A Public Defender Is Shaking Up the Race for San Diego D.A.

Genevieve Jones-Wright wanted to be a prosecutor but ended up becoming a public defender. Now she's running for D.A.


Courtesy of Genevieve Jones-Wright For District Attorney

San Diego voters will go the polls June 5 to elect a new district attorney, and they will have quite a choice.

The current interim D.A., Summer Stephan, was appointed by the county board of supervisors; she's the hand-picked successor of former D.A. Bonnie Dumanis. Running against her is Genevieve Jones-Wright, a public defender who proudly touts her outsider status and is backed by liberal funder George Soros.

Stephan is running on a platform touting her experience combating sex trafficking. She has said, among other things, that there's virtually no such thing as voluntary sex work. She also characterized Jones-Wright's opposition to FOSTA, a deeply flawed piece of anti-trafficking legislation that recently became law, as a radical position far to the left of the Democratic Party. (Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris—a former California Attorney General who co-sponsored SESTA, the Senate version of the law—endorsed Jones-Wright on Monday.) Jones-Wright, meanwhile, is aligned with criminal justice reformers not just on FOSTA but on asset forfeiture, cash bail, and other issues.

This is one of several hotly contested prosecutor elections this year—part of an ongoing national trend of reform-minded defense attorneys shaking up what used to be quiet races. In fact, there have only been three contested D.A. elections in San Diego over the past quarter century.

Reason spoke with Jones-Wright about how a public defender ends up running for D.A., how a prosecutor's office should measure success, and the reality of sex work. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

REASON: You're a public defender running for district attorney. There's this perception that you either have a prosecutor's mindset or a defense attorney's mindset, and ne'er the twain shall meet. What do you think of that?

JONES-WRIGHT: My story is a little different. A lot of people think that way, although we do see some prosecutors going over to private practice and there's some people in my office who became prosecutors because they had their eye on a judgeship. As for me, I wanted to be a prosecutor after the O.J. Simpson case. It was only because of my experiences and where I grew up, where the interactions with the court and law enforcement and prosecutors weren't a positive thing, and through learning more about the justice system itself, that I decided that wasn't going to be for me, to be a deputy D.A. and a tool in the mass incarceration machine. But I started off believing I would be a prosecutor and even interviewed with prosecutorial agencies while at law school.

REASON: What about the O.J. case made you want to be a prosecutor?

JONES-WRIGHT: I felt like the prosecution flubbed the case. Even as a high schooler I knew the prosecution didn't do a great job, and I felt they were the very reason the family members were denied justice. I watched the case every single day in school—it was all the rage—and watching it I thought, "Wow, the victims did not get justice." It was a direct result of the prosecutors. In my own high school senior mind I said, "I'll show them how to do it."

The problem was there wasn't this holistic or comprehensive view of people who were justice-involved. I want to change the culture from where it's all about over-incarcerating people and not helping people. That's the mindset I want to bring: People are humans, not numbers or statistics. In a lot of D.A. offices the measure of success is the conviction rate. How many people have you put in jail and for how long? I want to change that to: How many people are we helping? How many people did we help put their lives back together? How many kids did we prevent from ever coming into the justice system?

Being a public defender, I have a balanced perspective because I do understand that it's humans who are affected by decisions and policies that come out of D.A. offices, and when someone is justice-involved, how that can affect generations to come. And so we talk about preventing crime, but we also have to talk about preventing harm. That's what I would bring to the D.A. office.

REASON: I've heard you say in debates something along the lines of "the person being prosecuted today was a victim yesterday." Could you explain what you mean by that?

JONES-WRIGHT: A lot of my clients—and I work on the adult side—they come in with their own personal histories, just like we all do. Most of my clients come in with a juvenile dependency record and/or a juvenile delinquency record. And when we have children who were in our justice system, we know that they've been failed by the system somewhere. The education system, the foster care system, their parents—someone along the way failed them.

I don't see those things as being isolated. A lot of my clients were abused by their parents physically and/or emotionally. The same people that the D.A. office says they were trying to protect before are the same people they're prosecuting now because the trauma wasn't addressed.

