There was “a lot of negativity and viciousness going on when (Greg) Strickland and (Sarah) Hacker (were) in (the) DA’s office.”
—Keith Fagundes, incumbent Kings County District Attorney
“This type of office should be upholding the law. My goal, if elected…is to get rid of retaliation and hostility and harassment, to insert an environment of cooperating and independent thinking.”
—Sarah Hacker, attorney, running to be next Kings County DA
In what is shaping up to be a bitter campaign in the Kings County District Attorney’s race, embattled, incumbent Keith Fagundes and challenger Sarah Hacker are trading barbs accusing each other of fostering a poisonous office environment harmful to the effectiveness of the DA.
“It is really shocking to see how she operates,” said Fagundes, a two-time incumbent seeking a third term in the June 7 primary. There was “a lot of negativity and viciousness going on when (Greg) Strickland and (Sarah) Hacker (were) in (the) DA’s office,” he said.
For her part Hacker said Fagundes was a “vindictive” manager and there has been “a huge rate of turnover in the DA’s (office). Only a handful of people are left since I started. It’s a priority for me to build confidence in the DA’s office.” Hacker worked for Fagundes for six weeks as part of her nine-year stint as a deputy DA under Ron Calhoun and Greg Strickland.
“This type of office should be upholding the law. My goal, if elected…is to get rid of retaliation and hostility
And harassment, to insert an environment of cooperating and independent thinking,” said Hacker.
Under Fagundes’ watch the county is being sued by a former investigator in the DA’s office alleging sexual harassment by Fagundes, prosecutorial misconduct, favoritism toward certain clients among a laundry list of allegations. The suit said Fagundes was sexually attracted to Robert Waggle and sent hundreds of texts to him, many of them sexually-oriented.
Fagundes has called Waggle’s claims “completely unfounded” adding that Waggle was just a disgruntled employee that Fagundes was trying to get to do his job. Waggle, said Fagundes, is also looking for a payout from the county.
But Hacker, a 42-year-old attorney with Dias Law Firm in Hanford, said Waggle also accused Fagundes of manipulating evidence to get a guilty verdict. She accused Fagundes of leniency toward clients and unfair prosecution of others.
The issue of prosecutorial favoritism surfaced January 21 when Superior Court Judge Robert S. Burns ordered the state Attorney General’s office to assume seven of Fagundes’ cases because the defendants were represented by John Sarsfield, who is also representing Fagundes in a lawsuit against the county.
Fagundes is suing the county for refusing to pay his legal expenses in the Waggle suit.
One of those cases involves Sarsfield’s client Aavron Bernard Manning. “The problem is it appears to me the District Attorney should be doing something about this and they’re not,” said Burns according to November 16, 2021 transcript of a pretrial conference with attorneys. “So if he (Manning) gets an acquittal what do you do with the allegations because the DA didn’t present evidence they had?”
Hacker says that the transcript demonstrates how Fagundes is soft on crime despite campaigning to the contrary.
According to the transcript Judge Burns said, “when you (Sarsfield) represent the District Attorney and you have cases for which there is no resolution reached for two years, and then suddenly 50-to-life becomes six years, or four life terms becomes ten years, the public is going to look at that and say what is going on over there. That looks like there is favors being granted, right?”
Fagundes said concerning the light sentences, one being a gang member, that Sarsfield’s defendant entered into a plea agreement and that the sentence was enforced by the judge not him.
Burns, addressing Melissa D’Morias, deputy district attorney, said, “People should have stepped away from this case in my opinion, as soon as you (John Sarsfield) represented Aavron Manning. As soon as you represented Mr. Fagundes.”
When Sarsfield told the judge that he didn’t talk to Fagundes about the Manning and Galvan cases, the judge replied that the “…impropriety isn’t you (Sarsfield) talking to him (Fagundes) about that, it is him sending a favor your way whether it was discussed or not discussed.”
Fagundes said he has the right to have his own attorney to litigate the matter of the county not providing independent legal representation to his office. This is why Fagundes retained Sarsfield, Fagundes said.
“It is starting to look like judge (Burns) is trying to influence a political position,” Fagundes said. “We agreed to allow AG (attorney general) to handle the matter because the judge speculated someone would criticize…but nobody did until election season.”
In another allegation of impropriety Hacker said Fagundes is keeping a “District Attorney Mobile Command Center” trailer at his house rather than on Kings County Government Center grounds.
Fagundes said the Mobile Command Center is indeed being kept at his house. Fagundes explained that the county tried three different locations on county property to park the trailer and that the trailer was broken into and vandalized. He said the safest place to keep the trailer is at his house where he is capable of towing it, maintaining it at his own expense and providing free storage to the county.
But Hacker’s main beef with the trailer isn’t its location, though it may be illegal to keep county property at your house, it’s the fact that command center was a waste of Kings County tax payer’s money. Not only does the county not need the expensive trailer said Hacker, but there is no place to safely put it.
Fagundes defended the purchase saying that the state forced the county to buy the trailer to handle emergencies and natural disasters.
Another allegation raised by Hacker involved Fagundes’ $1,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Kings County and then using DA investigators on the county payroll to provide dignitary protection for the party’s Reagan-Lincoln Dinner.
The donation from Fagundes’ campaign was reported on Fagundes’ state Fair Political Practices Form 760 and the dignitary protection is listed in an October 14, 2021 Kings County District Attorney Operations Plan.
Fagundes said dignitary protection is also given to Democrats when they hold events. When T.J. Cox, a Democrat, visited Kings County he was given dignitary protection, Fagundes said.
Fagundes said he is running because his leadership cleaned up a backlog of 3,900 cases left by Strickland and Hacker. “We have not had a backlog year (in) over (a) year,” he said. The office maintains a backlog of less than 100 cases, Fagundes said. The office is much more efficient now because the cases are reviewed by attorneys and processed by clerks.
He also said the office has more legal experience with fewer attorneys, he created a victim witness division, digital case processing. The office has an actual leadership team with good structures, Fagundes said. When Strickland was in charge, Fagundes said, he was never there.
For her part Hacker said she doesn’t want the problems with Fagundes to be the focus of her campaign rather, she said, she is running to promote public safety and justice for all.
A key issue in criminal justice, she said, is theft. The laws have been made so weak, Hacker said, that it encourages people to steal. “Many of the theft cases that would have been previously prosecuted have been directed to pre-trial diversion programs where the violations are treated as misdemeanors.” She pledged that for those theft cases where crimes do not fall under diversion, the suspects will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Kings County Sheriff David Robinson has endorsed Hacker while the Hanford Police Officers Association has endorsed Fagundes.