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    In 2010, we declared District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis the most powerful politician in San Diego. And a couple years later, observers of the 2012 race for mayor – and Dumanis’ dismal showing in it – mocked us for the declaration.

    How powerful could she be if she couldn’t do better than fourth place in a four-way race?

    The news that Dumanis is stepping down this July from her perch as lead prosecutor for the county of San Diego is showing once more, though, how powerful she remains.

    Her influence is on full display as the pieces fall into place for her chosen successor to stroll into the DA’s office with the least amount of hassle with voters as possible.

    Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan is the only major candidate running for the job.

    Now, with Dumanis’ decision to step down, the county’s five supervisors will have to choose an interim replacement.


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    Stephan is set to get that appointment and thus run as an incumbent in the 2018 election.

    This is precisely the “smooth transition” Dumanis described to allies, as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune earlier this year.

    Technically, the county supervisors could appoint anyone. But political insiders believe entertaining the possibility they won’t choose Stephan is naïve.

    Regardless, county supervisors will accept applications for the temporary post all next month.

    “We don’t know what the Board of Supervisors’ plans are for filling the vacancy, so it would be premature to comment,” said Jason Roe, Stephan’s political consultant.

    Resigning early to give your preferred successor a leg up on an upcoming election is the same approach Dumanis’ good friend, the late Sheriff Bill Kolender, took. His chosen successor, Sheriff Bill Gore, remains sheriff today.

    If the Board of Supervisors appoints Stephan, it’s nearly certain she’d go on to win in 2018, said Tom Shepard, a longtime political consultant who has run Gore’s campaigns, as well as Bob Brewer’s challenge to Dumanis in 2014.

    “For these countywide positions, the power of incumbency – or even semi-incumbency – is a huge advantage,” he said. “It’s nearly impossible to raise enough money to run an aggressive campaign in a jurisdiction this large, so to put ‘district attorney’ under your name, even if it would say ‘appointed’ in parenthesis, is nearly insurmountable.”

    Shepherd said there’s nothing illegal about Dumanis stepping down early and tapping a preferred replacement, “but if you’re someone who thinks this has been an overly politicized office and thinks it’s time for fresh blood, this goes a long way toward making that change impossible.”

    Meanwhile, Dumanis is considering joining the same board in charge of tapping her successor. In her statement announcing her resignation Thursday, Dumanis said she was still mulling a run for the County Board of Supervisors.

    “To be clear, I have not decided if I will be a candidate or not. I believe my experience, and the critical role that the board plays in public safety and policy issues, would make me an effective member,” Dumanis said in the statement. “However, I do not want to create any conflict with, or distraction from the important work of the District Attorney’s Office. Therefore, I feel it’s appropriate for me to resign at this time as I explore my potential candidacy.”

    To make the web even more tangled, the local Democratic Party called on the Board of Supervisors to launch an investigation into Dumanis’ ties to an ongoing public corruption scandal.

    Shepard believes the DAs race isn’t quite over precisely because of that scandal, despite the overwhelming advantage Stephan would have running as a semi-incumbent.

    “The disadvantage of being the hand-picked successor is, you inherit the baggage the incumbent has,” he said. “She’s not in a position to criticize her boss. But unless there’s a groundswell of concern over those issues, it’s hard to see any other candidate having a chance.”

    If you need a refresher on what decisions the DA actually makes, check out this guide. In the meantime, here are a few things to know about Stephan, San Diego’s likely next district attorney.

    She already has a stable of support lined up.

    Stephan filed paperwork in January declaring her candidacy for DA in 2018. Since then she’s gotten a jaw-dropping list of endorsements not just from law enforcement unions that have worked with Dumanis for years but also prominent Democrats like U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas and Mara Elliott, the newly elected liberal city attorney for San Diego.

    Stephan has enlisted Roe, the architect of Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s victories. Her 2018 campaign paperwork lists April Boling, a Republican campaign veteran, as treasurer.

