Two candidates vie for DA post
One was born in Chicago and raised by a housewife and real estate broker. The other was born on an Army base in Italy.
The differences don’t end there for Gary Lacy and Vern Pierson, the former the long-time incumbent and latter challenger for the district attorney of El Dorado County.
Pierson, a decorated Army soldier and chief assistant district attorney for Amador County, is mounting a strong campaign to unseat Lacy, who has been the county’s district attorney since 1994. It’s the second-longest stretch in that position in the county’s history.
The race is indicative of one that is near the finish line with the approaching June 6 election. Pierson launched a campaign attacking Lacy’s leadership skills and alleged mishandling of cases. Lacy charged Pierson is trying to be the district attorney and use it as a launching pad for a higher political office.
How they got here
Lacy, 52, moved to California 30 years ago in a 1974 Mercury Capri seeking warmer weather. He sent six applications to medical schools, and aspired to be a surgeon. The applications were denied. He then turned his attention to law school. An application to the Western State University of Law was accepted, and Lacy passed the state bar exam on his first try, officially practicing law in June 1983.
For two years after law school, he worked in Orange County before joining the Stanislaus County district attorney’s office in 1985. Two years later he began his work for the El Dorado County District Attorney’s office.
Growing up on military bases with a father and older brother in the service, Pierson, 42, enlisted in the Army in 1982 and served in the infantry’s 101st Airborne Division. In his four years of active duty, he rose to the rank of sergeant, received medals and graduated from the Non-Commissioned Officer Academy with a leadership award and honors.
Pierson also attended Western State University College of Law and was admitted to practice law in June 1991.
He started his career with Amador County District Attorney’s Office but also worked for the California District Attorneys Association and California Department of Justice.
What they want to do
Pierson charges the district attorney’s office needs to have a “cultural change” and wants to unite the office “in a more effective way.”
He wants to increase the funding for a department that has 57 employees and a $6.5 million budget through grants and other sources.
“I’m a career prosecutor. I love what I’m doing,” Pierson said. “I’m very professional about the job.”
Pierson also wants to stop the office’s turnover rate, which he says has claimed one-third of the prosecutor ranks and was spurned by the lack of leadership at the top. New hires, he said, are given important cases and drain veteran prosecutors’ time.
“So you’re taking away time from deputy district attorneys to train new ones,” Pierson said.
Lacy refutes the claims, saying the departures were a case of prosecutors finding better jobs or those with better pay.
“I don’t think a single one has been related to that,” Lacy said.
For his part, Lacy wants to focus on elder and child abuse, child pornography crimes and high-tech crimes if elected to a fourth four-year term. A new program will also allow the office to more efficiently address those who issue bad checks.
“I would just hope the voters of this county see that I made a true and sincere commitment to the people of this county,” Lacy said.
Accusations and responses
Citing Pierson’s failed state senate campaign in 2004, Lacy said his challenger only wants the district attorney’s seat to climb the political ladder. In essence, Lacy called Pierson a carpetbagger.
“To see somebody come in for their own selfish political purpose to try and take over this office is offensive to me both as a person and a professional and as a citizen of this county,” Lacy said.
Pierson refuted the claim.
“Being the district attorney of El Dorado County and doing a good job at it and doing an effective job at it is what I want to do,” Pierson said. “I went to law school to be a prosecutor. It’s the only thing I wanted to do.”
Lacy also said Pierson’s string of endorsements don’t necessary reflect overwhelming support. The list includes the El Dorado County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and the South Lake Tahoe Peace Officers Association. A man who has held the district’s attorney position for so long makes enemies, said Lacy, who also contends he was not contacted by those on endorsing boards.
“If you do your job appropriately, you’re going to make some enemies,” Lacy said. “My own supporters will tell you, and they know full well, if they ever get in trouble they will be prosecuted on the same standards of everybody else.”
Lacy said he has the endorsement of Sheriff Jeff Neves along with “a great many of the line officers.”
“Many of them told me they didn’t know there were endorsements,” Lacy said.
In turn, Pierson said his support against an incumbent district attorney makes him feel upbeat in his campaign.
“It’s gratifying and it’s a big honor,” he said. “I think it’s unprecedented support.”
Pierson said he has been told Lacy bases his decisions on the question of “How does this make me look?”
Lacy scoffed at the notion.
“If that were the case I sure wouldn’t have alienated as many people as I have,” Lacy said. “That’s absolutely incorrect. I base my decisions in the facts and the law … in making our determination on how we should proceed on a case.”
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