Tom Hardy was appointed unanimously by the Inyo County Board of Supervisors on September 3, to fill the position for the unexpired term of retired DA Art Maillet, which ends January 2015.
Previously, Hardy was a well-known and respected defense attorney in Inyo County. Recently he agreed to answer questions on how the District Attorney’s Office is now operating, the challenges being faced, his relationship with local law enforcement officials, and his plans to address public concerns for greater transparency, and the need for improved cooperation with the local press.
Sheet: How are things going so far now that you have been “on the job” for a little over a month?
Hardy: The transition has been very positive. The team in the DA’s office has been very welcoming, and I have been meeting and talking with many other members of the law enforcement community. I’m very excited and optimistic about the future and about serving the public in Inyo County.
Sheet: What are the priorities that you see as District Attorney for the people of Inyo County?
Hardy: First and foremost, the District Attorney’s job as chief law enforcement officer in Inyo County is to protect our citizens and visitors from crime — and that is my top priority. Closely related to that, though, is that I believe that the District Attorney needs to be integrally involved in working with everyone in the criminal justice system to keep crime from happening in the first place.
Having worked as both a prosecutor and defense attorney, I know that there is never a good solution after a crime has been committed. Persons guilty of crime need to be punished, of course, but our society is much better off if we can keep offenses from happening in the first place.
Also related, it is clear that we are in an era when government resources are limited — that is a simple and understandable fact of life. The District Attorney’s office has to use our resources as efficiently as possible to protect the citizens and visitors to Inyo County.
Sheet: Your predecessor Art Maillet did not seem to have a very high opinion of your appointment as his replacement and unabashedly questioned your qualifications, even to the extent of questioning your integrity. How did you feel about that? How do you personally account for the animus? Did it stem from the fact that you are a prominent county defense attorney who was often on the “other side” of the table? Or is it just simple dislike?
Hardy: I am not going to speculate regarding Mr. Maillet’s motivations. In seeking appointment to this office, I was critical of some aspects of how the office was being run. I stand by those criticisms, and am working to correct them. But, that being said, I have a high regard for Art Maillet as an attorney and as a person. I have been on both sides of the table from him in court (and the same side on several occasions). I know that he was a passionate defense attorney, and he was just as passionate about being District Attorney and serving the citizens of Inyo County.
My qualifications and integrity have to speak for themselves — I’ve lived in Bishop and Inyo County too long to fool anyone around here. I was honored to be supported in the appointment process by many local attorneys, law enforcement professionals, and private citizens, and I am working hard to make sure that their confidence in me was well-placed.
Sheet: How has the staff and attorneys in the District Attorney’s Office responded to you and how is your relationship with Assistant D.A. Joel Samuels, who was Maillet’s choice as his replacement? How would you characterize your working relationship with Samuels? (Handling of Rossy’s case, etc.)
Hardy: The staff and attorneys have been incredibly welcoming.
Mr. Samuels is a dedicated prosecutor who has been, since I have been sworn in, working very diligently on several important, complicated cases — including the Dawndee and Kenneth Rossy case. Mr. Samuels did an excellent job on the preliminary hearing in that case, having them held to answer on approximately 60 felony counts. Mr. Samuels is a professional, and I am confident that we will enjoy a professional relationship.
Sheet: How would you describe your relationship with the Sheriff and Probation Departments?
Hardy: I have been honored to know Sheriff Lutze and many members of the senior leadership in the Sheriff’s Department for many years (from both sides of the courtroom). I think our relationship is very good, and I am looking forward to working with the Department. The Sheriff knows that I am always available to him, and he has been very generous with his time in getting me up to speed with several issues.
Likewise, I have known and worked with most of the current staff at the Probation Department for quite a while. I am impressed with the dedication and work product of Probation, from Chief Probation Officer Thomson to the Deputy Probation Officers and the great support staff. This is not to say that I won’t have professional disagreements with them from time to time on individual cases, but I am confident that the working relationship is solid.
Sheet: Illegal drug use is a well-known problem and concern for many in the county, destroying both lives and families. Do you have, or have you heard of, any new ideas on how to more effectively deal with this ongoing issue?
As a former defense attorney who often represented these types of offenders, are there any promising programs that you feel the D.A.’s office can support or implement which you feel would improve how these types of cases are handled?
Hardy: Unfortunately, I am not aware of anything “new” on this front. Several years ago Judge Stout introduced a successful Drug Court program, and I intend to work with the Court, Probation, and service providers to maintain that program. There are also other important treatment options available for less serious offenders, including diversion and probation programs.
Philosophically, I can say that I do not believe that we can succeed in our efforts against drug abuse without thinking hard about how to disrupt the “demand” side of the equation — that is, why people use in the first place. Unfortunately, we will always have people trying to sell drugs as long as we have people wanting to buy them.
Overall, we need a two-pronged approach that reduces demand and aggressively punishes those who sell. While a DA’s job is primarily to punish the sellers, we need make sure that “users” are being directed to the treatment options that are available, so that we can move towards really ending this problem.
Sheet: According to the website www.courts.ca.gov, “California’s Judicial Branch is the largest in the world, serves 38 million people and is struggling to do so in a manner that is fair and just.” Noting that “over the last five years the California judicial branch has been cut $1 billion and over that same period, General Fund support of the court system has been reduced by nearly 65 percent.”
When added to the already limited financial resources of Inyo County, how does this current financial challenge affect the D.A.’s ability to prosecute cases in a timely, fair and just manner?
Hardy: This is another hard question. The courts are now (and have been for several years) a state program, whose funding decisions are made in Sacramento. The District Attorney is a County officer who looks to the Board of Supervisors and the County budget. Our current Board is very sensitive to the needs of law enforcement and they are doing their best to provide adequate levels of funding for our current operations. While there is always a desire to have more and do more, I think that right now the DA’s funding is sufficient to carry out the work we have to do.
The very critical issue posed by the question, though, is the potential impact of fewer court services — we obviously can’t prosecute cases if the court is closed or if the court doesn’t have time to deal with the cases that we file. Right now, I do not have answers to those questions, but I am committed to working with our local Judges and court staff to ensure that we are keeping the public safe. I will work as efficiently as I can with the resources that the citizens of the County and State give me to do what the citizens want me doing.
Sheet: A major criticism of the former D.A. was that his office was hostile and uncooperative with local news media. What measures are you taking to keep the public informed while still maintaining the confidentiality necessary to guarantee fairness and justice for anyone charged with a crime or being investigated for a crime in Inyo County?
Hardy: I have informed all of the local media that my door is open and I am happy to talk with them about issues pending in my office. In return, I ask that they (and the citizens who get information from them) be a little patient in understanding that we cannot talk about everything in a case.
We do the public’s business, and I want the public to be informed about all of the things we can talk about — where a case is in the system, what charges are being filed in a particular case, the results of trials and settlement conferences, etc. But we deal with a lot of sensitive information. We will not try cases “in the media” — we will try them in court according to the law. We will protect the privacy of people who are victims of crimes, and also people who may be subject to an investigation but who may or may not be charged. A big reason for much of our confidentiality is to protect the innocent, and I take that very seriously.
Sheet: Is there anything you would like to add?
Hardy: Only to thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions, and to say that I am very anxious to do the best job that I can for the citizens of Inyo County.