By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer
March 27, 2012 - Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert is using his experience as an attorney in civil litigation and criminal prosecution to make good on the three-point plan he ran on in the city's 2010 election.
The city prosecutor's office strives to get maximum sentences for misdemeanor criminals, make schools safer and protect the quality of life in Long Beach by prosecuting slumlords and gang members. Under Haubert's direction, the office is doing "more with less" among its 15 budgeted attorneys – that's down from 21 attorneys just four years ago.
Haubert got his start in the Office of the Long Beach City Prosecutor as a law clerk before passing the California Bar in 1991. He began his career as a deputy city prosecutor in December 1999 under former Long Beach City Prosecutor Tom Reeves.
In his role as city clerk, Herrera is responsible for citywide records management, administering the legislative process of the Long Beach City Council and for municipal elections. Prior to his appointment in December 2002, Herrera served as assistant clerk-recorder-registrar of voters in Santa Barbara County. He's also served in the cities of Commerce, Santa Barbara and Santa Monica.
According to Haubert, he is the only city prosecutor in the State of California to be directly elected by the people. Most charter cities have their elected city attorney handle city prosecution duties, or have their city council appoint a prosecutor through a contract with a private law firm.
Haubert has served as a member of the Long Beach Ethics Task Force, the Long Beach Airport Advisory Commission and the Long Beach Civil Service Commission. In an interview, Haubert describes the work and caseloads of the office of the city prosecutor, the innovative gang injunction his office has implemented and his goals for the position of city prosecutor.
LBBJ: When you took office two years ago, were there any surprises?
Haubert: I knew when I started the job what the office did because I used to work here. The one thing that I wasn't prepared for was how much administrative work, rather than legal work, the head of the office did. I'm trying to make the position of city prosecutor more of a prosecuting position than an administrative or management position.
LBBJ: With that, what changes to the office have you made to not only adjust your position as city prosecutor but other positions in the office?
Haubert: By administrative, I mean including handling the budget and personnel decisions that did not need to be handled by an attorney. Some things are better handled by an office manager.
LBBJ: Do you have an office manager now?
Haubert: I do. I work closely with my staff to have non-attorneys handling tasks that you don't need to be an attorney to handle. Attorneys are very expensive and they are highly skilled advocates, and I think that's what they should be doing. They should be in court, presenting cases to a judge or jury. To have attorneys doing administrative things is not the most efficient use of their valuable time.
LBBJ: So tell us about some of the other changes you have made to the office since you've been here.
Haubert: The biggest change has been the creation of our volunteer prosecutor program. The number of budgeted prosecutors in the office in the last four years has been cut from 21 down to 15, and there are likely going to be more cuts in the future. So I created a program where attorneys could get experience prosecuting cases and, I found, with minimal training, if you select good volunteers. In very little time, they are able to handle cases effectively. I estimate that has saved the office well over $300,000 in the last year alone.
LBBJ: What do you think is the most important thing you have learned about this position?
Haubert: Being in this position has confirmed my belief that this is a very important position, and it has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life in Long Beach. I think Long Beach is a great city, but it could be greater. We're never going to get past the stigma of being a high-crime city unless we make changes that improve our quality of life and improve safety. The city prosecutor's office is a huge part of the public safety team. I'm honored to have the position, and I think that I'm making a positive impact on street-level crime in Long Beach . . . Going after gang members and quality of life crimes can significantly improve our lives. It's one of the most rewarding things about this job.
LBBJ: Is there one misdemeanor that you spend more time on than others?
Haubert: By category?
Haubert: It varies month to month, but we have an awful lot of vehicle or driving-related misdemeanors, such as DUI [driving under the influence], reckless driving, driving on a suspended license. Proportionate to our other crimes, that takes up a lot of time. But that's what misdemeanor prosecutors do; those are the types of crimes we focus on.
LBBJ: Can you put numbers to each of the misdemeanors for our readers? For example, what is the number of DUI cases the office is currently involved with?
