‘In line with my values’: Supervisors discuss why they chose Jesse Wilson as the next district attorney
Special to the Sierra Sun
Nevada County Supervisor Ed Scofield figures it was public criticism of the current assistant district attorney that swayed the board’s vote over who would become the next district attorney.
Scofield, who cast the deciding vote Tuesday in favor of current El Dorado County Deputy District Attorney Jesse Wilson, said that he personally didn’t think such criticism had much merit, but added that public opinion about Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh appeared to have swayed the decisions of some of his colleagues who voted against him.
“As far as the conviction rate, there was a lot of discussion on that in this decision. I think that had an influence more than anything,” Scofield said. “I think so many of the letters from the public that came to us expressed that they felt the conviction rate ought to be better than what it was.”
Scofield himself initially voted for Walsh on Tuesday — creating a split vote — before changing his vote to Wilson in a final runoff between Wilson and current Colusa County District Attorney Matthew Beauchamp, who was the runner-up for the selection.
The vote was 3 to 2.
Supervisor Hardy Bullock said while all three candidates would have been excellent choices, he felt as though Wilson would bring a fresh perspective and a drive for institutional reform that the office would benefit from.
“When I spoke with Jesse and when it was presented in the board meeting, it was obvious that he was ready to tackle the next step of his career and make some institutional changes to this office and this department,” Bullock said.
The supervisor also said that he was impressed by Wilson’s answers to interview questions asked by the board, as well as by Wilson’s stances on significant issues of criminal justice.
“His responses fell directly in line with my values for community policing in terms of having a metered approach in handling criminal activity in a way that focuses in on victims, but also focuses in on creating positive outcomes through programs such as mental health courts, drug courts,” Bullock said.
Supervisor Heidi Hall expressed her admiration for all three candidates who were considered. She voted for Wilson.
“We felt great about Wilson’s qualifications, and we welcome him back to Nevada County for this role,” Hall said.
Wilson will serve as interim district attorney through the end of 2022. He will take office after current District Attorney Cliff Newell steps down July 10.
Wilson had previously served as a deputy district attorney with Nevada County, but took a position at the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office in 2018.
Newell endorsed Walsh as his replacement earlier this year. However, multiple supervisors expressed a desire to see the District Attorney’s Office undergo institutional change.
Walsh has assumed a significant role in county prosecutions since he became Assistant District Attorney in 2017. Wilson, however, on Tuesday claimed Newell’s office had a low conviction rate — a claim Walsh disputed.
“A prosecutor’s office should have a pretty good conviction rate, and right now our prosecutor’s office doesn’t,” Public Defender Keri Klein said Wednesday.
When asked about Wilson’s selection to the job, Walsh said that while he hopes that Wilson would prove successful as a district attorney, he was disappointed and somewhat surprised by the board’s decision.
Walsh maintained that he believed that his experience as compared to Wilson, as well as his record of convictions in high-profile cases, made him the most suitable candidate for the interim role.
“I think the board may have gotten the impression that the DA’s office is in disarray and there’s all these problems here and the reality is that’s not an accurate picture,” Walsh said.
“The DA’s office today is stronger than it was four years ago,” he added. “I think that an organized group of Wilson supporters lobbied the Board of Supervisors and created an impression of problems at the DA’s office….the reality is that internally within the DA’s office we’re in good shape and we’re strong.”
Walsh added that, as his position as assistant district attorney is an at-will position — meaning that the role is solely dependent on the discretion of the current district attorney — he expects to be terminated from his current position once Wilson assumes the office next month.
Wilson declined on Tuesday to talk about about the assistant district attorney position. He couldn’t be reached Wednesday for comment.
Walsh said his relationship with the soon-to-be district attorney had soured after Wilson left Nevada County in 2018, citing substantial disagreements with the office’s leadership style as the reason for his departure.
“For me this is all very disappointing because I helped mentor Jesse Wilson, I helped train him…to hear later on when he comes back that there’s all these issues with our office, it’s just very disappointing,” the prosecutor said.
Walsh emphasized that despite their disagreements, he was hopeful that Wilson would prove a strong leader for the office, and noted that Wilson’s strong relationships with a number of defense attorneys in the county would prove to be a valuable asset in his leadership of the office.
“I’ve worked with Jesse Wilson and he is a good attorney and a decent guy,” Newell said in an email. “I wish him much luck in the coming year.”
Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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