Op-Ed: Santa Clara County Deserves a New District Attorney

On Valentine’s Day, I published an op-ed in the Mercury News about the recent surge of violence against Asian Americans and the need for balanced criminal justice reforms to protect victims and communities. As an Asian-American prosecutor in a county where Asians have been the largest racial group since 2014, I felt compelled to speak out. At the time, more than a month before the Atlanta spa mass shootings, there was a deafening silence by many local community leaders.

One such leader was Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, the most powerful law enforcement official in Silicon Valley and also my boss. Instead of upholding the First Amendment and sharing his vision for protecting the Asian community, DA Rosen chose to swiftly and furiously retaliate against me, the only Asian prosecutor in his office who had publicly spoken out about the violence against Asians.

Immediately after my op-ed publication, I was notified to appear at a hearing with an attorney, to answer pretextual allegations that I had used my official title without authorization. Furthermore, I was immediately reassigned from a Violent Felony trial assignment to Mental Health Court and then to Juvenile Justice. Two reassignments in two days, right after my publication, with no customary notice or explanation. What does it say of DA Rosen’s views of Mental Health Court and Juvenile Justice that he exiled me there as punishment?

Why did DA Rosen not want an Asian prosecutor in his office speaking out against violence against Asians? Because my balanced approach to criminal justice reforms impeded his political aspirations. At the time, DA Rosen wanted to be appointed the next California attorney general, a position requiring progressive credentials under Gov. Newsom. Next year, DA Rosen is also facing re-election. Progressive reformers have been thirsty for wholesale change, and having half-baked progressive convictions, DA Rosen has had his finger to the wind, disingenuously pivoting himself to be perceived as a progressive prosecutor.

Instead of celebrating diversity of identities and perspectives in his own office and concretely demonstrating his commitment to racial justice and the Asian community in Santa Clara County, DA Rosen chose to pursue his political ambitions. The cost? Silence and more violence.

What does it say of DA Rosen’s commitment to prosecuting violence against Asians when he was more interested in immediately reassigning me than ensuring a smooth transition for over 100 dockets involving the most violent assaults, robberies, shootings, and attempted murders? A veritable mountain of my cases involving hundreds of victims and witnesses of serious violence, including Asians. Some of the files still lie outside my previous supervisor’s office—untouched for almost two months after I left the team.

Asians are often expected to work hard, keep our heads down, and not speak out. Even in my office, when I repeatedly requested a fairer distribution of work and greater transparency in data, I was denied and told that I was “a victim of my own success.” Apparently, “Service,” “Hard work,” “Integrity,” and “Transparency” are just empty slogans used by the administration to sign their emails and memos. Four core values on the office logo that spell out a curse word that highlights their meaninglessness in our office.

DA Rosen’s retaliatory actions would make an employment litigator cringe. Retaliation against an award-winning Asian prosecutor who had dedicated more hours physically at the office and in court during the pandemic than DA Rosen or any other prosecutor. An Asian prosecutor whose hairstyle DA Rosen had once compared to a North Korean dictator’s. An Asian prosecutor who had dared to share his personal opinion on violence against Asians based on his background and experiences.

Why are Asian law enforcement voices necessary and important to stop hatred and violence against Asians? Because far too often, other voices minimize and rationalize injustices against us. San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin described the murderer of an 84-year-old Asian man as having “some sort of a temper tantrum.” Georgia Sheriff’s Captain Jay Baker described the murderer of six Asian women as having “a really bad day.”

Santa Clara County deserves a DA who will be a leader—not a bandwagoner—in speaking out against injustice to Asian Americans and others. A DA who will demand unwavering loyalty to the law and justice and not to himself. A DA who will prioritize public safety and not promote a culture of fear and retaliation. A DA who will respect free speech, say what he means, and mean what he says. Santa Clara County deserves a DA who will celebrate the rich diversity of our community and protect us—not for personal or political gain, but because it is the right thing to do.

Editor’s note: Daniel M. Chung is a Santa Clara County deputy district attorney, but clarifies to San Jose Inside that this article reflects his personal views. Opinions are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to comments@metronews.com.

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Op-Ed: Santa Clara County Deserves a New District Attorney