Veteran services

Veteran Sonoma County prosecutor Carla Rodriguez is set to take over as district attorney

For the first time in more than a decade, Sonoma County will see a new face in the office of its chief prosecutor.

Carla Claeys Rodriguez, a 25-year veteran of the district attorney’s office, ran unopposed in Tuesday’s primary and will succeed Jill Ravitch early next year.

“It’s a humbling experience to watch these election results,” Rodriguez said Thursday morning as she drove to an Elder Abuse Awareness Month event in Cloverdale. “Yesterday was a day of reflecting on the enormity of the task I undertake, and I truly hope to do my best for the people of Sonoma County.”

Rodriguez launched her campaign last year with an anti-violent crime platform, promising voters that she would focus on victims’ rights and public safety.

But, during the election campaign, she became aware of other areas of concern, including wage theft, which now inform what she intends to focus on after taking office in January.

“I have learned a lot over the past 15 months. I’ve met a lot of people from different communities, and I think my goals and priorities have changed over the last 15 months talking to so many diverse communities,” Rodriguez said. “Talking to people who have been directly affected by the things we see in our office has been really motivating.”

Rodriguez received a wide range of support, including from Ravitch and other colleagues in the district attorney’s office.

“She’s a career prosecutor and understands the job,” Ravitch said ahead of Tuesday’s election. “I think she’s attuned to the many changes we’re seeing in the criminal justice system and the evolving role of the prosecutor.”

Some labor organizations and defense attorneys hail Rodriguez’s focus on crimes that affect workers and his willingness to divert people from the criminal justice system.

Yet she takes office amid a collision of political forces nationwide — a progressive movement demanding alternatives to mass incarceration against a reactionary pushback from those who prioritize the values ​​of “law and order.” — which threaten to complicate his role.

“Each case is a decision,” Rodriguez said. “Should I lay (charges)? Should I turn away? Should I grant them restorative justice? Do they want restorative justice? Should I just try to get a refund one way or another? And if I deposit, what am I depositing? Am I filing something that could send them to jail? Do I have to deposit something that would bring them to local (jail)? Are they on probation? Should I just violate their probation? What are the consequences of immigration? What is fair?

Defend the victims

Although Rodriguez built her 27-year career solely on prosecuting crimes, she recalls her earliest endeavors were for the defense — of her siblings from parental discipline and other children from court bullies. school.

“I was a little weird, but that was my mission. I just hated bullies,” she said.

As a teenager, she and her family moved from Connecticut to Saratoga, California. Rodriguez attended St. Mary’s College and then Santa Clara University Law School. While in school, she interned in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office Gang Unit, and after passing the bar exam, she worked as a Napa County prosecutor.

In 1997, she joined the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.

Rodriguez, 50, still hates bullies.

“I really like to hold accountable people who take advantage of vulnerable victims,” she said.

It aims to protect people not only from violent crimes, but also from misdemeanors, including wage theft. A 2021 state law allows wage theft over $950 to be prosecuted as a felony.

His stance has won him favor with several local labor organizations, which call wage theft a pervasive — but neglected — crime in Sonoma County.

“It tells us that she cares about workers and is making sure they get a fair shake,” said Maddy Hirshfield, director of the North Bay Labor Council, the region’s largest labor coalition, which supported Rodriguez.

Every year, California workers are robbed of $15 billion in legally earned wages in the form of unpaid overtime or denied breaks, according to Christy Lubin, executive director of the nonprofit Graton Day Labor Center. Other examples include: being paid less than minimum wage or tips from workers being taken.

And according to Ryan Williams, political organizer for Service Employees International Union 1021, who also supported Rodriguez, wage theft persists in some of Sonoma County’s low-wage, immigrant-dense industries, such as hospitality, catering, agriculture and construction.

Some defense attorneys are also optimistic about working with Rodriguez when she takes over.