Mike Hestrin launched his campaign to unseat Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach today in Palm Springs.
Hestrin is a Senior Deputy District Attorney who has spent 15 years in the Riverside County D.A.'s office, most notably winning the death penalty case convicting Raymond Lee Oiler of killing five fire fighters in the Esperanza fire in 2006.
The 43-year-old lives in Temecula, but is from Palm Springs. He launched his campaign in front of the Palm Springs police department.
"I was born in Palm Springs," Hestrin said. "My dad was a Palm Springs police officer. My mom went to Palm Springs high. My parents actually met when he pulled her over for a broken tail light."
Hestrin says now it's the D.A.'s office that is broken. He says District Attorney Paul Zellerbach lacks integrity, has provided no direction, and has taken a lackadaisical approach to problems facing Riverside County.
"We are in crisis," Hestrin said. "And he's nowhere to be found."
Hestrin has a near unanimous endorsement from the 220 member Riverside County Deputy District Attorney's Association.
"At this point in time, our office is in a state of darkness," Senior Deputy District Attorney, John Aki, said while introducing Hestrin at his campaign event. "We have been that way for a couple of years now. We have not been doing our job and we need leadership back in the District Attorney's office."
Hestrin has been endorsed by all the police department association's in the county, and the Riverside Sheriff's Association.
"Mike has demonstrated a commitment, focus and drive to address the rising crime in Riverside, and will work with his partners in law enforcement," said Riverside Sheriff's Association President Robert Masson.
Hestrin says his top priority as D.A. would be to address a growing gang problem, and deal with the early release of prisoners from county jails, an issue he says the current D.A. has been silent on.
Zellerbach, 61, responds by pointing out Hestrin has never been a manager or supervisor. While Hestrin has the support of the police officers associations, Zellerbach has the backing of almost all the police chiefs, and Riverside County Sheriff, Stan Sniff.
Zellerbach says the conviction rate at trial has increased from around 41% when he took office in January 2011, to 85% today. He also points out that the D.A.'s office was $9.5 million in debt when he took office, and he has balanced the budget every year despite an almost 20 percent decrease in funding.
The election is in June.