Ravitch role in murder trial hailed as refreshing, but hard to pull off

When Jill Ravitch bellied up to the prosecution table in the Jarrod Miller murder trial, she became the first sitting Sonoma County district attorney in three decades to take a case before a jury.

The last time a top prosecutor stepped away from administrative duties and into the trenches was sometime in the early 1980s, when the late Gene Tunney tried someone for robbery.

Since then, other district attorneys have found the complexities of the job too much for courtroom forays. Balancing a $20 million budget and managing a staff of more than 100 employees is time-consuming. Four-year election cycles require near-constant campaigning.

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Ravitch said she made time for it in part to fulfill an election promise, but also to serve as a role model for newer prosecutors. Her efforts paid off last week when jurors returned a first-degree murder conviction against Miller.

"I think going into the courtroom and trying a case is beneficial to the whole office," Ravitch said in the hallway, moments after jurors delivered the Miller verdict. "Many people came to watch. It also supports my philosophy that managers need to go to court."

While some attorneys accused Ravitch of grandstanding or pulling a political stunt, others said it was refreshing to see the county's chief law enforcement officer roll up her sleeves and do something other than attending meetings or giving speeches.

Going to trial keeps Ravitch tuned into the realities faced by her prosecutors while exposing her to the concerns of voters who are called to court for jury duty, said Andy Martinez, a longtime criminal defense attorney.

"It keeps her in touch with the people who are going to be hearing her deputies' cases," said Martinez, a former Sonoma County prosecutor. "I think it's a good thing."

Another Santa Rosa criminal lawyer, Jack Montgomery, agreed it's important for policymakers to experience firsthand the things they ask others to do.

"I think it's marvelous," Montgomery said. "It's certainly a rarity."

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