    She’s already been endorsed by Faulconer, Gore and several other local officials and law enforcement groups.

    She is a registered Republican.

    Remember, though, that the position of DA is technically considered nonpartisan.

    She was at the center of one of the most explosive, disastrous cases in recent San Diego history.

    The murder of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe in Escondido in 1998 is one of those cases that still fascinates true crime enthusiasts to this day. A big part of that is because of how the prosecution of the case, led in part by Stephan, played out.

    Stephan led the prosecution of Crowe’s teenage brother and two of his friends for the murder. She referred to the three defendants as “evil,” and the perpetrators of “cold-blooded murder,” according to the Union-Tribune. At one point, she speculated the murder had been part of a fantasy role-playing game the boys were taking part in, the Washington Post reported at the time.

    The case hinged on a confession wrung out of 14-year-old Michael Crowe after “two marathon interrogations” in which Escondido police detectives fed him details of the murder and lied about the evidence implicating his guilt.

    But before the case reached a jury, a discovery changed everything: Crowe’s blood had been found on the shirt of a transient who was in the area the night she was murdered, someone whom defense attorneys insisted all along had been the killer.

    Even in dismissing the case, Stephan’s team laid out its evidence against the teen boys and said they reserved the right to charge them again.

    The case was eventually turned over to the state attorney general.

    The transient, Richard Tuite, was convicted of the murder, but the conviction was eventually tossed out. On a retrial, he was acquitted and released in 2013.

    She is best known for her work on human trafficking.

    Stephan, as well as Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, has played an outsize role in making fighting human trafficking a priority for state and local officials.

    Stephan is chief deputy DA for the Sex Crimes and Human Trafficking Division, serves on a number of committees related to trafficking and has advocated for state legislation that addresses trafficking issues.

      This article relates to: Bonnie Dumanis, Must Reads, Politics

      13 comments
      mike johnson
      mike johnson subscriber

      Term limits for this office. There is term limits for San Diego City Attorney.

      Joan Lockwood
      Joan Lockwood

      I had a robbery whom the SDPD classified as a burglary (easy for them they weren't scared of my intruders nature at all since they rigged with my then Landlord to stael legal medical records- yes our police are not above such vignettes..when paid to do so)


      By the time I got to Ms Dumanis's office I was directed to then DA  Greenbergs office where none other than Detective Clark came out masquerading as a DA (he later conveniently became a DA) In placing the SDPD corruption complaint with the DA Greenberg;s office I recognized Det Clark ( a narcotics detective) from the Arevalos case..there were other dead giveaways he was not taking notes or filling out forms- as a complaint would be in writing!  A bad cop turning up again in the DA's office collecting intel not placing a complaint.


      I went back to the buzzer and buzzed again to get a current DA to come out and one did his name was Izquerdo something that was much like "left" in Spanish and at this time Det Clark stood between me and the DA and did not allow the DA to come out where the camera could record all of this


      Now if this is corruption what is?


      We are a nightmare of serving the rich while harassing a citizen stupid enough to think they have any rights in San Diego;s corrupt pay for play justice system 


      It doesn't exist  I have been harassed by Landlords who allow quasi legal or completely illegal entrances to my home or room where keys to storage units disappear, legal records disappear, even checkbooks disappear  Its a living nightmare to get competent legal help and my family has been called (by Landlords and told I am on drugs and they cannot get me out to sell the unit all 100% character defamation


      We need a complete investigation into Homeland Security (who just happens to be one of the largest contract awarders in the area, along with HHS, and a few other County funded contracts.  I would never have believed this possible if I had not experienced first hand!



      obboy13
      obboy13 subscriber

      Scott, et. al., I'm not really sure where you're going with this piece.  On one hand, as seems most likely, it could be your old animus for Bonnie Dumanis showing up again; and her announcement that she's leaving may represent your last chance to zing her for not treating VOSD as one of the major media outlets in town.  VOSD is generally, in my opinion a good source for in-depth journalism often not found in the UT, and rarely, if ever found in the electronic media.  That being  said, it's time to get over it and move on.  Bob Brewer and others all had their chances to unseat the DA who ran on her record.  In fact, if you count the times she ran for judge, she's 6-1 in San Diego elections.  You folks may not like her, but there's some strong evidence you're in the minority; and even you can't make a reasonable argument that she, or any other politician, isn't entitled to endorse a successor.


