Hanford · Politics

Cozy relationships, sex harassment scandal prompt challenge to Kings Co. DA

While he squares off with California Attorney Rob Bonta, Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes is facing a different challenge at the ballot box this June.

He’ll also face the challenge without the support of Kings County Sheriff David Robinson.

Sarah Hacker, a former prosecutor and current litigator with the Hanford-based Dias Law Form, filed to run against Fagundes before the March filing deadline for the June 7 primary.

Hacker, 42, told the Hanford Sentinel her campaign was based on noticeable deficiencies in the Fagundes-run shop, from turnover in the office to a high-profile sexual harassment scandal that embroiled the two-term district attorney.

Fagundes was the subject of a complaint and suit by his top investigator, Robert Waggle, who alleged that Fagundes engaged in repeated sexual harassment and was concerned to raise issues over potential retaliation by Fagundes and his father, a Kings County Supervisor.

Fagundes has strenuously denied the allegations, pointing to limited text message evidence as off-color banter and crude behavior between two one-time friends.

Hacker, speaking to the paper, also said Fagundes’ prosecutorial style was subject to personal relationships, especially with the law firm representing him amid the sexual harassment scandal.

“The DA’s office is not a public defender’s office,” she said. “It is the only [county] office that prosecutes crime. And when only one public official determines which crimes are going to be prosecuted, the process needs to be fair.

“I think that currently the way crimes are prosecuted is based on their relationship to the district attorney,” Hacker continued. “If the DA has a relationship with the defendant, the DA will be lenient.”

In announcing her candidacy, Hacker noted that she picked up the backing of Robinson, the three-term Sheriff of Kings County.

“I am honored to endorse Sarah for Kings County District Attorney,” Robinson stated. “We worked side by side in the DA’s office before I was elected sheriff. She has the knowledge and experience to do an excellent job.”

Hacker spent nine years at the Kings County District Attorney’s office, from 2006 through 2015 – Fagundes’ first year in office.

“From what I’ve seen from the outside, a big problem with the DA’s office is there is an extreme amount of turnover, so deputy DAs don’t have an opportunity to build a relationship with local law enforcement,” she told the Hanford pub. “I would treat deputy DAs better so that they would want to stay.”

Les Hubbard is a contributing reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun.