Exiled Santa Clara County deputy DA considers running for office
Daniel Chung, a deputy district attorney, is considering running for District Attorney of Santa Clara County in 2022. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Prosecutor Daniel Chung has excoriated Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen in print, and now he wants to take his job.

Chung, a deputy district attorney on paid administrative leave, is strongly considering entering the 2022 race for Santa Clara County District Attorney. He told San José Spotlight that he intends to make a decision by the fall.

If he runs, Chung said he’ll focus heavily on the need to improve the integrity and competence of the district attorney’s office. He cited a range of specific problems he wants to address in the office, ranging from updating the outdated case management software to fixing problems he’s identified with how the office draws up criminal charges.

But he believes the heart of his campaign, and what sets him apart from his challengers, is centering the needs of crime victims by aggressively and effectively prosecuting crimes.

“No one seems to have the interest of victims at heart, no one seems to be prioritizing victims,” Chung said.  “I think my entire campaign would be focused on victims.”

Chung would enter the race alongside Sajid Khan, a longtime public defender who announced his candidacy last month. Rosen, who assumed office in 2010, has run unopposed in his last two re-election campaigns.

Khan criticized Rosen and other law enforcement in a blog post in June 2020 over prosecutions of Black and Latino people. Rosen responded by filing a whistleblower complaint alleging that the post was a threat against him and the office. The post was deleted and Rosen later retracted his complaint.

But Rosen’s feud with Khan may be dwarfed by Chung’s vocal campaign against his boss. In recent months Chung has written multiple op-eds accusing Rosen of corruption and retaliation. In an op-ed for San José Spotlight, Chung claimed that Rosen tried to push him out of the office for publishing a piece about anti-Asian violence, and has raised questions about Rosen violating campaign finance rules. Chung also accused Rosen of issuing BOLOs on him after the office placed him on paid administrative leave.

Leo Briones, a representative of the Jeff Rosen campaign, said Rosen cannot comment on personnel matters.

Sean Webby, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, previously told San José Spotlight he could not discuss internal issues.

“The law prohibits us from talking about personnel matters,” Webby said. “Common sense prohibits us from talking about security matters.”

Khan said the county is healthier when there is a diversity and variety of perspective on how to help refine the criminal justice system, and that he welcomes the opportunity for debate.

“If Mr. Chung joins the race, I’ll be excited to flesh out these issues so voters can make the best decision for our county and our criminal justice system,” Khan said.

Chung would be a relatively unknown player in the field, but he believes his campaign would stand apart because of his strong advocacy for victims of crimes.

“Does the community actually want all of these progressive reforms?” Chung asked. “If that’s truly what they want, they’ll elect them. But I have a sneaking suspicion that Santa Clara County is very balanced, they’re very focused on common sense solutions.”

Chung also touted his bona fides as a Santa Clara County local.

He was born in L.A. but grew up in Milpitas. His father, who served in federal law enforcement, committed suicide when Chung was 8 years old. He attended Harvard College on a need-based aid package but worked part-time jobs throughout the school year and during the summer. He later graduated from Columbia Law School and went on to join the district attorney’s office in Bronx County where he focused on gun crimes. In 2018, he took a job as a deputy district attorney in Santa Clara County, where he prosecuted domestic violence cases and served in the violent felonies unit.

Matthew Herlihy, a defense attorney who worked with Chung in the Bronx DA’s office, said he’s fundamentally fair-minded.

“I always thought he’d make a tremendous leader of men and women, as far as being a prosecutor, because he doesn’t care about public opinion—I mean that in a good way,” Herlihy said. “He’s not going to give into the pressure of a community telling him to prosecute or not prosecute something.”

Chung’s law and order language resonates with some local leaders in the South Bay. Gwan Alisantosa, a former board member of the Milpitas Unified School District, said he’s spoken with Chung and liked his approach to crime, and his willingness to stand up to Rosen despite the consequences.

“It’s hard to do the right thing, especially in that position, because everybody is pretty much against you,” Alisantosa said.

Margaret Petros, executive director of the victims’ advocacy nonprofit Mothers Against Murder, said Chung’s commitment to helping victims is refreshing.

“I would work day and night to make sure (Chung) is elected,” Petros said. “He is balanced, he is young, he is well educated.”

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

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