNS that the D.A. could -- provided
there's sufficient evidence -- potentially face charges ranging from
misdemeanor vandalism for tampering with the signs to felony theft of public funds for misusing a county vehicle and engaging in political activity on the county's dime.
We were not allowed to record audio of video of the hour and a half debate between the two men. A moderator asked the candidates several questions including alternative sentencing programs, plea bargaining, the death penalty and a huge issue in this election, Assembly Bill 109, the state's public safety realignment plan. "Finding local solutions for the problem of prison realignment that was forced upon us is the job of the district attorney, he hasn't come up with any solutions," said Hestrin.
"It's been a disaster in Riverside County unfortunately," said Zellerbach. "We've had to release a lot of prisoners early unfortunately and that undermines the integrity of the entire justice system."
While answering questions about other issues, the common theme of the debate became Hestrin criticizing Zellerbach's policies and calling him dishonest. He called the last four years a "let down," and accuses Zellerbach of "cutting corners and taking the easy way out." "His campaign literature talks about conviction rates that have been discredited, he refuses to talk to the public on where he's getting those numbers," said Hestrin.
In response, Zellerbach wants voters to focus on the difference in experience between him and his challenger. He touted his ability to decrease the county's backlog of case and increasing the county's conviction rate. "I have 36 years of experience both as a prosecutor as a supervising DA for 15 years, a superior court judge for 11 years, all things Mr. Hestrin has never done," said Zellerbach.