Daniel Chung, a Santa Clara County prosecutor who is suing District Attorney Jeff Rosen for political retaliation amid a public falling out with that office, has escalated his opposition by adding himself as a challenger to Rosen’s 2022 re-election bid.
Chung, a 32-year-old San Jose resident, filed candidate papers last week to begin his bid to unseat his boss, who he claims demoted and sidelined him after Chung published a February opinion piece in this newspaper criticizing criminal-justice reforms.
Now Chung is positioning himself as a whistleblower and nascent reform advocate in calling for new leadership in an office whose mission he was espousing as recently as eight months ago.
“It has been an extraordinary year of reflection, change and even evolution on my part,” Chung said in an interview.
The district attorney’s office has not formally commented on Chung’s retaliation claims. Chung is currently awaiting the results of a formal disciplinary hearing initiated in September after the office recommended his firing.
“If the administration can do this to someone who is an ally and at some point was someone they really liked, I can only imagine the extent the administration is willing to compromise on morals and integrity with people who have committed crimes,” Chung said.
A message left for Rosen’s re-election campaign was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Chung joins a challenger list that until now had been solely occupied by Sajid Khan, a public defender in Santa Clara County who currently works in the Alternate Defender’s Office. Khan launched his DA campaign in July with strong support among South Bay civil-rights and social-justice groups, and has earned a list of endorsements that includes former Rep. Mike Honda, retired judge and former San Jose police auditor LaDoris Cordell, Mountain View Mayor Ellen Kamei, and the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet of Silicon Valley.
Khan said that Chung’s account of injustice in the DA’s office is something he has experienced intimately over more than a decade representing poor and indigent people ensnared in the criminal-legal system.
“It’s given me unique insight in what is necessary to transform the DA’s office, to repair it, and bring about a new era and a new culture that holds police accountable and addresses root causes of crime,” Khan said.”(Chung) has been part of this very office that has perpetuated the harms that we’re seeking to undo.”
In the February opinion piece that touched off Chung’s legal dispute with the DA’s office, he addressed the ongoing rise in anti-Asian violence, and criticized proposed state legislation to downgrade classifications of robberies when mental-health issues factored into making a victim fearful, and if a gun used was unloaded or inoperable. Chung believes the office soured on him in part because his official title — deputy district attorney — was appended at the end of the February opinion piece, though he has since clarified that he was writing in a personal capacity.
Palo Alto City Councilman Greg Tanaka counts himself as an early supporter of Chung, particularly in how he could significantly boost Asian American representation in a key facet of government. Chung is of Korean descent.
“He knows his stuff and is a really hard worker,” Tanaka said. “I for one am glad to see he’s running.”
Rosen, as a three-term incumbent, is still clearly the most heavily resourced candidate for next year, and enjoys wide-reaching political support, particularly from law-enforcement organizations that view bids from his challengers — especially Khan — as existential threats.
In contrast to Khan, Chung is portraying himself as moderate option. A graduate of Harvard College and Columbia Law School, the Milpitas product said his internships for public defender organizations while a student help round out his perspective.
“Sajid is seeking a complete paradigm shift, looking to flip the script on how everything is done,” he said. “This idea you can just come in and just completely change everything is not realistic. And I haven’t been a prosecutor for so long that I’m entrenched.”
To Khan, however, the shift in the national conversation on criminal justice was not about incremental measures.
“I don’t believe this is a moment for the middle ground. Our county, our people took to the streets last summer in the wake of George Floyd demanding this transformational change and real meaningful police accountability,” he said. “I am responding to that call for service, attempting to meet the moment.”
Chung acknowledges what the pivot in his professional trajectory might look like, but contends that his criticism of current systems had been growing long before he went public with his critique of Rosen.
“Who I am today is not just the result of this,” he said, referring to his acrimony with the DA’s office. “This was years in the works, years of me reflecting on the system and wanting to do the right thing.”
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Author: Robert Salonga