For the People? Who’s Your District Attorney & Are They Down with Criminal Justice Reform?
Over the next few weeks, we’ll share our insights, observations and learnings in a multi-part blog series on the importance of the role of DA.
By Jade-Olivia Patton   |   July 19, 2019

Photo Credit: Brett Sayles
[The District Attorney is] "supposed to make sure the guilty don’t go free and the innocent don’t suffer.” - Interim San Francisco District Attorney, Suzy Loftus

If you’re anything like me, you were completely devastated when the CBS hit series ‘The Good Wife' ended. The show not only consumed my Sunday nights but it also seemed to be one of the few shows that shed some light on the ambiguous role of “district attorney” – a role that seems to shape so much of how justice goes down in our own backyards.  I’m lightweight ashamed to admit that until watching this show, I was unaware that district attorneys are voted for, not appointed. However because of the show, I was able to witness a perspective of the district attorney and learn a bit more about why the role of DA is so important.

A couple weeks ago I tuned into Ava Duvernay’s Netflix show, ‘When They See Us’, the 4-part series that has been the most watched series in the US since it’s premier on May 31. The series details the behind the scenes story of the famed Central Park 5 and features victims, perpetrators,  prosecutors and jurors who were involved in their conviction and exoneration. The series demonstrates the level of influence a district attorney can hold and between that and the Good Wife, I was inspired to want to know more.

So we called on Ambassadors Hillary Blout, Jill Habig and Suzy Loftus to help us enlighten the circle on the role of the modern prosecutor, a term growing in use to describe a prosecutor that takes into consideration the intersectionality of the role as it relates to mass incarceration and the ripple effects on communities. As part of our homework we reviewed several articles (see list below) and the 21 Principles for the 21st Century Prosecutor, published by the Brennan Center for Justice  - a guide to help prosecutors “transform their offices and their profession.”

Over the next few weeks, we’ll share our insights, observations and learnings in a multi-part blog series on the importance of the role of DA.  We’ll take you behind the scenes (IRL) to share some inspiration and learn more about this elected position. Today we start with Suzy Loftus, who’s running for San Francisco District Attorney. As a first-time candidate, Suzy is motivated by “the responsibility to create safety in a way that is different and maybe hasn’t been done before.”

So, what does a district attorney actually do? Let’s talk about it. According to Suzy, [the District Attorney is] “supposed to make sure the guilty don’t go free and the innocent don’t suffer.” She emphasizes, “You don't get to choose a side when you're the prosecutor. You represent the people. And the people are the defendant. The defendant is one of the people too. The survivor is one of the people. And the witnesses are one of the people.” 

Now as we know, this doesn’t always ring true for all people, particularly low-income people of color. The relationship between the District Attorney and many communities of color can be characterized as strained at best. However, District Attorneys play an important role in some of the most important topics that impact us all no matter where you live, work and play. Here in my hometown of San Francisco, the issue of this city’s handling of assault cases and how to help sexual assault survivors, the closing of juvenile hall (by 2021), and the issue of cash bail (on the California 2020 ballot) are all relevant topics that the district attorney must address. So it’s #TimeforAction, Circle:

#TimeforAction -  search for the name of the District Attorney in your ‘hood and  setup a google alert so you can have news headlines sent to your inbox. There just might be a district attorney election coming up in your community!

Our goal with this conversation is to INSPIRE you to pay attention, CONNECT you with others around the Circle who care deeply about this topic and EQUIP you with simple steps you can take to increase your advocacy wherever you live.   In the next part of our series, we’ll dive deeper with Ambassador Jill Habig into the little known scope of authority District Attorney offices hold. For example, did you know District Attorneys can also proactively help protect residents from corporate abuse and environmental pollution?  Yea. Us either. 

Stay tuned with this ongoing series and be sure to stay/get connected with us on social as we share more about what we learn over the months ahead!


Ambassador Jade-Olivia is a native Detroiter and storyteller who lives for chai tea lattes and tear-inducing laughter. She spends most of her time doing improv, being an IG comedian, and in search of the next best breakfast burrito.