Judicial candidate questions:
Name and dept.My name is Dana Pfeil and I am running for Superior Court Judge Department One.
Why are you running for Superior Court Judge?
In December of 2014, Judge John Martin will retire from Department One. This will leave a void of criminal law experience on the bench in Calaveras County. My opponent does not have the experience in criminal law that is necessary to operate a courtroom that deals with the majority of crimes committed in Calaveras County. I do have the proper and necessary experience to handle any criminal law matter that may arise. As a trial attorney, I am an expert in criminal law, the rules of evidence, courtroom procedure, and the complex rules of sentencing. This knowledge cannot be gained from “on the job” training that my opponent will need. It requires multiple years of working with criminal law every day. I have the necessary expertise and wish to put that expertise to good use as a superior court judge.
What qualifies you for the position you seek?
I have been an attorney for fifteen years. Initially I practiced civil law primarily dealing with family, real estate and personal injury cases. I became interested in criminal law after handling a few cases and transitioned to the Public Defender’s Office. While there, I handled all misdemeanors from arraignment through sentencing. I also handled all aspects of child dependency cases.
In 2001, I was invited to join the District Attorney’s Office. I have prosecuted crimes in Calaveras County for thirteen years now. I have had many overlapping assignments. For all of these assignments I was a vertical prosecutor which means I handled the case from initial charging through sentencing. For over seven years I made all the charging decisions for domestic violence cases and vertically prosecuted all felony domestic violence cases.
For four years I was the assigned prosecutor to the Calaveras Narcotics Enforcement Unit of the Sheriff’s Department. I was in charge of reviewing all drug reports generated by this agency for charging decisions, search warrant review, and prosecution of cases from arraignment to sentencing. During this period of time I learned the unique aspects of search and seizure law and the importance of protecting citizens Constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment is the Constitutional right that allows each person to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The rules that apply to this very broad right are decided on a case by case basis which means search and seizure laws have developed over a significant period of time and are based on thousands and thousands of cases. An understanding of these rules is critical to making proper judicial decisions as it relates to detentions, searches, warrants and the admissibility of evidence.
For two and half years I also vertically prosecuted all sexual assault and child abuse crimes. I have prosecuted rapists, child molesters, sex offenders who fail to register, child abusers, and persons who put children at risk to be injured or worse.
While handling these various assignments I also prosecuted various felonies including homicide, robbery, first degree burglary, arson, embezzlement, and violent crimes against law enforcement to name a few.
I have made charging decisions in thousands of cases. I have successfully conducted dozens of jury trials. I have handled hundreds of contested evidentiary hearings. I have handled misdemeanor appeals to the Superior Court. As a senior deputy I have experienced virtually every aspect of criminal law and procedure. It is my firm belief that one cannot and should not sit in judgment of a criminal case unless and until they have mastered criminal law and procedure.
Finally, I was evaluated by the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE) in April of 2013. This arm of the California State Bar assists the governor in the judicial selection process and thereby promotes a California judiciary of quality and integrity by providing independent, comprehensive, accurate and fair evaluations of candidates for judicial appointment and nomination. The JNE Commission found me qualified to be a Superior Court Judge.
What is your current occupation and the duties of that position?
I am a Deputy District Attorney II with the Calaveras County District Attorney’s Office. I have been so employed for thirteen years. As a senior prosecutor my duties are diverse. I review reports and make charging decisions for both adult and juvenile crime. I appear on all aspects of a case from arraignment to pre-trials, trial confirmation conferences, trials by judge or jury, sentencing and misdemeanor appeals. I perform preliminary hearings and 1538.5 motions for individuals trying to suppress evidence. I present cases to the grand jury. I also appear on many other various motions that can be filed in a criminal case far too numerous to name here.
I also am responsible for the civil asset forfeiture of drug dealer monies. I am a part of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) to help provide victims of sexual assault with better services and response time in Calaveras County. I am on the Prevent Child Abuse Council to help educate the public about the signs and prevention of child abuse. I am on the Drug Court Team which provides intensive out-patient treatment to individuals with severe drug and alcohol abuse issues. I am also on the team that is currently trying to establish a Veterans Court in Calaveras County and am responsible for writing the Treatment Team and Court guidelines for that program.
I also provide a supervisory role to other attorneys in my office. I routinely review search warrants for law enforcement for legal sufficiency. I answer questions for law enforcement personnel on any legal topic related to the performance of their duties. I educate law enforcement personnel on changes in the law as it relates to their duties. I research legal issues and provide opinions about such research.
How would you define the caseload make-up (civil, family, etc) of your desired department? And what expertise do you currently have to handle those types of cases?
