May 18, 2018 Articles

Q&A with San Diego County District Attorney Candidate Geneviéve Jones-Wright

A discussion about her campaign, her vision for San Diego, and what needs to change in our society and profession.

By Hali M. Anderson

Geneviéve Jones-Wright is a 12-year deputy public defender and native San Diegan who is running for district attorney of San Diego County. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Media Communication from the University of San Francisco, a Juris Doctorate from Howard University School of Law, and a Master of Laws in Trial Advocacy from California Western School of Law. Beyond the courtroom, Jones-Wright serves on the City of San Diego’s Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention where she chairs the ad-hoc gang documentation committee. She is also a volunteer attorney for the California Innocence Project and is an appointed member of the State Bar of California's Council on Access and Fairness.

Additionally, Jones-Wright is an active member of the San Diego community at large. She currently serves on the board of directors for the David’s Harp Foundation, a local nonprofit that transforms the lives of “at-risk” and homeless youth through the power of music. She is a mock trial team coach and a member of the criminal justice program advisory board at Lincoln High School. In 2003, Geneviéve cofounded and served on the board of directors of ELITE (Educated Ladies Investing in Tomorrow’s Exemplars), a local program that prepared young girls for college.

Recently, Jones-Wright sat down with Hali M. Anderson, senior associate at Wilson Turner Kosmo, to discuss her campaign, her vision for San Diego, and to let us know what she likes to do in her down time.

When did you first decide to run for district attorney?
The day of the Women’s March (2017). I was part of San Diego Leadership Alliance (SDLA), which is a progressive leadership program, and that was the first day of class. We were all sharing our passions and everything I mentioned was centered around changing the criminal justice system. One of the questions we were asked was what a day in the life of our dream job would be like and it hit me. I decided to stop running from it. I went home and I consulted God, my husband, and my pastor. After that, I knew that this was what I was meant to do.

Can you tell me a little bit about your campaign team?
My campaign manager is a 22-year old female millennial. In fact, my entire team is millennials. I am a firm believer in assisting the next generation of leaders and creating a pipeline to leadership. Millennials and younger generations understand that not only is change possible, but it’s necessary. We need to re-shape our justice system and they get it. In addition to my campaign manager, my entire core team is made up of women. My campaign consultant, my event coordinator, my treasurer, and my community outreach director are all women. More importantly, they are women who stand with and for women. Women who are leaders and future elected officials themselves. I always want to “walk the walk and talk the talk” and that starts with my team.

What has been the most difficult part about campaigning?
Working full-time and campaigning at the same time. I can only campaign in my off-hours, and San Diego is a massive county. I need to make sure that every resident knows my name, my face, and my message. I’m also in the process of planning my wedding celebration! When my husband and I got married, we had a very small, intimate celebration, but now, we are having the big celebration. I am loving my life, but it is busy!

What is a day in your life of campaigning like?
For me, my week starts on Sunday. I have 6:00 a.m. Bible study with my best friends from college, then attend Sunday worship service. After service, I go and spend time with my 93-year-old great uncle. We play dominos and talk. Sometimes, I take him to get pedicures. From 6:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.—this is my “Do Not Interfere Time.” I then try to have Sunday dinner with my husband who just arrived home after a 2-year deployment in Okinawa.

You knew campaigning for the district attorney position as a public defender was going to be tough. Have you encountered any obstacles you did not expect?
Not really. I have expected the nonsense that unfortunately comes with politics. But, maybe not the extent of the nonsense. For example, before I was in the running to be district attorney, there was an incident where I was racially profiled. I was on my way home from a memorial service for my colleague and I was pulled over, handcuffed at gunpoint, and my car was searched with drug dogs—all because the police believed my license plates did not belong to my car. They did, of course. And it all could have been settled by retrieving my car registration from the glove compartment where I told them it was located. Mind you, the license plate was not reported stolen, nor was the make or model of my car. This should have been a routine traffic stop ("License, registration, and insurance, ma'am?" No guns. No dogs.) During my campaign, this incident has been brought up by my opposition as an example of why I am not fit to be district attorney. That’s right—me being racially profiled is being used against me. They have taken to Twitter, posting screenshots showing me being pulled over. The fact that people are using this dehumanizing and unjust experience to try to prove that I cannot be a district attorney is appalling. This incident makes me even more qualified, as I have a personal understanding of the failures and injustices of our justice system.

If/when you are elected district attorney, what are your primary objectives?
Reduce incarceration numbers in county jails and state prisons. We cannot incarcerate our way out of problems. In order to do that, I think we need to do the following:

  • Change the narrative that jails are mental health facilities and the answer to our homelessness crisis.
  • End the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • Focus on restorative practices and trauma-informed solutions in our justice system, our education system, our foster care system, and in our healthcare systems.

What do you mean when you say “restorative practices”? How does this fit into the criminal justice system?
With restorative practices, we change the question from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” We focus on understanding on how to fix the issue. The knee-jerk reaction is to say, “I don’t care why this offender did it, I want that person in jail." Incarceration does not work to fix problems and prevent them from happening again. Restorative practices focus on the reality that when a crime is committed, not only is the victim impacted, but also the offender and the community. Those three parties need to be involved in repairing the harm. The person harmed tells the offender how the harm has affected his/her life. The responsible party listens and communicates with the person harmed. The community shares the impact of the harm, and all involved share in the solution.

San Diego Unified declared itself a restorative school district and San Diego should be both a restorative city and county. But restorative practices in our justice system are nowhere near as expansive as they should be. Certain individuals and crimes are kept out of restorative justice programs, and this should not be the case. There is a time and space for restorative practices at all junctures of a case and for all types of crimes. It can be effective before sentencing or several years later, and perhaps it can be beneficial for an individual’s parole hearing. When it occurs, it is a transformative experience. Why restrict it to only certain crimes if we are really trying to fix problems?

What advice do you have for a young deputy district attorney?
One of the biggest things that differentiates me from my opponent is that I think that deputy district attorneys need to be trusted with the power of discretion a lot more. Obviously, deputy district attorneys have less experience than their supervisors, but they are the ones on the ground. They are the ones that know the cases best, have spoken with the witnesses and victims, and know firsthand how the evidence played out in court. They know what is different about each case. So, to the younger deputy district attorneys, I say: Keep pushing for justice. Make sure you are heard in your meetings with your superiors. And if a supervisor tells you do something you feel is at odds with the law or your ethical duty as a prosecutor, never compromise your oath or integrity. Justice is not about winning or losing—ever.

What are your hobbies?
Cooking. Whatever ingredients there are, I can make something! I don’t do recipes. I cook from the heart. And travel. I love traveling anywhere, but my true love is Mexico. I’ve been all over Mexico and visited all the beaches. I lived in Mexico City for a year. From Baja to Chiapas, I love everything about Mexico.

Any final words?
It’s time for a change. We need a change in leadership and a different mentality in the criminal justice system. And that is what I stand for: much-needed change.

 

Hali M. Anderson is with Wilson Turner Kosmo LLP in San Diego, California.


Copyright © 2018, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).

Hali M. Anderson – May 18, 2018