Albertico Torrico Talks With California’s Capitol
The fifth in a series of Interviews with statewide Democratic candidates who will be attending the Democratic State Convention in Sacramento, April 24 through April 26.
(Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, a Fremont Democrat, is in his final two-year term in the lower house. A former union lawyer, he chaired the Committee on Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security prior to becoming Assembly Majority leader. The 39-year-old son of Asian and Latino immigrants attended Santa Clara university and Hastings. He talks to California’s Capitol about why he should be the state’s next Attorney General.)
CC: I’ve followed Attorney General races since 1978.
AT: Maybe I should interview you.
CC: And some candidates say the job is the state’s Top Cop, chief prosecutor, litigator, resource to local law enforcement. How do you see the job?
AT: All of the above. What encapsulates the job of Attorney General is you’re fighting for justice to preserve rights and fighting for the working men and women and fighting to protect all of our safety.
CC: Do you support capital punishment?
AT: Yes, I do support capital punishment in very limited circumstances, the most heinous crimes. The guy that killed the four cops was released after doing three years in jail. He got out and killed four cops. I would have pursued the death penalty there. A case I just read in Riverside aunt and uncle taking care of two nephews beat them because the uncle had asked them to clean the bathroom and they weren’t doing it fast enough. Talking about an eight year old kid. They got locked in a closet and the aunt and uncle went to a party, came home and found them dead. They had been repeatedly burned with cigarettes. In crimes against children or the death of police officers I think you have to seek the death penalty.
But that’s less than 1 percent of the cases. I will only pursue the death penalty if they’re guilty. However, there are more people on Death Row are people of color or poor. The appeals process takes too long. We have to ensure their constitutional rights but the trials need to happen faster and the appeals need to happen faster. An appeal after 20 years that requires the case be tried again from scratch 20 years after the crime?
That’s one reason we need to get (the state’s) DNA database up and running. We are way behind in that. DNA samples assure innocence or guilt.
CC: I thought the database at the Division of Law Enforcement was up and running?
AT: Collection is one thing, the inputting of the DNA on that is where we’re way behind. Particularly in Los Angeles County.
These are some of the problems that make people believe our justice system is broken. We cannot continue to have a 70 percent recidivism rate. The worst in the country.
This guy that killed those four cops he was in jail for three years. He was released from state prison early. He was undercharged, in my view. Charged with car jacking and attempted murder. They both had long records. They dropped the charges all the way down to carjacking.
Our probation officers have caseloads of 120 or more. It can’t be done. That’s why when this guy that killed those four cops he was suspected of several child abuse cases, raping little girls and implicated in a homicide. We were looking for him in another state. We didn’t know he was in Oakland.
The present system of incarceration is broken. The governor has walked away from prisons. I introduced a bill to depoliticize the Department of Corrections by creating a three member board –the attorney general, the governor and the lieutenant governor — similar to how we run the Franchise Tax Board. The next director of the prisons should not be a political appointment. More than that, we need to get around the state and talk to law enforcement to coordinate resources to keep kids from getting into gangs.
CC: What’s the best way to reduce recidivism?
AT: First, we need to evaluate. See what programs work and don’t work. We’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do about these parolees. Put all these people out and then there’s too many parolees and too few parole officers. We can’t continue to pretend our prisons are drug rehab centers because they’re not. We need to get resources to people who can be helped and make sure when they’re tried at the local level they get put into programs that work.
I’ve been a criminal defense lawyer. I’ve been a labor lawyer. I represented a public agency. The judge tells people under Prop 36 (drug rehab law) that you’re not going to jail, you’re going to get counseling once a week for 12 weeks. You’re not going to beat an addition one hour a week over 12 weeks.
CC: Tell me a little more about your legal background.
AT: I started my career as a union lawyer representing labor unions almost on and off for 10 years. I became a union attorney after two experiences. The first when I was trying to decide between going to grad school or public policy school. I was working for the (Santa Clara County) board of supervisors over redistricting from the census of 1990. Traditionally east San Jose, which has the largest concentration of Latinos was broken into two districts. At the last public hearing on the plan, an attorney appeared, the only attorney in the state who practiced voting right law. Joaquin Avila.
He said (dividing east San Jose) was Unconstitutional on its face. I will win because this is unconstitutional and after I win I will sue you and get back my legal fees. The very next day, after resisting the change for 40 or 50 years, they draw District 3 to include all of east San Jose. It was an Important change that had an immediate election impact — electing the first Latino supervisor. The impact of the law was clear to me right then and there.
When I went to law school, I presented a Central American accountant who was owed $10,000 for back pay. He wanted to settle for $3,000. I said “You’re owed $10,000.” On the eve of trial they settled the case for $10,000. I gave my client his check in the elevator. He had tears in his yes saying how this would change his family’s life. In Spanish he said how glad he was I represented him and I was a model for other Latinos. That got me thinking about representing working families.
Right before I cam to the Legislature I had my own private practice. Business incorporation for small companies. Wills and trusts. I also did some criminal defense.
CC: Is there anything the Attorney General can do about the state’s seemingly never-ending budget mess?
AT: The Attorney General and state legislature both need to figure out how to take the power away from three Republican Assembly members and three Republican senators. The Republicans have hijacked the process and demanded we eviscerate 40 or 50 years of worker protections, environmental protections. We can’t pass a budget that’s dependant on right wing Republican completely out of touch with California.
The Attorney General ought to talk about where our money is going. More money on is spent on prisons than the entire higher education system – UC, CSU and community colleges. We have to reform our prison system. We have to lower our recidivism rate, which is costing us hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The Attorney General has to been seen as someone at the state level who can bring these resources to bear on gangs and other crimes involving young people.
CC: What do you want to focus on as Attorney General?
AT: A lot of the things I do in public service are shaped by my experiences. My biggest life-changing experience was we moved back to Bolivia in 1978 and lived there for about three years. There was great upheaval In Bolivia then. Military coups, literally four or five presidents in one year, all out by military coups. Tanks in the streets. I had a far great appreciation for our democracy when I returned.
The Attorney General should be someone that fights for working men and womn. That protects our environment. That protects our kids. That goes after bad actors, people taking advantage of this financial crisis ripping off seniors around the state. We can no longer here in California accept businesses that underpay their workers. I will go after these companies. I will shut them down and take away their profit and the profits will go back to the victims.
CC: The Attorney General sits on the Commission on Judicial Appointments, which evaluates gubernatorial nominees to the state supreme court and the appellate courts. Is there anything in particular you would use to evaluate them?
AT: That’s a question more suited for the gubernatorial candidates. Anybody appointed to any court in California must demonstrate, in my mind, a real sense of justice and fairness and a real understanding of what constitutes a civil right in California. And they must be willing to protect those civil rights whether enumerated in the U.S. constitution or the state constitution.
One of those civil rights is the right to marry. Marriage applies to whoever want s to get married. That right should not be taken away by an initiative, a vote of the people or by law. A nominee would have to demonstrate throughout their career a real understanding and appreciation of civil rights and for justice and for fairness in California.
CC: Anything you’d like to say about the other Attorney General candidates?
AT: I think my experience as a union lawyer, my experience fighting for working men and women, my life experience and, now as majority leader in the Assembly, I’ve got an almost front row seat to the challenges California faces and whoever is the next Attorney General is going to have to deal with that. The people of California deserve no less.
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