Haubert: In the last two years, the city prosecutor's office has handled over 29,000 misdemeanor cases. Of these, about 23 percent are disorderly conduct and trespass cases; 21 percent DUI (driving under the influence of drugs/alcohol); 14 percent domestic violence (spousal battery, child or elder abuse); 12 percent battery, assault or resisting arrest; 7 percent theft cases; 5 percent drug cases; and 4 percent vandalism/graffiti. The remaining about 14 percent include about 100 other miscellaneous charges, such as hit and run, violation of gang injunction, carrying a concealed weapon, vehicle manslaughter, code enforcement, failure to register as a sex offender, overweight commercial vehicles, environmental crimes, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, cruelty to animals, etcetera.
Some cases are not filed in court due to lack of evidence and some minor offenses are diverted from court through the city's community service worker program. In the last two years, 1,239 people have performed 45,195 hours of supervised community service in this program, with all work benefiting Long Beach taxpayers (helping with ally cleanups, picking up trash in parks and beaches, cleaning out public restrooms, and painting out graffiti).
LBBJ: Not all misdemeanors come through your office, so your system may have some margin of error?
Haubert: One of the most complicated things about prosecution is that you are dealing with a number of different agencies. For example, many of our cases come from the Long Beach Police Department. But many cases come from other agencies such as the California Highway Patrol, other city departments like the health department and code enforcement and the fire department. We also get cases from Cal State Police, from Cal EPA [environmental protection agency], from Cal Fish and Game, and the contractor's state licensing board. Every law enforcement agency handles their cases a little differently, but if it's a state law misdemeanor violation that comes through our office . . . we handle different cases in different ways. Some are directly filed with the court and we handle the cases when they are in court, but other cases come through our office and we prepare the complaints and file them for the agency in court.
There are also a wide number of types of cases that we handle. I mentioned DUIs and vehicle-related cases. We handle a lot of battery cases, theft, prostitution, being under the influence of drugs or possessing drugs. We handle commercial burglary cases, public intoxication, animal cruelty, hit-and-run, carrying a concealed weapon and the list goes on. There is no way to describe what we do on a day-to-day basis without getting your hands around the variety of cases that we handle.
LBBJ: Do you feel you have enough people to handle the amount of misdemeanors that come through your office now?
Haubert: We are doing the best job we can with the resources we have, and we're just going to have to continue to do the best we can with our resources because the resources are not going to increase. Just like every city department, we've been significantly impacted by cuts. But government has to adapt to cuts, and we're doing that. For example, we are using technology more than ever, particularly with our gang injunctions – to target the most active gang members in the city and to target the location of the crimes so we can focus on the most serious problems. Another way we are innovating is our volunteer prosecutor program. That program has allowed us to use the existing staff to cover more cases because the volunteers supplement the attorneys that I have.
LBBJ: How many volunteer prosecutors do you currently have in the office?
Haubert: We have four volunteer prosecutors, and all are excellent attorneys. They all had some law experience before working here. What they didn't know we taught them, and they learned quickly. Now they are qualified to work in any city prosecutor or district attorney office in California because the experience we provide them is, by far, the best way to learn prosecution.
LBBJ: How often do you have to go to court on misdemeanor issues?
Haubert: I actually try to go to court as much as possible. Even if I don't have a particular case that I need to appear on, I do check in with my prosecutors and the judges so that if there are any problems, I know about it right away and can address them.
LBBJ: Walk our readers through a case, such as a DUI. When do you get involved? Is a case filed the day after an incident?
Haubert: It depends on the type of case, but in all cases it is investigated by an investigating agency or a law enforcement agency. Sometimes the law enforcement agency makes an arrest, but more often there is an investigation and the person is not in custody. That investigation is presented to our office to review, and if we believe a crime occurred and we can prove it, we file the case with the court. In a way, we are an important reviewing body because we don't always agree with law enforcement on the cases presented. We won't file it in court, and we cannot file it in court, ethically, unless we believe a crime occurred and there is evidence to support that belief.
