CDAA Hosts Town Hall Meeting on Prosecutor Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

November 5, 2021 – On Thursday, November 4, the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) hosted its second Diversity Project Town Hall entitled, “Journey to Increasing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in California District Attorney Offices” to discuss the measures prosecutor offices can take to create work environments that reflect the multi-cultural communities in which we live.

Panelists were selected from large and small offices from Southern California, Northern California, and the Central Valley:

San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh immigrated from Vietnam and now is his office’s Hate Crimes prosecutor.

Nichelle Holmes, a Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney, grew up in Richmond and she is  Co-President of the Bay Area Black Prosecutors Association.

Yolo County Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Melinda Aiello grew up in a middle-class family with a father who was a police officer. Aiello told participants, “I haven’t had the experiences some of you have had, but I want to work to right the wrongs and rebuild faith in the system.”

Shaddi Kamiabipour came to the United States from Iran. She began her career at the Public Defender’s office and is now a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Orange County, where she specializes in medical provider fraud prosecution. 

The Town Hall was moderated by Marin County Assistant District Attorney Otis Bruce. Bruce was raised in the segregated rural South in the small town of Soso, Miss. His began his prosecution career as a volunteer legal intern and rose to serve as Marin County’s first African American prosecutor. He was the first ethnic-minority President of the Marin County Bar Association and is a co-founding member of the Bay Area Black Prosecutors Association.

 The Town Hall was broadcast over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This virtual format allowed nearly 300 prosecutors, investigators, victim advocates, support staff, law school students, undergraduate students, and school administrators to participate. 

 Bruce opened the discussion by stating that there are 1.3 million attorneys in the United States, and of those, 37% are female, 4% are black, and 5% are Hispanic. Bruce stated, “we need to focus on how to address this disparity by engaging, being active, and remedying this problem.” Aiello added, “varying viewpoints lead to better decision making, and diversity in the workplace leads to greater faith in the criminal justice system.”

Bruce asked the panel how they engage the public to increase their trust. Trinh stated, “I encourage Asian Pacific Islander groups to report hate crimes. I’ve found many are distrustful of law enforcement and seeing someone who looks like them, builds trust.” 

 Bruce next asked panel members what they doing in their offices to make a difference, and what advice they give young prosecutors. Kamiabipour stated that she tries to set an example by treating individuals charged with crimes as people and by seeing their families as people. Holmes added that she tells new attorneys that “they must listen, have courage, and stand behind those things you believe in.” Aiello said she is proud that Yolo County has instituted “Race Blind Charging” to ensure there is no implicit bias in the office’s charging decisions, and also noted that her office recently launched a data transparency portal that allows the office and community to see the racial disparity in the criminal justice system in Yolo and to use that data to drive policy change.

 Bruce concluded the Town Hall by telling participants: “Make a list. Are you merely present or is your presence, your work, and your service making a difference? Don’t stop when you are tired, stop when you are done.”

Jeff Reisig, Yolo County District Attorney and 2021-22 President of CDAA said, “our association members across the state should expect more of these Town Halls meetings and trainings. This is just the beginning of the critical conversation prosecutors must have about diversity, equity, and inclusion.”  

The California District Attorneys Association is a statewide training and advocacy organization representing elected district attorneys, city attorneys with criminal divisions, and more than 3,500 prosecutors. The goal of the Prosecutor’s Diversity Project is to educate and inform individuals of color about the role of the prosecutor in creating safe communities and representing victims, to encourage careers in this area of public law before law school, and to create cultural awareness that will help dispel the distrust in a criminal justice system that is charged with protecting ALL of California’s citizens.

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