Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

San Diego Board Of Supervisors Appoints Summer Stephan As Interim District Attorney

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors is shown in this photo, Jan. 10, 2017.
Katie Schoolov
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors is shown in this photo, Jan. 10, 2017.

UPDATE: 6:05 p.m., June 20, 2017

San Diego Board Of Supervisors Appoints Summer Stephan As Interim District Attorney
San Diego Board Of Supervisors Appoints Summer Stephan As Interim District Attorney GUEST: Summer Stephan, chief deputy district attorney, San Diego County

Our top story on midday today the central county Board of Supervisors surprise no one when they voted yesterday to appoint an interim district attorney who is prosecutors Summer Stephan. Sunday go district attorney is a powerful position and it is an elected position. Bonnie Dumanis announced she will step down next month ahead of the election. She made it very clear that she is her preferred successor and they say the fix is in since the supervisors have added their finger to the skull by appointing her. Summer Stefan is a chief deputy district attorney and she has served in the DAs office for 28 years where she's been cheap of a North County branch and chief of the sex crimes and human trafficking division. Summer Stephan joins us now. Congratulations on your appointment. Thank you very much. I'm honored to have the confidence of the Board of Supervisors and the committee's conference. Now this is a full-time job. How will you manage doing that at the same time as campaigning for the position next year? I am already have been on a 80 hour week pace. I'm 24 hour prosecutor. When it comes to public safety we cannot stop. So this is a pace that I'm used to. I tried a major merger of at 80-year-old woman sexual assault and murder while having three children under the age of four. I have capacity to work weekends, nights, and many hours. I will get both jobs done and done right. I would like to start on a positive note but I feel like we have to address some of the criticism of the way that the process is going. There were speakers at the county Board of Supervisors who were very unhappy with the process that led to you becoming the interim DA. Here is the hell testifying. Artistic attorney is the region's most powerful law enforcement officer because many voters are unfamiliar with the candidates it is an incredibly powerful influence on election results. County voters have the right to elect artistic attorney. The Board of Supervisors should honor our democratic process and not get any candidate advantage of incompetency heading into next year's election. How do you respond to this idea that the supervisors are taking control of the election? There is a campaign and there's an election in June 2018 and I have complete confidence that the voters will select the right person. Was very interesting is that I've been running since January of this year and no one else has put into run. This is a large county election. So usually very serious candidates with credentials have already announced and no one has announced their candidacy. This process of the interim this is not something I wanted or created. This was a decision that was made by the DA. So my position wasn't something I thought about very carefully. If I'm running since January and I have bipartisan support and my own team behind me victims, voices and the community and I am writing telling the public that I'm the most qualified person vote for me. Now the job becomes open earlier. How can I safe will for 18 months, let the county have a less qualified person? I did not want to be talking out of both sides of my mouth. It was an opportunity for me to start the important work that I wanted to get done after the election. They've seen this process before when the sheriff retired. He easily won election. In some ways it does affect you because if the supervisors are the ones controlling who holds these positions. Then you are responsible to them rather than the voters. Does not concern you question I'm responsible to the committee the DA is the public prosecutor. We are the peoples prosecutor. I've never thought that I owned any position I have. I do this because I really think that the motive is just does the public good. I worked for 27 years to be the people serve it. I don't serve the Board of Supervisors and I don't serve anyone. This is why I promise to not have a political office. The people who have endorsed me know that I'm not going to endorse them back and that I'm going to be in non-clinical DA. I'm just a public servant. This is the highest job. I've reached one of the highest levels and I would love to get to the next level just to do more good. Does it were you that you might lose votes because people may think you are good candidate but they are so interested in changing this process that they vote against you are my I was worried about it and then at the end of the day, my decision was based on what is the right thing to do. So I went to my team and I asked them is there someone that they would be okay leading them for 18 months with the important decisions that they make every day that affect public safety? They said no, summer, we understand this is a risk for you but we want you to lead us in the future and we want you to start right now. Talking about making the right decisions you are a prosecutor and I want to refer to very high profile cases. The Stephanie motor case which you prosecuted. You said that you were brought into that case after key decisions were made about the charges. Sheryl Crow sent the supervisors a letter which refutes at notion and she says you were identified as a pro-prosecutor at the start. So a question is if you saw problems with the case at the beginning why did she speak up then? Well, I can't imagine that being what she is going through losing a child is an incredible thing. I never do anything to help her with that. I just pray for peace for her. In terms of the case, the record is very clear retired judge filed a letter with the Board of Supervisors responding and making it clear that a federal judge in another apology judge found that I came onto the case after the major decisions of charging and indicting had already occurred. When I was asked to help with the case, I didn't result with an acquittal when I saw that there was reasonable doubt, I stopped everything and went to the electric district attorney and even as a seven half-year prosecutor in the office 20 years ago, I knew that Josh what I'm supposed to do is not try to win but to do justice. I can't proceed with reasonable doubt. So I went to the DA and I said we have to dismiss and we dismissed the case. Will I'm sure this will be litigated in the public again over the months leading up to the election as people make a decision. When would you actually take over for Bonnie? As of next month you will start question July 8. Do have priorities that you will presume question I want to continue to step up our leadership and efforts on human trafficking. I want to address the rising problem of elder abuse and crimes against elders and I want to really invest in building the lives of juveniles rather than building prisons by investing in rehabilitation. Thank you very much, summer.

