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Thursday, May 27, 2010

New Chris Kelly Ad Attacks Kamala Harris' Conviction Rates, Crime-Lab Blunders

Posted By and on Thu, May 27, 2010 at 12:59 PM

D.A. Kamala Harris is pushing back hard against a new television ad from Chris Kelly -- one of her opponents in the upcoming Democratic primary for state attorney general -- that capitalizes on a blitz of negative coverage Harris has received in the local media this month.

The ad, titled "Kamala Harris: Hapless," cites reports in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and SF Weekly detailing Harris' mishandling of a scandal at the San Francisco Police Department crime lab and low felony trial conviction rates. Harris' campaign immediately pushed back against the new TV spot, calling it a "negative, desperate attack ad" -- and, less plausibly, "false." Harris' response offers a number of new facts that put the damaging press reports in context. But it fails to convincingly dispute the stories themselves.

Both the Chron and the Examiner have covered the uproar over Harris' office hiding problems at the crime lab from defense attorneys in what a judge recently ruled was a violation of defendants' constitutional rights. Earlier this month, SF Weekly reported in a cover story that Harris' at-trial felony conviction rates had fallen below those of any big-city D.A. in California, and that accused felons -- including murderers -- who take their cases to trial now have a one-in-two chance of beating the rap.

The Harris campaign's handling of these revelations, which are cited in the Kelly ad, is a study in redirection.

The crime-lab accusations imply "that Kamala Harris runs the crime lab" instead of the police department, the campaign argues. (In fact, Harris has come under fire for being aware of the brewing scandal at the crime lab but keeping it under wraps.) When it comes to the SF Weekly story, the statement notes that San Francisco's overall felony conviction rate -- including plea bargains -- is at an 18-year-high. We've never disputed that fact, but reported that Harris has an exceptionally low rate of trial convictions.

What can you say? Campaigning in many big elections turns ugly, but the maneuvers in this one seem especially so. Both Harris and Kelly have given each other plenty of grist for the mill.

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Peter Jamison


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