      Which leads one to consider what could be an alternative rationale for this article i.e. that somehow you believe the manner in which Ms. Stephan has emerged as the current favorite to succeed Bonnie somehow taints her qualifications. Is it somehow your opinion that Summer Stephan is wrong to have amassed a large bi-partisan group of supporters?  That sounds to me more like someone who is smart and knows how to prepare for things.  Would you have us believe that Bonnie Dumanis, the outgoing District Attorney simply called up folks from the opposite side of the aisle and told them what to do?  It wasn't that long ago that Ms. Dumanis, somewhat belatedly endorsed Mara Elliot's opponent for City Attorney.  Despite endorsing her opponent, who was and is a Deputy DA, do you seriously think she could influence Ms. Elliot?  Do you believe that Bonnie Dumanis holds serious sway over Congressman Vargas?  Sure, that must be why Juan ran for Congress, so he could do Bonnie Dumanis' bidding.   As for all that law enforcement union support, many of those are the same organizations that didn't support Dumanis in her last election.  Her influence is so strong she can get them to support her successor but couldn't get their endorsement for herself?  That's ludicrous on it's face.  What's your point with raising these theories?


      You also throw some shade Ms. Stephan's way by pointing out that she's a registered Republican running for a non-partisan office.  Setting aside the fact that it isn't illegal to maintain party registration, you must certainly be aware that each member of our non-partisan City Council has a party affiliation....again, what's your point.  By the way, aren't journalists supposed to be unbiased too?  Are any of you registered to vote, and if so with what party do you affiliate; and does that affiliation prevent or hinder you from fairly reporting on issues?  (In the spirit of transparency, I'm registered as a no party preference individual.)


      Then you cite the Stephanie Crowe case from 1998.  Was it a shining moment for local law enforcement?  Of course not?  Was Ms. Stephan, while fairly deemed to be in the center of the case, responsible for every single facet or screw-up?  The answer's the same...no.  What it leaves me wondering though, is why her involvement in a nearly 20 year old case merits  7 paragraphs, while her work over the intervening 19 years gets only two, one of which is quick to minimize Ms. Stephan's involvement in a major issue such as human trafficking?   To make a comparison judging Ms. Stephan on one case would be the same as judging VOSD on their declaration of Ms. Dumanis as "the most powerful politician in San Diego."  Do you feel people should have stopped supporting VOSD after such a clear demonstration of ineptitude?  Based on the emails I get for donations the answer appears to be no to that one also.


      How about sticking to the facts.  Ms. Stephan has generated a substantial amount of support from Democrats and Law Enforcement Unions, many of which didn't support Bonnie Dumanis in her most recent election.  That support may actually be because Summer Stephan, in her 20 plus years of representing the "people," has shown those endorsers she's the best qualified person for the job.  VOSD was wrong in 2010 to call Bonnie Dumanis the most powerful politician; and more importantly you're wrong now for insinuating, without facts, that she's somehow the only reason Summer Stephan is the odds on favorite to be the next DA.  Perhaps, if you're finally tired of simply advancing conspiracy theories, and  being dead wrong about San Diego politics, it might be time to engage in some actual journalism and find out more about Ms. Stephan, her career, and why so many in the system are endorsing her.  Heck you might even seek out some of the endorsers and ask them why they're supporting her.  Until the time you're actually prepared to do the legwork, leave the conspiracy theories to the President.  

