District Attorney Lisa Green will not run for re-election in 2018, she said Monday, setting up what could be a very competitive race to be Kern County's top prosecutor.
There already are three potential candidates to succeed Green, who told her staff Thursday she will not be seeking a third four-year term.
The first is Assistant District Attorney Scott Spielman, Green’s right-hand man. That’s whom she will support.
The other two are Deputy District Attorney Chad Louie and Supervising Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer.
Green's early support for Spielman, she said, is based on his broad range of skills.
He is “a good, solid prosecutor,” Green said. But there is a critical need for the next district attorney to also be skilled at handling the office budget and other administrative tasks, she said.
“I think it’s really important for that person to have a strong management background,” Green said. “Neither (former D.A.) Ed Jagels or myself had that. I’m a quick learner but it did take time to get up to speed.”
Spielman has spent the last six years building the skills she thinks he will need.
“That’s where I see him having the advantage over the other two,” Green said.
Spielman confirmed he plans to run, motivated by the challenges that face the office and county as a whole.
Some people might look at the way things are in society now — with the release of prisoners under new state laws and changes to prosecution and public safety — and ask why anyone would get involved in public office, he said.
“This is something I thought long and hard about,” Spielman said. “Somebody has to do it and you have to have somebody good in there.”
He said Green has been generous in including him in the day-to-day workings of the office — from personnel to budget matters — and it's given him a chance to build up those skills.
“Just because you’re a good prosecutor doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good district attorney, a good leader,” Spielman said. “I’m the right person for the job.”
Louie said he’s exploring a run.
“I’m having a lot of my colleagues and my family asking me to run,” he said.
Louie said he is a fourth-generation Kern County native who has experience in private practice and as a mechanical engineer prior to joining the D.A.'s office.
He also serves on the Kern County Planning Commission and is active in local and statewide Republican politics.
He was recently elected vice chair of the Kern County Republican Central Committee.
It is that breadth of experience, he said, that make him uniquely qualified to sit in the D.A.’s seat.
“Many people in my office and law enforcement have encouraged me to run and I am considering it,” he said.
Louie handled the case of former correctional officer Christopher Cruse, who resigned in disgrace from Kern Valley State Prison after reports surfaced in 2012 that he filed a false report after fighting with an inmate to settle a dispute. Cruse pleaded no contest to three misdemeanors.
In 2010, Louie handled the first trial of four Los Angeles-based gang members charged with robbing Golden West Casino. After 17 days of trial, a mistrial was declared after a prosecution witness provided prejudicial information that was ordered prohibited in a pretrial motion.
Louie admitted he had not warned the witness of the pretrial motion beforehand.
The gang members were convicted at a retrial in which Deputy District Attorney Jim Simson took over the case from Louie.
Zimmer said she is praying about the decision and expects to announce her conclusion soon.
She said she has a wide range of experience in her 32 years in the office and has spent 19 years in management.
“I have done a lot of serious cases that have touched a lot of very vulnerable victims in the very vulnerable area of east Bakersfield, which has been impacted so badly by gang violence,” Zimmer said.
Through that work, she said, she has developed strong connections with the community that will be important for a district attorney to have.
“If I choose to do it I will be the best person for the job,” she said.
Among the notable cases prosecuted by Zimmer is the trial of Billy Ray Johnson, the so-called “Eastside Rapist” who terrorized the east Bakersfield community the summer of 2013.
Johnson was convicted of 24 crimes, including multiple counts of rape, and sentenced in May 2015 to life in prison without parole and 300 years to life, plus 123 years.
In 2011, she prosecuted Kerry Dana Hastings, a member of the East Side Crips who shot and killed three men in separate gang-related shootings. Zimmer noted at Hastings’ sentence that his one regret was that in one of the shootings he hadn’t managed to kill a higher-level gang member.
He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Staff writer Jason Kotowski contributed to this report.