Then, we appear at the arraignment of the defendant. There are often many court appearances prior to the date the trial is set. The majority of our cases settle without a trial, but if the case doesn't settle then we present the case to a jury, who ultimately will determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. After the trial, we are involved in sentencing and arguing before a judge what we believe the punishment should be. Finally, many cases that result in conviction are appealed. Our office handles the appeal as well. On very rare occasions, if the appellate court reverses the conviction, we might have to try the case all over again. But the vast majority of our convictions are affirmed on appeal.
LBBJ: What misdemeanors fall under the category of code enforcement?
Haubert: I think code enforcement is important because it impacts the quality of life for the residents of Long Beach. A serious code enforcement case would involve slum-like conditions, such as deteriorated housing structures, trash and debris. Often there are health and safety problems, such as faulty wiring. But they can also be as minor as constant dog barking from a neighbor's backyard. We do everything we can to solve the problem without going to court, but in extreme cases where a code violator will not remedy the problem or abate the nuisance, we will file an action in court. We seek an appropriate outcome so that peace and quiet is returned to the neighborhood. Most of the time we are able to resolve code enforcement cases without filing in court.
LBBJ: Do you work closely with city councilmembers on issues impacting their districts, or do issues come strictly from the police department?
Haubert: I try to work closely with the councilmembers because complaints are often directed to their attention first. I work well with the current city council and sometimes a council office will refer a case to us before an investigation has been done. So we have to direct that case to an investigating agency, for example, the city's code enforcement division, before we will take any action. We don't investigate cases. We prosecute them. So an investigation has to be done before we can take any action. We work very closely with the Long Beach Police Department – a very professional group to work with.
LBBJ: How is your success rate in prosecuting court cases?
Haubert: We are very successful, especially considering the caseload we have. We handle about 14,000 to 15,000 cases a year. Not all of those cases are filed in court. Some are combined and some are handled without needing to file in court. But with that kind of a caseload and such a small staff, I think we are very efficient and very effective. I personally believe we are the best municipal prosecuting agency in the State of California.
LBBJ: What's your take on the medical marijuana issue?
Haubert: Most cities have avoided the problems that Long Beach has because they have done outright bans from the onset. That has kept medical marijuana dispensaries from getting a foothold in their cities. Long Beach and a handful of other cities attempted to regulate and allow medical marijuana, and the result was a court opinion concluding that we can't do that. The problem now is that these dispensaries are well established in Long Beach and it will be very difficult to get rid of them. You also have the complication that state law and federal law are completely in opposition.
LBBJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Haubert: I've touched on the important work we're doing to combat gang violence. But most people don't know that Long Beach is a leader in targeting the Mexican Mafia through its gang injunction strategy to try to prevent street level crime here in Long Beach. According to FBI statistics, gangs account for about 50 percent of all violent crimes, and in some communities it's higher, as high as 90 percent. I believe the vast majority of violent crimes in Long Beach are gang related, which is why we need to focus our attention and our efforts on the gang members that we have here. We're doing everything we can to eliminate the gang presence through the use of gang injunctions and the aggressive prosecution of gang members. Working closely with the Long Beach Police Department, we have increased our efforts to make gang areas safer for residents and to make sure that gang members are off the streets and in jail where they belong.
LBBJ: Can you explain the gang injunction for our readers?
Haubert: A gang injunction is a civil order that prevents gang members from doing a number of things that they need to do in order to exert influence over a neighborhood, such as congregating in public, taking over parks and sidewalks and alleyways. It forces them to abide by a curfew. It prohibits them not just from possessing a firearm, but being in the presence of someone illegally possessing a firearm. This gives the police department the tools they need to crack down on gang activity in the gang-ridden parts of a city. We've made great strides here in Long Beach tackling the gang problem, but we have much more to do. Our gang injunction is part of a successful strategy to target that small percentage of the population that is responsible for a large percentage of the violent crimes and drug sales in Long Beach.
In 2009, there were about 25 arrests for gang injunction violations. In 2010, we had 140. In 2011, we had 181 arrests. Targeting these gang members is an effective use of our resources, especially when resources are dwindling each year. We are the first city, and so far the only city, to directly target the Mexican Mafia through our injunctions.