The two candidates for District Attorney, incumbent interim DA Summer Stephan and challenger Genevieve Jones-Wright, went toe to toe Thursday in their final debate before Tuesday’s election.
NBC 7’s Catherine Garcia moderated the debate hosted by the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association.
The race has pit Stephan, the interim DA hand-picked by her predecessor, Bonnie Dumanis, against Jones-Wright, a self-described virtual no-name up-start with a reform agenda.
In her opening statement, Jones-Wright said she believes the people should be able to select their District Attorney and not have one selected for them, as was the case with Stephan’s appointment.
Stephan was unanimously appointed interim DA in July of 2017 by the County Board of Supervisors and finished off the remaining 18 months of Bonnie Dumanis’ term after she stepped down that same month.
In Stephan’s opening statement, she talked about the unique 28-year path she took to her current post, starting at an entry-level position within the office and rising to Chief Deputy District Attorney before the appointment.
Jones-Wright and Stephan are both accomplished lawyers competing for the same job, but that is where the similarities end.
NBC 7 spoke one-on-one with both candidates in the week before the election and heard their thoughts on several hot-button issues, like campaign finger pointing, officer-involved shootings, and rape kit controversy.
Though both campaigns use outside spending, the finger-pointing began after Jones-Wright's commercials hit the air. They were funded by out-of-state billionaire George Soros, who Jones-Wright admitted she’s never met, and the California Justice and Public Safety Political Action Committee.
"Why is an out-of-state billionaire so interested in a San Diego local election that is supposed to be by the people for the people?” Stephan asked.
Ads for Jones-Wright suggested the DA's office did not care about untested rape kits piling up in the crime lab, which Stephan took offense to.
“The evidence is absolutely clear that we not only prioritized it, we also spent $1 million of our own budget to test the rape kits,” Stephan said.
Jones-Wright said the ads, which have since been pulled, “Actually gave my opponent a pass. She's responsible for even more untested rape kits in the county."
Another topic was the release of body-worn camera video in officer-involved shootings at the DA's discretion, a practice Stephan wants to continue.
Jones-Wright wants to make the releases mandatory except in cases where it might jeopardize due process, and says the public should be able to “know that within a certain time frame, body worn camera footage would be released.”
Jones-Wright said she is also for prosecution and reform of the Community Review Board that examines officer-involved shootings and other incidents.
“The Community Review Board needs more teeth,” she said. “They don't have subpoena power. Their investigation is largely connected with law enforcement's own investigation of itself."
San Diegans will vote for their next District Attorney on Tuesday, June 5.