With election season heating up, Kings County residents had an opportunity this week to hear directly from the candidates vying for District Attorney in a surprising and hotly-contested race.
Current District Attorney Keith Fagundes and challenger Sarah Hacker, a lawyer in Kings County and former prosecutor with the district attorney’s office, faced off in a debate hosted by the 1776 Sons of Liberty in Hanford.
Near the start of the debate, Hacker quickly went after Fagundes, claiming that he is part of a political clique.
“A DA must be objective. There can be no bias or favor to one group or person. As your district attorney, I will not work for the good ol’ boys club. I don’t care if somebody has a father who has a lot of money. I don’t care if somebody’s lived in the county for a long time. Those things do not matter to me,” Hacker said.
“I promise you that I will prosecute cases based on the merits of the case, not by any political favor. If the district attorney’s office fails in this mission, then our criminal justice system fails. Sheriff [David] Robinson lost confidence in the current DA, and he has endorsed me because he knows that he can work with me to ensure fair prosecutions in Kings County.”
Fagundes took issue with Hacker’s claim, responding that he is “anything but the good ol’ boy.”
“Being part of a crew that will stand up to the good ol’ boys is what I’m all about,” Fagundes said. “It is probably why you hear so much negative controversy these days, because I don’t go with the good ol’ boys. I’m not your typical politician because I show up to work every day.”
Fagundes also took a shot at Robinson for endorsing Hacker and spoke to the number of endorsements he has received from those in law enforcement.
“All the endorsements from all the boots on the ground police officers speaks volumes – a lot more than one person who doesn’t get his political way with me,” Fagundes said.
While Fagundes has served as the district attorney since 2015, the office is not new to Hacker either.
From 2006 through 2015, Hacker served as a prosecutor under Fagundes’ predecessor Greg Strickland.
When asked what they would do as district attorney to prevent the escalation of crime and increase public safety in Kings County as the population continues to rise, Hacker argued that the Fagundes has spread the district attorney’s office thin, leading her to seek a more efficient unit.
Hacker also said she will request a budget increase from the Kings County Board of Supervisors, and she will also seek to streamline operations with other law enforcement agencies to ensure that there is no unnecessary overlap happening with their work.
Fagundes argued that Hacker is not concerned about crime prevention and said his office fixed a backlog of cases that were sitting around when he took office.
“We brought attention to it,” Fagundes said. “We fixed it. We are the most efficient DAs office this county has ever seen.”
In response, Hacker distanced herself from her previous boss.
“I was not in management under Mr. Strickland’s term in office,” Hacker said. “I did not allow excessive paperwork to exist. The fact that Mr. Fagundes touts that he has cleared backlog is just part of his job. It’s not anything special. A district attorney should be able to manage his caseload and do the job that is at hand.”
The pair got heated as the debate neared its closed, specifically over a question regarding Fagundes’ policy of prosecuting women for stillborn deaths tied to heavy drug use.
Hacker said she will separate her personal beliefs from her position as district attorney to follow the law, pointing to direction from Attorney General Rob Bonta this year to not prosecute any women for stillborn births even if she might be at fault.
“But instead of following the advice of the attorney general, this current district attorney ignored the legal alert and continued his illegal course of action,” Hacker said. “Because he ignored the attorney general, Bay Area Democrats have then introduced this [Assembly] Bill 2223 to make it absolutely clear to clarify that these prosecutions are unlawful in California. I will follow the law, and I will ensure justice for all.”
Fagundes responded by arguing that AB 2223 will “just invite murder constantly” if it passes.
“That’s all there is to it. For somebody to stand here and to separate their personal beliefs from whatever their lifelong upbringing has been and set it aside as your district attorney is absurd. If you don’t stand for something you stand for nothing, and that is the bottom line. AB 2223 specifically says when you read that statute that the current law allows prosecution for these situations. In fact it demands that the sheriff coroner do the autopsy on these stillborn fetuses because they are entitled to rights. The law requires the hospitals report these kinds of things because it’s wrong that people will abuse their fetuses at a viable stage. It is wrong,” Fagundes said.
“The law stands for right and wrong. If you’re going to be a puppet and a weak milquetoast person who’s going to just do whatever the law says, and if you want Rob Bonta to be your district attorney, then vote for the opponent. Rob Bonta is a liberal who doesn’t believe in our values. If you want someone who’s going to fight for our values, then I’m your candidate.
“My opponent has not stepped foot in the DAs office in seven years. If she had a concern of prosecutions she’s welcome to call me. She has my cell phone. She’s welcome to come in and say, ‘What the heck man, this is wrong.” And I’d have had that conversation. I would’ve educated her on the law and shown her how this law stands for what we are doing here. The fact that other DAs across the state are too weak to stand up to Rob Bonta and the liberal machine who want to kill our babies is not my problem. I’m going to do what’s right and do what’s right here.”
In her rebuttal, Hacker doubled down on her commitment to follow the law and not go “rogue.”
“If you want a renegade to continue running this county, then you will not have justice. AB 2223 will give people like defendants like Mr. Fagundes is prosecuting the right to sue our county for these illegal prosecutions,” Hacker said.
“This course of action is rogue. We as district attorneys are bound by the law. When we take the oath of office we have to promise to uphold the Constitution and the laws of this state. And for the district attorney to go rogue and renegade and prosecute somebody illegally is wrong.”