Strong campaign unseated a long-time incumbent DA
EL DORADO HILLS – A grass-roots campaign, collection of endorsements and unfavorable feelings about the incumbent led to a change at the district attorney’s office in El Dorado County.
Challenger Vern Pierson won 62 percent of the vote Tuesday in his successful campaign for El Dorado County District Attorney, defeating three-term incumbent Gary Lacy and surprising many – including Pierson himself – by the big win.
“It’s very much like having a jury out,” Pierson said. “You put the evidence on and try to educate the jury and voters.
“But you never really know until they come back.”
The 42-year-old El Dorado Hills resident, and chief assistant district attorney in Amador County, won 19,651 votes to Lacy’s 11,966. The votes still need to be certified. Pierson will begin the $142,224-a-year job on Jan. 8.
Lacy said he was also surprised at Pierson’s margin of victory.
“Mr. Pierson got an effective message out,” said Lacy, 52.
The second-longest tenured district attorney in county history said his line of work naturally made people disgruntled.
“You do end up making some enemies in the job,” he said.
He said he hasn’t made any plans on what he’ll be doing when his term ends in December. “I’m very proud of everything we’ve accomplished,” Lacy said of his 12 years in office.
The race was an expensive one for the rural county. Pierson collected more than $80,000 while Lacy gathered more than $100,000 in contributions.
Richard Jones, a deputy district attorney the past eight years for El Dorado County and a Pierson supporter, said voters Tuesday showed they wanted “a change of style and management.”
Jones noted the recent departure of several deputy district attorneys from the office and said voters “must have thought things were amiss in the office.”
“I owe Gary a lot,” added Jones, 62. “He hired me when I was a much older person. I’m sad to see it come to this. But I do think it’s deserved.””
Although Lacy received his share of criticism, he has been successful in the courtroom. After his 2002 win, he returned to the courtroom after a nine-year hiatus and took the reins in successfully prosecuting Lisa Platz, a woman on trial for murdering her 9-year-old daughter.
Sheriff Jeff Neves threw his support behind Lacy because of their “very good co-op working relationship” that developed over 19 years. Neves said he left a congratulatory message on Pierson’s phone and looked forward to scheduling a lunch to discuss the next four years.
“I expect we’ll have a good relationship and one that mutually benefits one and the other and the citizens of El Dorado County,” he said.
One of a slew of Pierson’s endorsements came from the Deputy Sheriff’s Association for El Dorado Count, which represents 167 sheriff’s deputies and 12 district attorney investigators.
Sgt. Don Atkinson, the president of the association who is stationed at Tahoe, was happy with the election result.
“I think you’re going to see he’s going to give a whole lot more support to the district attorney’s office up here that they haven’t seen in quite some time,” he said.
Placerville resident and Pierson supporter Chuck Holland cited as key issues in the election outcome the controversy over gift baskets Lacy had provided other district attorneys in California for which he billed El Dorado County. In addition, Holland thought Lacy using the address and phone number of the district attorney’s office for his reelection committee.
He contrasted it to the 2002 campaign when Lacy’s opponent had to deal with a major controversy involving statements to participants in a pyramid scheme.
“The tables were turned this time,” Holland said.
Pierson campaign manager Murphy agreed.
“Women Helping Women,” he said of the group and the 2002 election, “more or less determined the campaign outcome (in 2002).”
Pierson credited his endorsements and a grass-roots campaign, which included knocking on doors and volunteers being stationed at grocery stores, as instrumental to his win.
“I will put my experience – as well as my heart and soul – into the job,” Pierson said. “I love being a prosecutor. It’s a very rewarding job.”