REASON: In the criminal justice system, prosecutors have incredible power in charging and every step up through sentencing. What are your plans to implement this holistic view, as you called it, to criminal justice?

JONES-WRIGHT: The first thing is integrity and not overcharging cases. I see that in cases where I really reinforce to the client that they would be better off going to trial rather than taking a plea. That's really hard.

The other part is we have a lot of diversion programs—behavioral health courts, veterans courts, drug courts—but you have to plead guilty in order to get opportunity to participate to these programs. I believe in true diversion, where you don't have to plead guilty to get a case dismissed. Right now, you have to plead guilty, and the D.A. office's stance is if you mess up along the way—and relapse is a part of recovery—that shows you're not serious about completing the program. Your opportunity for dismissal is wrapped in the D.A.'s perspective of how serious you are. So I want to take that out of the district attorney's hands and give people a broader opportunity, so that fewer people will suffer convictions as a result of drug treatment or mental health issues.

REASON: Former San Diego D.A. Bonnie Dumanis was very aggressive in pursuing some civil asset forfeiture cases. What's your stance on the practice?

JONES-WRIGHT: I do not believe we should be in the business of seizing people's assets and property pre-conviction, for sure. We saw a lot of that here in San Diego with Bonnie Dumanis, where charges weren't even levied and a family's life savings were taken.

[Reason wrote extensively about the case of James Slatic and his family, who had their bank accounts seized by the San Diego D.A. after a police raid on his medical marijuana business. Prosecutors waited 16 months, and two weeks after a judge ordered them to return Slatic's money, to file criminal charges against him.]

I am completely against that practice. Now we're seeing where Jeff Sessions is incentivizing local governments to join him in taking people's assets by sharing the profits with the federal government and giving cuts to local government. I'm completely against that as well.

REASON: Your opponent has made the main plank of her campaign about sex trafficking and sex victims. In a debate she said you have a radical position that's not supported by the Democratic Party, and she's also said there basically no such thing as voluntary sex work. Do you think you have a radical position?

JONES-WRIGHT: I don't think it's a radical position. If you look at the opponents of SESTA and FOSTA, these are people who have made it their business to be human rights advocates on behalf of sex workers and human trafficking victims. You have a stellar organization like the ACLU, and you have voluntary sex workers themselves saying this is a bad idea, not only because it puts them in a position where they're less safe but because we're taking away the platform where they communicate with each other.

The fact that she doesn't believe that there's such a thing as a voluntary sex worker means she doesn't live in reality. You have to question her knowledge base. She's completely ignoring and dismissing an entire population, and that's what makes it dangerous. It's not radical at all. It's a common-sense approach to a problem that we have, and human trafficking is a real problem.

They're casting such a wide net over human trafficking that they're pulling in things that are voluntary, consensual decisions between two adults, which then takes away from the resources for combatting true human traffickers. We're also making it so voluntary sex workers can't cooperate with law enforcement. There's a lot of risk and so much danger in her position because it's not rooted in common sense or what we know to be true.

REASON: How about cash bail? There's been a nationwide push to eliminate cash bail and move to things like pre-trial risk assessments and other tools. What do you think of that?

JONES-WRIGHT: I've been a bail ambassador for the ACLU since before I ever declared my candidacy. Bail reform is something that is absolutely necessary and something I'm very passionate about. I have a lot of clients who are coerced into taking plea deals because they can't afford bail. Having that carrot of going home versus sitting in jail and waiting for your day, you're gonna wanna go home. I see where bail affects decisions and results in charges that otherwise may not have been successful at trial, because people will plea to them simply to go home. Poor people are being punished for being poor. We have to take the focus off of the ability to pay bail and put it where it should be, which is public safety. In our current cash bail system, if you're dangerous but have the money, you can go home. That doesn't keep communities safe.

REASON: Your opponent has also referred to you as an "anti-D.A. D.A. candidate." What sort of relationship do you think you'll have with line prosecutors and police officers while also holding them accountable?

