Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin topped appellate attorney Lara Gressley in his re-election bid, paving the way to a second term as the county’s top prosecutor.
“I am honored that the voters of Riverside County have chosen me once again to serve them as district attorney,” Hestrin told City News Service. “I will continue the important work of making Riverside County a safe place to live, work and raise our families.”
Election returns showed Hestrin capturing two-thirds of votes cast in Tuesday’s primary, negating the need for a November runoff.
Gressley did not immediately release a statement regarding the election results.
Hestrin has been the county’s top prosecutor since January 2015. The Temecula resident in 2014 ran on a plank of improving morale at the D.A.’s office, holding public officials accountable and achieving a higher conviction rate. In campaign literature, he said those objectives had been met.
“Under my leadership, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office has achieved a 94 percent felony conviction rate — the highest in the state,” Hestrin said. “Because of the great work of our Crime Prevention Unit, we have seen a 46 percent reduction in juvenile criminal filings. And we have aggressively prosecuted those who commit elder abuse, fraud and other crimes against our seniors.”
Hestrin successfully unseated longtime prosecutor and former Judge Paul Zellerbach in the previous D.A’s race, which became less an issues-oriented contest and more a test of character after the then-incumbent was caught taking down his challenger’s campaign signs while on the clock. Zellerbach later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in connection with the offense.
Gressley, a former deputy public defender, ran against Hestrin on a platform of ending the “toxic win-at-all-costs culture” that she contends is prevalent in the D.A.’s office.
“I will make sure that every case (brought) before the court should be prosecuted,” Gressley said in campaign materials. “That means taxpayer money will be spent where it matters most — keeping Riverside County families safe from crime.”
According to the challenger, drug- and alcohol-addicted offenders should not be incarcerated without treatment or rehabilitation because they will fall into a cycle of recidivism. However, the Superior Court currently designates courtrooms to handle offenders eligible for alternative sentencing because of their addiction problems, and the county is under a consent decree to ensure individuals with behavioral or mental health issues receive adequate care.
According to Gressley, the D.A.’s office should do more in “correcting wrongful convictions,” and under her watch, “prosecutors would be charged with uncovering the truth and preventing wrongful convictions.”
Hestrin boasted a record of fiscal responsibility, and despite agency gaps exceeding $10 million in every budget cycle since he was elected, the D.A. has managed to significantly reduce red ink over the course of each fiscal year.
His public integrity unit has been busy with multiple high-profile cases, including an alleged kickback scheme involving former Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, as well as a series of fraudulent acts in Beaumont that culminated in felony and misdemeanor guilty pleas from six former municipal officials.
The incumbent said he will continue efforts to expand programs that help at-risk youth, modernize the technology that prosecutors and D.A.’s office investigators utilize to improve efficiency and ferret out and prosecute acts of public corruption.