I am running for Superior Court Judge in Department One. Department One handles all criminal cases for adults and juveniles and dependency cases, where children are removed from their parents.
My expertise for this particular courtroom and its caseload make-up are described in the answers to the previous two questions. In addition, I have appeared on hundreds of dependency cases as both a public defender and as a prosecutor.
My criminal law expertise is particularly suited to this Department. In Calaveras County, 60 to 65% of all cases heard in the two courtrooms on a daily and weekly basis are criminal cases. Calaveras County has so much crime that one department on its own cannot handle all of the criminal caseload. Calaveras County needs and should want their next Superior Court Judge for Department One to have the extent of criminal law knowledge, experience and skill set that I currently have.
If you could list one thing in life you are proud you accomplished with regards to your career, what would that be? And why?
I have had many proud accomplishments over the course of my career and to pick one is somewhat difficult. The individual cases I work on are all equally important to me and typically involve very violent crimes that leave victims physically and emotionally wounded. When I look at my body of work as a whole, my proudest accomplishment is the reputation I have developed as a prosecutor, legal professional, colleague and friend. Over the course of my career, I have established professional relationships with law enforcement personnel, legal professionals, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike, probations officers, mental health professionals, substance abuse professionals, judges and court staff, to name but a few. I cherish my reputation among these individuals as being a person of my word. I have always believed your word and conduct speak volumes about an individual’s character. I am trustworthy and honest. I have never misrepresented facts and take into account both sides of an argument before coming to a decision. My reputation for being fair, objective and open-minded says a lot about my character as well. I am proud of the fact that I am endorsed by law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, and mental health and substance abuse professionals. These individuals, who routinely appear on opposite sides of an issue in court, think I would be the best choice for superior court judge in department one. I am also particularly proud that Judge Doug Mewhinney also thinks I am excellent prosecutor and would make a good judge.
What have you done in the past year, 2014, to further your education?
I constantly educate myself on legal issues. I have an ethical duty to stay abreast of changes in the law. There are various legal periodicals I read regularly. I also receive emails alerts on a regular basis containing newly decided cases by appellate courts. I belong to various list serves that discuss unusual and novel issues in the law as they arise and ways to handle those issues. Typically I attend two to three legal education seminars each year. However, in 2014 I was unable to attend any seminars as I was involved with several high profile cases that required my attention. I successfully prosecuted the rape of a six year old child to a jury that found the defendant guilty. That individual received a sentence of 27 years to life for his crime. I also successfully prosecuted a three strikes case involving domestic violence and stalking to a jury that the found the defendant guilty. That individual received a sentence of 44 years and 8 months to life for his crimes.
What is your greatest strength?
My greatest strengths as they relate to my profession are what have made me a successful prosecutor and attorney. I am knowledgeable in the law and courtroom procedure, keeping up to date on new case law. I am an accurate and fast researcher. I have good analytical skills. I write legalese well and I am persuasive. I know how to judge the credibility of others and the facts of a case. I’m decisive and I take into consideration all sides of an issue before making a determination. I know how to say no and stick to it. I am passionate about the law and my ability to help others. I am compassionate when appropriate and stern when necessary. I have a commanding presence in court. I am fair and always try to do the right thing.
My greatest strengths as a person are my honesty and sincerity. I do not lie and I do not like being lied to. Anyone who knows me knows I am candid and forthright. I have a fun personality and consider myself a good friend. I cherish my husband and children and hope I have been a good example for them.
What is your greatest weakness?
I do not like to delegate. I have the frame of mind that if I want something done in a particular way then I should do it myself. Some may not see that as a weakness but it can make life overwhelming at times.
At this point you may submit a 300 word or less statement covering topics not covered in the before mentioned questions.
On November 4th, 2014, the voters of Calaveras County will select both Superior Court Judges. This is an historic election that has not happened in over eighteen years. Voters need to be informed about their candidates’ background and experience. To help voters with that task, I have challenged my opponent to a debate; a debate that would allow the candidates to ask questions of each other. My opponent has refused this challenge. So, as a voter, you are left to doing your own investigation as to who the proper individuals will be to fill these very important roles. I urge you to scrutinize the experience of myself and my opponent with a fine tooth comb. I am proud of my criminal law experience and will answer any questions put to me about it. My opponent is silent on his criminal law experience other than to say he has researched it. Department One is where criminal jury trials occur. It is where the most violent crimes in our society are decided. That very important role needs to be filled by an individual who has the experience and knowledge to decide such significant cases. I am that individual. My entire career has been in the courtroom. I would be honored to be elected the first female judge in the history of Calaveras County. For more information please visit my website at www.danapfeil4judge.com. On November 4th I urge you to vote for Dana Pfeil as Superior Court Judge in Department One.