Santa Clara County Public Defender Sajid Khan has often criticized District Attorney Jeff Rosen — and now he is considering running against him.
“Decision day is coming up relatively soon, and we will all know more in the coming weeks and months whether or not I decide to run for that seat,” Khan said.
While Khan said he’s mulling the decision, local progressive advocates are pushing him to take on the longtime prosecutor. Rosen has never been challenged for re-election during his 10-year political career.
Khan, a San Jose native, has been a vocal critic of Rosen, lambasting him for his refusal to stop trying 14- and 15-year-olds accused of serious crimes as adults and his record for what Khan said is the punitive treatment of Black, Indigenous and people of color in the justice system.
Khan said he is eager to see someone else as the county’s top prosecutor.
“We need a Santa Clara County district attorney who is committed to truth-telling about systemic racism, shrinking mass criminalization and incarceration, addressing root causes of crime and bringing our criminal legal system in line with basic notions of justice and humanity,” Khan said.
Despite recently taking a more progressive stance on issues like the death penalty, for example, Rosen has garnered criticism for his handling of white-collar crime and domestic abuse cases. But he won praise for his efforts to end cash bail in the county, a practice that some advocates say has racist roots.
Rosen’s office was not immediately available for comment.
Khan would bring a progressive shift to the office, something that Jahmal Williams, the co-chair of Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet of Silicon Valley, an African American racial justice advocacy group, said is needed in the county.
“This county is moving in a direction that calls for new ideas and a reimagination on how we look at crime and criminalization,” Williams said. “As we fight for change in policing, we need to fight for accountability in policing too, and the DA’s office must do that.”
Nick Cortez, the co-chair of the South Bay Progressive Alliance, is a special education teacher at a local high school. Cortez said he’s seen how policies that treat teens who commit crimes as adults doom their futures when they become of age.
“I see my students and I can’t imagine seeing them in a courtroom and trying them as adults and putting them away for life for some decision they made at 15 years old,” Cortez said.
He said Khan, an active proponent of SB 1391, which spares 14- and 15-year-olds from being tried as adults, has the foresight to see juveniles differently than Rosen, who recently said SB 1391 is unconstitutional.
Rosen is seeking a fourth consecutive term as district attorney. He was first elected in 2010 when he unseated his boss, one-term incumbent Dolores Carr. Rosen has since ran unopposed both in 2014 and 2018. Before Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Assemblyman Rob Bonta as his pick to replace Xavier Becerra as state attorney general, Rosen’s name was bandied around for the position.
Should Khan officially enter the race, he would be Rosen’s first challenger since taking office.
Khan and Rosen have publicly feuded in the past.
In June 2020, Khan, in a now-deleted blog post, blamed prosecutors, including Rosen, along with police, for disproportionately arresting and prosecuting Black and Latino people at a far higher rate than other racial groups. Rosen filed a whistleblower complaint, which he subsequently retracted, claiming that Khan’s blog post constituted a threat against him and the DA’s office.
The district attorney seat will be up for election in June 2022. Rosen is the only official candidate so far for the position.
“If Sajid does end up running, he has the acumen, the personal connections to the area and the heart to drive progress and change that we need in this county,” Williams said.