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday appointed veteran prosecutor Summer Stephan as San Diego County's interim top prosecutor to succeed Bonnie Dumanis, who is retiring.

Stephan is the chief deputy district attorney, and has gained numerous endorsements for the permanent job when elections are held next year. She's served 28 years.

She was appointed as interim D.A. on a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Kristin Gaspar dissenting. Others who applied for the job were Adam Gordon, a former prosecutor who now practices in business litigation and white-collar defense and retired prosecutor Greg Walden.

San Diego's Newest Interim D.A. Is Causing Disputes

Dumanis, who is in her fourth term, plans to step down on July 7 and mull over a run for the District 4 supervisor's seat next year. She endorsed Stephan to be her successor.

"What I would ask you to look at is not just my internal leadership and the absolute trust that the troops have put in me, wanting me to lead them at this time and in the future," Stephan said in her opening statement to the board. "It's the fact that my leadership also extends to law enforcement and it extends to the community that we serve. I'm a trusted leader inside and outside the office."

RELATED: San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis To Step Down In July

Summer Stephan, who currently works as San Diego's chief deputy district attorney., is shown in this undated photo.
Summer Stephan, who currently works as San Diego's chief deputy district attorney., is shown in this undated photo.

Opponents, however, contended that appointing Stephan would give her an unfair advantage when elections for a full term are held. Both Gordon and Walden said they would not be candidates for the permanent job.

Christie Hill, senior policy strategist for the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, pushed for the board of supervisors to choose an interim DA applicant who had pledged not to run for the position in next year's campaign.

"Our DA is the region's most prominent and powerful law enforcement officer," Hill said. "Because many voters are unfamiliar with these races and the candidates, incumbency is an incredibly powerful influence on election results. County voters have the right to democratically elect DA. The board of supervisors should honor democratic process and not give candidate the advantage of incumbency heading into next year's election."

Supervisor Dianne Jacob told Stephan after voting for her appointment: "In my opinion, without question, you are the best qualified and you will effectively lead the department on day one."

Opposition also came from the parents of Stephanie Crowe, a 12-year-old girl killed in her Escondido bedroom 19 years ago.

"My husband, Steve, and son, Michael, are at home. My daughter, Stephanie, is in a grave," Cheryl Crowe said.

"She was murdered, and the killer got away with it," she said in sometimes tearful comments. "It would have been a lot different if Summer Stephan had not been assigned to the case."

Crowe said Stephan spent a page and a half of her application defending her handling of the case and writing that it showed how compassionate, ethical and competent she was. "In truth, she was mean, unethical and incompetent," Crowe said.

Stephan was the second prosecutor on the troubled case, taking over when Stephanie's brother and two of the boy's friends were charged with her murder. The teens were later exonerated and a homeless man found with her blood on his sweatshirt was eventually found guilty. His conviction was overturned on appeal, however.

The process to hire the county's chief prosecutor originally called for interviews to be held today, with the field being winnowed to three and an appointment made next week. But with just three applicants and the first round of voting going strongly in Stephan's favor, the supervisors agreed to go ahead and make the appointment.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.