      Don Wood
      Don Wood subscriber

      This article appears to be the reporters opinion masquerading as news. Dumanis has the right to retire whenever she wants. She has the right, if asked, to tell county supervisors who she believes they should appoint to fill her job. Stephan seems more than qualified for the job based on her previous work. So how does all this add up to bad politics, as the authors suggest?

      Bill Bradshaw
      Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

      I’ll admit it, I’m someone who “…thinks this has been an overly politicized office and it’s time for new blood”.  I also think Dumanis record as D A is rather spotty, sprinkled with tough cases she didn’t file and slam dunks she broke her arm patting herself on the back about.


      So, she should fit right in on the board of Supervisors.  Someone had better tell her they aren’t lifetime jobs any more, they have limited terms.


      I dunno anything about Summer Stephan, but hopefully someone will independently vet her, not just buy the expensive, extensive propaganda coming out of Dumanis’ office.  

      Joan Lockwood
      Joan Lockwood

      @Bill Bradshaw My story is this.


      I had a robbery whom the SDPD classified as a burglary (easy for them they weren't scared of my intruders nature at all since they rigged with my then Landlord to stael legal medical records- yes our police are not above such vignettes..when paid to do so)


      By the time I got to Ms Dumanis's office I was directed to then DA  Greenbergs office where none other than Detective Clark came out masquerading as a DA (he later conveniently became a DA) In placing the SDPD corruption complaint with the DA Greenberg;s office I recognized Det Clark ( a narcotics detective) from the Arevalos case..there were other dead giveaways he was not taking notes or filling out forms- as a complaint would be in writing!  A bad cop turning up again in the DA's office collecting intel not placing a complaint.


      I went back to the buzzer and buzzed again to get a current DA to come out and one did his name was Izquerdo something that was much like "left" in Spanish and at this time Det Clark stood between me and the DA and did not allow the DA to come out where the camera could record all of this


      Now if this is corruption what is?


      We are a nightmare of serving the rich while harassing a citizen stupid enough to think they have any rights in San Diego;s corrupt pay for play justice system 

      bgetzel
      bgetzel subscriber

      It would be nice to know Ms. Stephan's views on protecting people's privacy and other civil liberties, as well as on conducting unbiased investigations into the use of deadly force by the police. Bonnie Dumanis did not have a good record on those issues. 

      ZachW
      ZachW subscriber

      This is disgusting. There should be a law that if an official like this resigns there needs to be a special election within 6 months. Why should she get to be in office UNELECTED by the people for over a year? Pure filthy political garbage. I hope a pushback occurs to this political charlatinism and a viable competitor emerges to unseat this hack.

      Molly Cook
      Molly Cook

      No, this whole thing is wrong and stinks to high heaven.  As a relative newcomer to San Diego, I see way too much here that's like the East Coast crony politics that west coasters rail about.  A beautiful location is not an excuse for slapdash politics about anything, but they keep showing up from no-action deals about the homeless to wretched infrastructure problems and pothole hell to tricks like this one.  If Stephan is the most qualified, let her run for office and win on her merits, not sashay into it because she's the chosen successor by the person who will be off doing other things. 


      I don't know exactly why it's like this, but there's a lot of stuff happening in San Diego that smells a lot like raw sewage.   

      Bob Gardner
      Bob Gardner subscriber

      I have always felt that any politician should resign from their current position if they want to seek another office. Why should the public pay someone to do a job when they really are not doing it but are instead campaigning for another office? So I applaud Bonnie Dumanis for what she is doing whatever her ulterior motive. And it may just be that Summer Stephan is the most qualified person to take over the District Attorney position. She certainly has a ton of experience.



      David Crossley
      David Crossley subscriber

      Teflon Bonnie must have had assurances from the BoS that they would pick Stephan as the interim DA--knowing then she could step down and just about be assured that Stephan will win the election as she runs as the de-facto incumbent.