JONES-WRIGHT: Her position is not rooted in fact at all, and she knows this. This is just fear-mongering. You can't be a successful public defender for 12 years and not work with the D.A.s, not have that relationship of respect. There's a lot of support in that office for me. I work with police officers every single day. I just came from chairing my gang documentation committee. I work with lieutenants and sergeants. She knows that's not true. She sits on the commission with me and she knows the work I've done. Her bringing in this language seeks to take away from a platform that's resonating with community members. People want a justice system that's one justice system. Not based on where you live, not based on your income level, not based on your race, not based on your gender. We don't have that in San Diego.

If the notion of ending the school-to-prison pipeline, testing every single rape kit, putting an end to this cash bail system that doesn't keep us safe is anti-DA, then I don't know what she is. The point is I'm pro-justice, pro-accountability. I'm anti-corruption. I want to bring true justice to San Diego, and that's just the end of it.

NEXT: Brickbat: Yo Momma

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  1. People who criticize George Soros are some of the most pathetic people on the internet. I mean, if you’ve got problems with some of his positions or his activities, I’m right there with you on that. The problem is that you can hardly criticize George Soros with intellectual honesty anymore without striving to separate yourself from the other nitwits, many of whom would bash the cure for cancer if George Soros invented it. The stupidest of the stupid are those call him a Nazi collaborator–there are few people in the world dumber than antisemites, but those who call Soros a Nazi collaborator really are doing their best to capture the crown.

    All that being said, did George Soros give Reason a big bag of money?

    ’cause that would explain a lot.

    1. Blowing off Soros collaboration with the Nazis is shortsided too. I agree with you that some people avoid intellectual discussions because of partisanship.

      Here’s an interview in which Soros justifies working with a Nazi collaborator who swore that Soros was his christian godson to save him, and says that if he didn’t help confiscate Jewish property someone else would do it.
      Steve Croft interview of Soros in 1998 on 60 mins

      The anti-Nazi groups still go after low ranking Nazis and collaborators who were just “taking orders” or “had to do it under threat of death”.

      If nobody collaborated with the Germans in WWII, then the Germans would have had to fill every position with Germans and that would have taken millions of men from the battle from or millions of women from the fields and homes.

      Germany would have literally lost the war quicker or would not have had the manpower to hold people in concentration camps and exterminate them.

      1. I’m already aware of the facts.

        Soros was a child at the time–and Jew. His father left him in the care of local official when the Nazis invaded Hungary. Soros survived the early part of the holocaust by hiding in plain sight and posing as that Hungarian official’s son. The Nazis ordered that official to send notices to all Jews in the city to come and report themselves to the Nazis. Soros was used by the official as an errand boy–just like he’d have used his son. Soros was told by the official to warn every Jew he delivered that notice to that if they reported to the Nazis for questioning, they’d be killed–and by all reports that’s exactly what he did. He wasn’t collaborating with the Nazis. If anything, he infiltrated them and ran interference against them. As I recall, he was 12 years old.

        For this, idiots call him a collaborator.

        When Soros’ father returned for him after getting the rest of the family out of Hungary, they spent the rest of the war hiding from the Nazis by living in barns and such. It was a nightmare.

        1. You can dismiss his action based on his age and I would counter that there were young non-Jewish young collaborators who did not get the pass he did.

          The Nazis already knew who all the Jews were and quickly rounded them up when they invaded in early 1944 during Operation Margarethe. By July 1944, more than 440,000 jews were sent to camps in 145 trains. The only remaining jews and undesirables were in Budapest ghettos.

          Soros also worked with Nazi collaborators to confiscate property.

          I call BS on Soros not being responsible for collaborating but was some mastermind infiltrating and interfering on Nazi affairs.The Germans were pros at rounding up people and shipping them off by 1944. The Nazis used trains for this purpose rather than shipping badly needed supplies to German troops at the front line.

          I would just rather people admit that Soros collaborated and survived and some may have been to harsh on others who collaborated just to survive.

