SAN DIEGO – Today, San Diego County Board of Supervisors appointed Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan as interim San Diego County District Attorney. Ms. Stephan will serve as the region’s chief law enforcement official until the 2018 election.
The Board of Supervisors’ decision to appoint Ms. Stephan was made despite considerable urging by community groups, including the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, San Diego Organizing Project, Center on Policy Initiatives, Partners for Progress and The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board, to appoint an interim district attorney who would pledge not to run for the office in 2018. At the heart of the matter is concern over the power of incumbency to tip the scale in favor of Ms. Stephan in the upcoming election – when as interim DA she has not been vetted and democratically elected by the voters of San Diego County.
District attorneys make important criminal justice decisions such as determining charges to file in individual cases and whether to give someone a second chance by directing them to treatment or rehabilitation instead of jail. Despite the gravity of the office, many voters are unfamiliar with these races and the candidates, making incumbency an all the more powerful influencer of election results.
Two other candidates for the appointment, Adam Gordon and Gregory Walden, agreed to not pursue the elected seat. However, Ms. Stephen is presently campaigning and fundraising for her run at the position next June. As reported by the San Diego Union Tribune and other news sources, Ms. Stephan was specifically identified in the current District Attorney’s succession plan.
“In San Diego County, residents have the right to democratically elect our district attorney, the most prominent and powerful local law enforcement official in our criminal justice system,” said Norma Chavez-Peterson, Executive Director of the San Diego ACLU. “In their decision to appoint Ms. Stephan – who is actively campaigning for the office – as interim DA, the Board of Supervisors has hand-picked Dumanis’ successor and undermined the process that enables San Diego voters to elect a district attorney of their preference.”
In appointing Ms. Stephan despite this very serious concern, the Board of Supervisors have failed to uphold the fair and open election process that San Diegans deserve.