Election 2022: The race for Santa Clara County district attorney
Santa Clara County Superior Court in downtown San Jose. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen is facing challengers for the first time since he was elected more than a decade ago.

    The top prosecutor of Santa Clara County oversees a department of 620 employees, 190 of whom are prosecutors. The DA files charges against people for criminal and civil offenses, ranging from homicides and fraud to domestic violence and drug trafficking. Under Rosen, the office engaged in high-profile cases, including charging a former county supervisor for stealing public money; three correctional officers who murdered a mentally ill jail inmate; and former Stanford athlete Brock Turner for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.

    There is ample bad blood between Rosen and his rivals. Deputy Public Defender Sajid Khan has criticized Rosen’s approach as a prosecutor, including a now-deleted blog post where Khan blamed Rosen for disproportionately prosecuting Black and Latino people. Rosen responded by filing a whistleblower complaint, which he later retracted, claiming the blog was a threat.

    The other candidate vying for the job is Daniel Chung, a former deputy DA in Rosen’s office. Chung claims he was put on administrative leave—and then fired—for writing op-eds critical of Rosen. Chung is suing his former boss for alleged retaliation.

    The winner of the election will have to contend with an increase in violent crime in San Jose, as well as growing public pressure to find alternatives to incarceration. Here are the three candidates running for district attorney in alphabetical order.

    Daniel Chung is running for Santa Clara County district attorney. File photo.

    Daniel Chung

    A former Santa Clara County deputy DA, Daniel Chung’s platform is heavily defined by his opposition to Rosen’s leadership style.

    Chung, 33, grew up in Milpitas and later attended Harvard College for his undergraduate degree before graduating from Columbia Law School. He joined the DA’s office in Bronx County, New York, and then took a job with the DA in Santa Clara County in 2018, where he prosecuted violent felonies and domestic violence cases.

    As DA, Chung said he would focus on enforcing laws and prosecuting crimes, prioritizing victims’ rights and rigorously investigating cases to ensure the office is only prosecuting people who deserve to be charged. He envisions a vertical system of prosecutions, where a prosecutor follows through on a case from beginning to end, and making sure cases resolve quickly. In contrast with the other candidates, Chung believes a prosecutor’s role should not involve making law.

    “It’s inappropriate for the prosecutor’s office to spill into other arenas that are not our core responsibility,” Chung told San José Spotlight. “Before we can truly have the capacity and efficacy to really be leaders in social justice, we first need to take our core responsibility in criminal justice seriously.”

    Chung claims some criminal reforms supported by Rosen, such as Proposition 36 and 47—which, respectively, restructured the state’s three strikes law and reclassified drug possession and minor theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors—have resulted in increased crime. Chung said the DA’s office has limited capacity for resolving the county’s mental health crisis, but noted it would be useful to continue diverting nonviolent and low-level offenders into treatment programs.

    Chung has received endorsements from the Los Gatos Police Officers Association and from Gilroy Councilmembers Dion Bracco and Carol Marques. As of January, his campaign has raised $13,331.

    “There has been an incumbent in office for over 12 years without a challenger, and he’s not interested in innovating,” Chung said. “I really want to push our office to next frontiers and be a leader both locally and nationally. I am hopeful and I think we can do a lot better, so that’s why I’m running for change.”

    Deputy public defender Sajid Khan is pictured in this file photo.

    Sajid Khan

    A long-term deputy public defender, Sajid Khan wants to lead the office he’s been confronting in court for over a decade.

    Khan, 39, attended school in Santa Clara and San Jose before going to UC Berkeley as an undergraduate and then UC Hastings where he obtained his law degree. He worked briefly as a deputy public defender in Contra Costa County before joining the public defender’s office in Santa Clara County, where he has worked for nearly 14 years.

    Khan said he wants to end mass incarceration  and heal systemic racism, while ensuring accountability for people who have done serious harm. Khan said as district attorney he will not pursue cash bail or three strikes and gang enhancement charges, and he will hold police officers accountable for unlawful acts. He also wants to expand drug treatment and mental health diversion programs.

    “It’s not enough to punish harm, we need to address the root causes of harm to create long-term safety in our community,” Khan told San José Spotlight.

    Like the incumbent, Khan said he would use his position to push for legislation on criminal justice reform. Khan said he would push to end the death penalty and pursue policies that end the disproportionate incarceration of people of color.

    Khan counts among his endorsements Assemblymember Alex Lee, Working Families Party of California and Service Employees International Union-United Health Care Workers. As of January he has raised $239,837.

    “The incumbent’s tough on crime punitive response to harm in our communities has perpetuated mass incarceration, inflicted harm on communities of color and not made us safer,” Khan said. “It’s time for our county to have a district attorney who reflects the values of the voters of Santa Clara County, and I believe I am that person.”

    Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen is seen in this file photo.

    Jeff Rosen

    Incumbent District Attorney Jeff Rosen is running for another term because he believes people in Santa Clara County approve of his balanced approach as a prosecutor.

    Rosen, 54, graduated from UCLA for his undergraduate degree before getting a law degree at UC Berkeley. After working in entertainment litigation for a couple years in LA, Rosen joined the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office in 1995, where he was elected DA in 2010. His wife is a former assistant U.S. attorney and now serves as a judge in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

    Rosen said he stands apart from his opponents because of his experience and ability to take a measured approach to prosecuting crimes. He cites his support from law enforcement and the head of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP as examples of his ability to work with different stakeholders in the criminal justice system. He noted that under his tenure, Santa Clara County has established the lowest crime rate of any large county in the U.S., and that his office has helped achieve this by prosecuting violent and repeat criminals and through community outreach.

    “If you only pursue public safety or you only pursue reform, you get neither, and the people running against me are only pursuing one of those things,” Rosen told San José Spotlight. “But when you have a DA as I have been, with a balanced approach which vigorously pursued public safety and criminal justice reform, you can achieve both of those things.”

    If re-elected, Rosen said he would prioritize further reducing crime by continuing to prosecute repeat violent offenders while expanding preventative community outreach, such as finding ways to help youth graduate high school. Rosen said he would keep incarceration as low as possible, citing rehabilitative facilities as one way to divert low-level offenders. He also said he’d work to increase trust between law enforcement officers and the people they serve, noting his office already uses community prosecutors to communicate with residents in high-crime neighborhoods about their public safety needs.

    Among Rosen’s endorsers is Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, Assemblymember Evan Low and the San Jose Police Officers’ Association. As of January, Rosen has raised $485,483.

    “Vote for District Attorney Jeff Rosen because of his proven leadership and reform that works,” Rosen said.

    Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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