Finding common ground is not the theme for this year’s Kings County District Attorney race.
His challenger Sarah Hacker has accused current district attorney Keith Fagundes of being soft on crime, anti-women, and of having a high office turnover — among other accusations.
Fagundes denies those allegations, and has come forward to defend his record and his team.
Hacker is challenging Fagundes in his run for a third term as district attorney.
Because there are only two candidates, the seat will be decided during the June 7 Primary, no runoff election will be held in November.
Hacker wrote in a March 4 press release that under Fagundes’ watch, there has been “a huge rate of turnover,” and “only a handful of people are left since she left.”
Fagundes says that’s not true.
“The percentage of turnover is essentially the same as it has always been for the office dating back to the early 1980’s, and is certainly consistent with the current atmosphere state wide,” he told the Valley Voice.
Fighting back against favoritism claims
He also takes issue with Hacker’s claim that he has exhibited favoritism towards clients of the Law Offices of Melo and Sarsfield, a firm representing Fagundes in a sexual harassment case and a subsequent claim of retaliation against Kings County.
“In one case,” Hacker wrote, “the defendant was faced with 50 years to life for murder using a firearm. Keith Fagundes offered that defendant a 6-year term. This offer was rejected by the courts. The Kings County Superior Court saw that these deals were being made, and intervened to remove these cases from Keith Fagundes due to the ‘appearance of impropriety.’”
That’s misleading, Fagundes claims.
“The Galvan case hasn’t even been decided yet,” Fagundes said.
In Mark Pratter’s March 18 article, the Aavron Manning case was cited in which he was facing a possible sentence of four life terms.
Fagundes explained that a defendant can be charged with first degree murder, gang enhancement, and felony weapon possession, but once the facts, evidence, and witnesses are considered and the case has been investigated, the crime committed might turn out to be manslaughter, which carries a lighter sentence.
After all the pre-trial negotiations In the Manning case, Fagundes said his deputy district attorney wouldn’t go lower than an eight year sentence.
“Superior Court Judge Robert Burns settled the case at two years – not my office,” Fagundes said.
“We don’t take a position before all the facts come out like obviously my opponent would like to do,” he added. “What she presented was only a half truth. We don’t pick a side or an agenda and force a result from there. We keep an open mind.”
Maggie Melo, of the Law Offices of Melo and Sarsfield, also called Hacker’s allegations false.
“We work hard for our criminal defendant clients. We fight every legal and ethical way possible, including bringing information to the attention of the DA/police after our clients have been charged. Typically the information causes the prosecution to re-think their stand on the case and, occasionally, we get an offer that our client finds acceptable.
“That Hacker apparently doesn’t work as hard for her clients is more of a reflection on her abilities, or lack thereof,” Melo said.
Melo explained that there have not been seven cases resolved and that the court did not recuse the DA from any cases because of favoritism.
“The court specifically recused the DA because of the appearance, not actual conflict. In fact, the AG (attorney general’s office) (the boss if you will of the DA’s Office) specifically stated that there was no conflict.”
“This whole thing is a desperate attempt by Ms. Hacker to distract from her own mediocre record as an attorney. Nothing more than that,” Melo concluded.
Tackling stillborn murder charges
In Hacker’s press release she accused Fagundes of contorting the law against women.
“Keith Fagundes is the first prosecutor to prosecute women for murder who gave birth to stillborn babies after using illegal drugs. The California Attorney General’s Office has denounced these prosecutions because the laws against murder were never intended to impose an unreasonable burden of care on pregnant women.”
“This isn’t about women,” Fagundes said. “This is about people hurting children.”
“These cases have nothing to do with abortion, still birth, or miscarriage,” he added. “It’s about drug overdose.”
Fagudes said that in the Chelsea Becker case, the coroner had to pick up the fetus to do an autopsy.
“When the doctors, coroner, and Hanford Police Department say the fetus died from a drug overdose I apply the law,” he said. “If other factors might be involved in the death we would not pursue the case. It has to be definitive.”
In Becker’s case, Fagundes said that the toxicology report said the fetus had five times the amount of methamphetamine that would kill an adult male.
Fagundes said that the doctors, Child Protective Services, and social workers have told these women that they are going to kill their babies or cause brain damage if they use meth.
“It’s no different than someone telling you that if you drink and drive you will kill someone. And when someone does – that it’s called second degree murder,” Fagundes said.
The KCDA’s office has tried to go after the person who provided the drugs to the expectant mothers but Fagundes said that the mothers would not cooperate. “We have tried going down that path.”
California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta does not believe that a woman can be prosecuted for killing her fetus even if the mother’s drug use leads to its death.
Fagundes disagrees. He said that the current law is worded to protect doctors who perform abortions from getting charged with murder, not mothers.
“But nowhere in the law is the mother given discretion to abuse her fetus once it is viable,” he said.
Fagundes says his view of the law is supported by the fact that AB 2223 is currently making its way through the California legislature. If passed, the law will protect a mother from being prosecuted for murder if her fetus dies because of her actions.
“If a mother can’t be prosecuted for the death of her fetus then why pass AB 2223?” said Fagundes.