Government / Politics

Primary Elections 2022: San Benito County District Attorney

Two candidates are in the race: incumbent Candice Hooper Mancino and challenger Joel Buckingham.

The two candidates running for San Benito County district attorney in the June 7 primary election are incumbent Candice Hooper Mancino and challenger Joel Buckingham.

According to the California District Attorney’s Association, the district attorney’s duties include:

  • protecting the community with fair and equal justice
  • preventing crime
  • prosecuting people who break the law
  • educating the community on public safety
  • seeking justice for victims of crime
  • providing support to all people within the community
  • providing a path to reform and second chances for people who break the law

 

The San Benito County District Attorney’s Office website says it works to “pursue justice and improve public safety by ethically and aggressively prosecuting criminals” and works with local law enforcement agencies and community partners to keep children in school and prevent crime in the community. 

“From homicides to child molest (sic), to domestic violence and property crime, the DA’s Office prosecutes hundreds of cases in court each year,” the website says. 

 

Joel Buckingham, 41, was born in Portland, Oregon, and raised in Walnut Creek. He has lived in San Benito County since 2019.

He graduated from CSU-Sacramento with a bachelor of science in business administration with an accounting emphasis (magna cum laude). He also graduated from UC Hastings College of the Law with an emphasis in taxation.

Buckingham worked at Ernst & Young in San Jose, where he obtained his CPA license. He then worked for the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office for 11 years and served as treasurer for the San Bernardino County Public Attorney’s Association.

He then worked in Humboldt County participating in employment interviews and mentoring staff.  

 

BenitoLink: County leaders are hoping to attract large companies and have lauded an effort to increase economic development. Is the district attorney’s office equipped to deal with white collar (consumer) crimes? If yes, how so? If not, what needs to be done?

Buckingham: The main issue when it comes to the prosecution of white collar crimes is one of will, not necessarily resources.  White collar crimes tend to be complex and a substantial amount of work. Frequently, the punishment for the crime itself is not particularly harsh, compared to other easier to prove crimes. Moreover, the defendants tend to be more sophisticated and tend toward being more mindful to “cover their tracks.”  

As a result, prosecuting white collar crimes requires a willingness to try tough cases and put in hard work and risk in trying them. There is no amount of resources or “being equipped” which can fundamentally solve an issue of will. Often, companies that are victimized have their own accounting departments and will hire investigators and/or accountants to determine the monetary loss themselves. The question is, are we willing to take on the necessary effort to prosecute or not?

It is possible there is a problem with training and motivation. As previously stated, my undergraduate was in accounting, and I have an inactive CPA license. I also worked at Bank of America for 3 years while in college. I can and do know what things to ask for to help improve an investigation and what additional angles may be available to attack so that we have the strongest possible case when it does come time to prosecute.  

I have and will try difficult and complex cases. White collar cases are one type of complicated case that I will tackle. Upon coming to San Benito County, I was tasked to take over the prosecution of Sang Ji, a very complex circumstantial evidence murder trial. He was convicted by jury of first-degree murder. If I am elected district attorney, I will continue to take on difficult and complex cases as I train staff to also grow in this area.

 

If you are elected as district attorney, what qualities do you possess that can improve the department?

While I have listed many qualities that would improve the department just in my career and education background, I want to focus on the one quality that I believe would have the greatest impact on the department. The main quality that I possess that would improve the department is the fundamental understanding that all leadership is first and foremost by example. 

If I want my attorneys to be willing to try tough cases to obtain justice for victims, I must first demonstrate that I have and will try tough cases. If I want my office to be seen as the premier law and trial firm in the county, I must be and carry myself as the premier trial attorney in the county. If I want the office to display a professionalism and quality of excellence in the community I must first be preeminently professional and demonstrate excellence in how I perform the job. If I want my office to focus on victims, their families, and the consequences of crime in their lives, I must be especially in tune with the hurts and pains that they feel at the loss or injustice they have experienced. If I want my attorney staff to take training and development seriously, I must be demonstrably aware of how changes in the law affect prosecution and our responsibilities relating to legal ethics. The corner suite, department head, or CEO of every organization sets the tone for what is acceptable first and foremost by the way they conduct themselves.  

I want every member of this community to see the District Attorney’s Office as part of local government that cares about them, their worries, their concerns, that sees that when their car is stolen, it isn’t just a property crime, it is a huge disruption to their daily life, impeding their ability to make it to a job that pays them just enough to make it by. When a threat occurs at their child’s school, I want the public to see that someone is paying attention to reassure them that the District Attorney’s Office cares and is doing everything within their power to mitigate the threat. When someone breaks into your home, it shatters a sense of security and safety often that residents have for many years. The impact of crime is not just dollars and cents, it is a steady erosion in our sense of community and security.