      2. When the Soviet Union imploded, in Hungary as well, Soros devoted himself to funding any and all leftist causes in eastern Europe that he thought would serve as a bulwark against fascism and antisemitism–because of his awful experience there during the war. People who know this and somehow conclude that Soros collaborated with the Nazis are the stupidest people on the internet. Dumber than Birthers. Dumber than Truthers. Dumber than creationists. Dumber than Marxists. There is no one dumber.

        Anyone who can’t think of a better reason to oppose Soros’ ideas is someone with the brain power of a piss ant.

        Unfortunately, because such piss ants are so prolific on the internet, it’s become a necessity to identify yourself as not being one of them before you can even criticize Soros of his positions anymore. Suffice it to say, Soros funds left wing candidates because he opposes right wing extremism. He’s wrong on so many things. He goes too far. But he’s not a Nazi collaborator.


          1. What did Glenn Beck say?

        2. Didn’t you just say it was intellectual dishonesty to criticize Soros based on FEELZ and then that is what you are doing about those who want to discuss Soro’s past based on what he did during WWII and in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism?

          “There is no one dumber.”

          As a Nazi collaborator, Soros will forever have that stink about him.

          I actually don’t know much about his politics, I just know a lot about WWII history and when people try and ditch history for some other purpose, I call it as I see it.

          1. The idea that George Soros was a Nazi collaborator has no basis in reality. It is fundamentally stupid.

            It is not a feeling.

            I oppose George Soros.

            The people who go around accusing him of being a Nazi collaborator–and hence funding progressives in American and leftists all over the world–are stupid people who believe stupid ideas for stupid reasons.

            That is not my felling.

            That’s an honest assessment of the facts.

            Stupid people who go around accusing Soros of being a Nazi collaborator are making criticism of Soros look stupid. Please stop carrying water for Soros.

            Do you have any other reasons why you’re against Soros? Can you name them?

            Why not use them instead? Those reasons are probably not stupid.

            1. What do you call someone who is not a Nazi but helped the Nazis?

              It is stupid to think that just because Soros is Jewish he cannot be a collaborator. He was.

              There were French collaborators, Belgian collaborators, Russian collaborators, etc. in WWII. If they helped the Germans than they were German collaborators. That is what you call them.

              Some countries just shaved women’s heads for collaborating with the Germans. Some countries killed collaborators. Jewish groups went after collaborators.

              As I said, I don’t really know much about Soros politics, so I am not even talking about that part of his life. I am not letting you off the hook for trying to avoid calling him a collaborator.

              I would happy to discuss what to call Soro’s behavior helping the Nazis if we cannot call it collaboration. It is stupid to try and call what Soros did something different from the French who helped the Nazis.

    2. I get that people want to survive and are willing to ignore their principles. I personally would rather die that be a collaborator. I would also want everyone who collaborated to suffer wrath or none. Collaborating helps an enemy because they can use you to further their goals without having to remove soldiers from the war zone.

      Soros’ excuse for collaborating with Nazis to confiscate Jewish property is exactly what other low ranking “survivors” were saying too.

      The Jewish groups that Soros has funded went after those other people while Soros got a pass because he contributed money.

      To not call Soros a hypocrite among the other socialist things he is, is a bit of intellectual dishonesty too.

      1. Soros was not a collaborator.

        It simply isn’t true.

        1. Collaborators help the enemy to further their goals.

          He does not get a pass for being Jewish and helping the Nazis. Or everyone does.

          1. He did not help the enemy further their goals.

            He warned his Jewish neighbors not to obey the Nazis–when he was 12 years old.

            It simply did not happen.

            And anyone you trust who told you this story should not be trusted. People use this stupid story to try to make people oppose Soros’ ideas–because they think those people are too stupid to understand the real reasons why Soros’ ideas should be opposed.

            There isn’t any idea of Soros’ that should be supported or opposed because he did or didn’t collaborate with the Nazis.

            There isn’t anyone who should be trusted that would make such an outrageous argument based on lies.

