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Sonoma County D.A. getting good marks after first year

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.


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