 

Is there value in informing the residents of the district attorney’s decision on charging or not charging suspects or when cases are solved through the courts such as trials or judge’s rulings?

I believe there is tremendous value in informing our community on many of our decisions. Citizens of our community deserve to know what the District Attorney’s Office is doing on their behalf in court. You are our client. How can we not be interested in informing you as to what we are doing?  

Informing the citizenry of what is happening in court allows us to better reflect the will of our client: you. I believe that it also helps us to get better results from the judicial system. If we can prove a brazen theft of an Amazon package from someone’s porch, and we ask for 120 days in county jail because of the egregious behavior, I believe we are more likely to get that sentence if everyone else in the criminal justice system knows that voters will be informed if the brazen package thief only received a 10-day sentence. 

I suppose there is a risk in informing the public about what we are doing and, in that, sometimes the public will disagree with what we are doing. However, I do not see that as a negative, the voters of this community should not be consulted only once every four years as to the direction that they want to see this community go, I believe that throughout the period of one’s term your elected district attorney must be listening and calibrating the office’s performance based upon hearing from you. If we wall ourselves off, how can we possibly know if we are serving our client appropriately? Only by informing our constituents can we be confident that we are serving you appropriately. 

 

What makes you more qualified for this position than the other candidate?

I could list my trial experience which I believe is substantially greater than my opponent, and in fact as I understand it, I have prosecuted more murder trials to verdict than my opponent over the entirety of her career and the rest of the current office combined. I could describe my record of engaging with county negotiations to fight for the long-term best interests of my membership and department. I could describe the training and mentoring I have done with attorneys and law enforcement officers, or my ability and willingness to research comprehensive annual financial reports and develop memorandums of understanding with other agencies. I could detail my background in understanding the private sector and how to serve one’s clients, but ultimately what makes me better qualified than my opponent is that I see what is happening in our society right now, and I want to make sure that the District Attorney’s Office is engaged and committed to making your life better.  

I see that many in our community are worried about rising crime rates and that the qualities that we moved here to Hollister for are changing. I see that many of you are worried about the increasing violence and shootings that are happening on our streets. I see that for many of us, fentanyl and drugs have reached into your families and devastated them in ways we never would have anticipated watching our young ones grow up. I see the way that we all feel more and more distant from each other, that it often feels like no one cares. I see the way that your small business is struggling with a declining margin and tighter supplies and more frustrated customers. I see that both parents are commuting to jobs and burning both ends of the candle and when you return home from a long day, you want to know that your home has been secure and that the packages you have ordered have not been stolen. I see that you want to be able to park your car on the street outside your home and not come back hours later to find your catalytic converter stolen. 

I see this, and I want to make sure that your District Attorney’s Office is not adding to your burdens, but instead is working to ensure that your community and society works, that your business is given space to flourish, that your family might have hope again as members of your family defeat addiction and leave the fog of despair. I want to hold accountable those who would shatter our security in violence, and see to it that they are punished and separated from us who wish to live in peace in civil society. I cannot promise to eliminate crime, but I want to give you the confidence to know that as your district attorney I care about the way crime impacts you, and I want to do everything in my power to fight for you and us for a better tomorrow.

 

Hollister police recently released a video of the arrest of Ery Hernandez. Police said Hernandez had called for police assistance in 2016 and when police arrived officers believed he displayed symptoms of being under the influence of a controlled substance. Police said Hernandez became “agitated” and “confrontational.” The video shows an officer repeatedly striking Hernandez with a baton as Hernandez attempts to escape. What is the role of the DA in reviewing cases to ensure police use force only as needed?

The District Attorney’s Office plays a vital role in reviewing and investigating cases involving the use of force. While law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to engage in their own internal processes, the public needs to have confidence that the District Attorney’s Office is neutrally investigating or relying upon a neutral investigation to determine the appropriateness of a “critical” incident.  

In San Bernardino, for example, there was the case that in the instance of a CHP officer- involved shooting, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department conducted the investigation into the use of force. This way, the agency involved was not the same as the investigating agency. I am honored to say that I have had the responsibility to review and issue a report regarding an officer involved shooting while in San Bernardino County. In a particular case, the restraint of law enforcement officers was incredible as officers had been shot at multiple times before deadly force was compelled to be used. The process of a thorough investigation had the effect in that case of a complete exoneration.  

Exoneration is just as necessary a component of a use-of-force investigation as the alternative. Most of the public just wants to have the evidence and law evaluated and explained. When this happens, the effect is that we have more confidence in our community and in those we entrust with the authority to use physical force. Regardless of an investigation’s outcome, the public deserves to know that someone is mindful and paying attention to what is happening in our community and that the law is being followed by everyone, and everyone includes the District Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, and ultimately the public.