            Real antisemites who didn’t make this argument originally have since jumped on it because it goes along with their sick conspiracy narrative about how the Jews financed the holocaust on purpose to try to create sympathy for themselves so they could get public support for the creation of Israel. These are incredibly evil and stupid people, and you should turn your back on anyone who advocates any part of that narrative because they’re wrong, evil, and stupid.

            Because we oppose Soros’ ideas does not mean that every bad thing we say about him is true. Saying bad things about Soros that aren’t true serves his agenda. Criticize his ideas instead. Stop carrying water for Soros by accusing him of things that are absolutely ridiculous.

            1. Ken, Soros admitted on that video to helping Nazis confiscate property. It is true according to him.

              He said that if he didn’t do someone else would. Soros said that.

              BTW: The Nazis didnt wait for boys to run to every Jewish family to report in 1944. Everyone in town knew the Nazis were there. The Nazis and their collaborators posted notices and anyone who did not show up at the train station was rounded up or shot on the spot. By 1944, there was no illusion that people ordered to the train station never came back.

              The Hungarians avoided handing Jews over to Germans for years. Once Germany invaded Hungary, the Nazis were already prepared to liquidate every last Jew and undesirable there. Out of 825,000 Jews in Hungary in 1941, less than 255k Jews survived the war. That was mainly because by 1945 Russians had overrun most German death camps in Poland.

              I see your going down the calling someone an anti-semite trail too when someone discusses this topic, so that is pretty disappointing but whatever floats your boat.

              Soros can be a Nazi collaborator and a socialist sympathizer that funds murderous socialist schemes, ya know.

              1. It’s really a shame to see you so far out there on this.

                Or maybe I should say “embarrassing”.

              2. It’s really a shame to see you so far out there on this.

                Or maybe I should say “embarrassing”.

              3. It’s really a shame to see you so far out there on this.

                Or maybe I should say “embarrassing”.

                1. I know. The truth hurts when you are so vested in Soros not being a Nazi collaborator.

                  I just gave you a complement the other day for your commenting thanI read. I guess that I should have read more of your stuff before complimenting you.

                  Sometime Jewish folks cannot stand to hate fellow Jewish folks for the betrayal they committed during WWII. Assuming Schultz is a Jewish family name.

  2. I would have asked how many horrible assistant public defenders she fired during her term as San Diego Public Defender.

    Assistant public defenders are often burdened with massive caseloads and almost zero budget to defend clients but some attorneys that work at public defender officers are what they call “dump trucks”.

  3. Running against her is Genevieve Jones-Wright, a public defender who proudly touts her outsider status and is backed by liberal funder George Soros.

    Reason enough to oppose her. Soros is as far from libertarian as humanly possible. If he supports her…she is not either.

    1. If he supports her…she is not either.

      I’ll still be voting for her. Because the other candidate is supported (as the article says, hand picked) by former DA Bonnie Dumanis, and the way that succession was handled, fuck both of them. This is not an aristocracy and you shouldn’t get to pick your successor. Dumanis was a cancer and all traces of her should be removed from local politics.

      I’ll take a soros-backed public defender over the hand picked successor to a power hungry Hilary-wanna-be any day.

      1. I’d not vote, personally.

  4. “SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – A newly-released poll shows key San Diego County races are undecided ahead of the June 5 primary election.

    Many of the 1,100 voters questioned in the scientific 10News/Union-Tribune poll showed no clear preference for non-partisan positions including District Attorney, Sheriff, and County Assessor.


    Summer Stephan, the interim San Diego County District Attorney, held 35 percent of the vote to Genevieve Jones-Wright’s 22 percent. Stephan led among Republicans, white voters, and those over 35 years old. Jones-Wright led among Democrats, and Latino and younger voters.”

    —-May 14, 2018…..-5-primary

    She’s already losing by 13 percentage points in a contest in which the 43% of undecided voters for a non-partisan office will almost certainly break for endorsements–particularly for whomever is endorsed by law enforcement unions and crime victim advocates.

    Is that what you mean by “hotly contested”?

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