Sonoma County deputy prosecutor Victoria Shanahan spent much of the past year attacking what she called her boss’ lack of a marijuana policy in a bitter election campaign that she ultimately lost.
Now, District Attorney Jill Ravitch has reassigned Shanahan to her narcotics team, where her outspoken rival will be charged with enforcing the very standards she said did not exist.
Legal observers described it as a bit of irony that smacked of political retaliation. It was unclear what, if any, discretion Shanahan will have, or whether she will be invited to help shape the office’s marijuana guidelines.
“I think she’s being put in a position to fail,” said Omar Figueroa, a leading North Coast marijuana defense attorney and a Shanahan supporter. “She either must carry out this unworkable policy or dismiss cases. It’s a Catch-22.”
Neither Shanahan nor Ravitch returned several calls this week seeking comment.
The department’s spokeswoman, Assistant District Attorney Christine Cook, who said she was speaking for Ravitch, denied any political payback. She said assignment changes were routine, made with employee input and the needs of the department in mind.
She would not say whether Shanahan sought the new position.
“There is no retaliation,” Cook said. “We have not heard any complaints.”
Shanahan’s new assignment was part of a department-wide shakeup announced this week that takes effect Aug. 4.
It came almost two months after she lost the June 3 election, 64 percent to 36 percent. Shanahan vowed to remain on the job and Ravitch said her door would be open to “every member” of the office as she begins a second term.
But insiders said the two have yet to meet for a post-election talk.
Shanahan was one of many staff attorneys who received transfers, moving from domestic violence to narcotics. Others to be rotated are Shanahan ally and campaign manager Traci Carrillo, also a senior prosecutor, who was reassigned to juvenile court in the Valley of the Moon.
Colleagues said Carrillo, who is handling the Forestville triple homicide and won murder convictions two years ago against Asian gang members who gunned down a trial witness, was being banished from the main office because she is critical of Ravitch.
Juvenile court is historically seen as “the place where they send people who have not pleased the emperor,” Santa Rosa defense attorney and former Sonoma County prosecutor Izaak Schwaiger said.
One of Ravitch’s top lieutenants, Interim Chief Deputy Bud McMahon, was relegated to juvenile court under former District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua, with whom he clashed. Ravitch promoted McMahon after unseating her boss in the 2010 election.
“What is more important to this office?” said Schwaiger, who backed Shanahan and believes she is facing retaliation for challenging her boss. “Is it putting the most talented prosecutors where they can be used the most? Or is it about rewarding cronies and punishing people who see things differently? This can’t possibly be good for the community.”
Carrillo would say only that she did not request the assignment and had never worked in juvenile law in her 14-year career. She would not comment on whether she thought the transfer was politically motivated.
Ravitch supporters dismissed the notion the new assignments were political payback.
Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi, a longtime Ravitch ally, said her attorneys “wait in line” to be assigned to juvenile court, which she said they consider a reward. She said Shanahan now is well-positioned to make the changes to marijuana prosecution that she sought in her campaign.