Conviction rates: Meaningful number or political weapon?

In her successful 2010 bid for Sonoma County district attorney, Jill Ravitch hammered two-term incumbent Stephan Passalacqua over a conviction rate she said dropped to second-lowest in the state.

Ravitch vowed to do better, touting two decades of trial experience she said made her better qualified to make decisions and lead an office of about 50 prosecutors.

Voters were persuaded by the tough-talking litigator and elected her by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent.

But a year into the job, Ravitch is unable to say whether she's winning any more cases than her predecessor.

In response to a request for conviction-rate statistics made earlier this month by The Press Democrat, her office said it did not have the data. The statistics are being collected and will be released at an unspecified date, Ravitch spokeswoman Christine Cook said in a Jan. 17 letter.

<CW-14>During the 2010 campaign, Ravitch challenged the 88 percent conviction rate claimed by Passalacqua for felony cases that went to trial — a small portion of the total cases.</CW>

She cited state Department of Justice statistics from 2003 to 2008 that showed Passalacqua never scored better than 74 percent and had the second-lowest rate in 2007 at just 62 percent, or 20 points below the state average.

She argued Sonoma County deserves better.

"There's a terrible pattern here. You're looking at someone who is consistently receiving a grade of D- or F. We deserve better," Ravitch said during the campaign.

Passalacqua called the state's numbers inaccurate and requested a formal review.

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