Jill Ravitch survived her first year as Sonoma County district attorney in part by being an early riser.
The Sebastopol resident is up before dawn, checking email at 4:30 a.m. before tackling a full schedule of staff meetings, budget talks and community luncheons.
In addition, the 53-year-old lawyer is continuing her weekly teaching duties at Empire College law school and fulfilling an election promise to personally <NO1><NO>prosecute cases by preparing for trial in a Healdsburg murder case.
"It's a lot of work," Ravitch said over a cup of coffee in the conference room of her bustling office. "But I enjoy it."
By most accounts from the legal community, Ravitch has done well in her first 12 months as the county's top law enforcement officer, and is a marked improvement over her predecessor, Stephan Passalacqua, whom she defeated in a bruising 2010 election campaign.
After a tense transition in which she received little cooperation from the previous boss, Ravitch took the reins of the 111-member office and guided it through a 12 percent budget reduction without a single layoff.
At the same time, Ravitch said her attorneys filed an estimated 16,000 criminal cases on 22,000 police reports, including 29 homicides, 300 sexual assaults and 400 gang cases.
She beefed up elder protection and white-collar crime units while moving more experienced attorneys to the gang prosecution team.
But perhaps most striking is her quick decision-making. Ravitch is determining things like whether to seek the death penalty on capital cases in weeks, not months, saving taxpayers on extra court costs and legal fees.
She's also given more discretion to deputy prosecutors in charging and reaching plea bargains, further streamlining the justice process.
Both friends and foes agree it's a significant departure from past practices and a promising start for for the trial-lawyer-turned-administrator.
"I think the court is extremely pleased with having Ms. Ravitch as district attorney," said Rene Chouteau, presiding judge of Sonoma County Superior Court. "We give her a very positive report card at the end of the year," he said, describing a common sentiment among judges.
Even some former Passalacqua supporters are impressed. Ed Clites, president of the 500-member Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association that endorsed Passalacqua in 2002, 2006 and 2010, said he will endorse Ravitch for reelection in 2014. Clites gave her high marks despite some unhappiness from investigators over the elimination of take-home cars as a cost-cutting measure.
"Obviously, my folks weren't happy about that. But as far as Jill's first year, I think she's done a good job," said Clites, a correctional sergeant. "No complaints."
Ravitch has her critics within the District Attorney's Office, but none would speak publicly for this story.
Privately, some current employees accuse her of cronyism for hiring two friends, including one who was a paid consultant on her election campaign, and promoting a third supporter to management.
Deputy district attorney Wendy Skillman was hired this year after working as a prosecutor in Mendocino and Sonoma counties. According to Ravitch's campaign finance reports, she was paid more than $900 for consulting and political mailings.
Ravitch also hired former deputy public defender Ann Gallagher-White, who made non-monetary contributions to the campaign worth $2,000.
Among her first decisions upon taking office was the promotion of longtime prosecutor Bud McMahon to interim chief deputy. McMahon also campaigned for Ravitch.