 

Candice Hooper Mancino, 65, was born and raised in San Jose. She began working in San Benito County in 1987, where she bought property in 1990. She has lived in Hollister since 1994.

Hooper Mancino served as deputy district attorney for Santa Clara County in 1987, and then became deputy district attorney for San Benito County from 1987 to 2007. She was first elected as district attorney of San Benito County in 2006 and reelected to three additional terms. 

She has a bachelor’s degree with honors from San Jose State University and received her juris doctorate from Santa Clara University School of Law.

 

BenitoLink: County leaders are hoping to attract large companies and have lauded an effort to increase economic development. Is the district attorney’s office equipped to deal with white collar (consumer) crimes? If yes, how so? If not, what needs to be done? 

Hooper Mancino: Yes. Not only are we equipped to deal with white collar crime, but we have also successfully prosecuted such crimes in the past. If a situation did arise where my office did not have experience with a particular aspect of a crime, I am able to reach out to other District Attorney’s Offices to get the necessary tools for the filing and prosecution of any crime. I have established strong working relationships with other District Attorney’s offices throughout the state and we are always willing to assist each other in areas where we may lack specific training.

 

The county has issues retaining qualified employees. As the district attorney for 16 years, how have you been able to attract qualified staff to serve in a small, rural community?

It is not difficult to attract qualified applicants to our office. However, with the salary and benefit scale available to us it is sometimes difficult to keep qualified staff. I continue to address this issue with the county to increase salary and benefits. Once here, however, people find out that our county offers so much more in other areas such as a great community to raise a family, good schools, and a great team to work with within my office. And although we may lose qualified staff, they tend to leave here to serve this county or other counties in other capacities. Both of our Superior Court judges were once deputy district attorneys in my office.

 

Is there value in informing the residents of the district attorney’s decision on charging or not charging suspects or when cases are solved through the courts such as trials or judge’s rulings?

Where major crimes are committed in our county the community has a right to be informed about charging decisions by the district attorney. The public needs to be kept informed about the crimes being committed in our county and what trends to be aware of.

I respect the public’s right to know. I also respect both victims’ and suspects’ rights, including privacy rights where appropriate. Additionally, I recognize the need to protect the integrity of the prosecution in the event a case goes to trial. All these are factors I consider in what type of information I release to the community.

 

What makes you more qualified for this position than the other candidate?

My experience. I am a successful prosecutor with numerous convictions in very serious cases such as homicides, sexual assaults, etc. When I came into office, morale was extremely low from the previous administration. The recession had reduced my staff to bare minimum levels.

I have been able to restore morale, increase staffing levels and re-establish law enforcement relationships that had been destroyed. I am proud to say that because I had increased staffing in our victim services department, we were able to send advocates to assist the victims of mass shootings both in Las Vegas and Gilroy.

I have implemented a case management system which has streamlined the workflow and we are currently in transition to become a paperless department. This system is helping us to save resources while cutting costs to operate our office.

Not only am I a prosecutor who handles court calendars and cases, I am an administrator dealing with budget and personnel. I have been part of many committees that have increased services to our community such as Behavioral Health Court, Drug Court, Community Corrections Partnership and other specialized committees. I have worked closely with law enforcement partners throughout the state and bring 16 years of experience to the day-to-day operations of the District Attorney’s Office.

I am involved in our community acting as a member of the board of directors or as an officer with numerous community groups such as YMCA, Emmaus House, FFA Ag Boosters, Cattlemen’s Association and Juvenile Justice Commission, to name a few.

 

Hollister police recently released a video of the arrest of Ery Hernandez. Police said Hernandez had called for police assistance in 2016 and when police arrived officers believed he displayed symptoms of being under the influence of a controlled substance. Police said Hernandez became “agitated” and “confrontational.” The video shows an officer repeatedly striking Hernandez with a baton as Hernandez attempts to escape. What is the role of the DA in reviewing cases to ensure police use force only as needed?

This type of situation comes under scrutiny in three ways: the law enforcement department’s internal investigation, potential federal review for civil rights violations, and in my office for review of criminal liability. My investigators are available to assist in these investigations. It is my office’s duty to review the evidence provided and determine if a crime has been committed, and if found, I would prosecute as I have prosecuted law enforcement officers in the past.

 

 

 

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Jenny Mendolla Arbizu

Jenny is a Hollister native who resides in her hometown with her husband and son. She is a San Benito High School graduate, and received her BA in Literature from UC Santa Cruz and her MA in Education from San Jose State University. Jenny has written for the Hollister Freelance, San Benito and South Valley magazines. She enjoys meeting new people in San Benito County, sharing breaking news with the community, and spotlighting the county’s events and businesses. When not writing, Jenny can be found performing with SBSC, singing with the Hollister VFW, or working out at Cold Storage CrossFit.