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Scott Murray has spent the past two decades defending criminals. Now he wants to prosecute them.

The longtime criminal defense attorney announced he will run for Sonoma County district attorney, presenting the only challenge to two-term incumbent Jill Ravitch.

Murray said he decided to run in part because no one else came forward for the four-year post. The deadline to enter the June primary was Friday.

But also Murray said he wants to offer a different approach to prosecuting young adults that recognizes their developmental immaturity and focuses more on rehabilitation than punishment. He said the current district attorney is motivated only by winning cases and locking people away in prison.

“I want Sonoma County to be safe,” said Murray, 60, of Santa Rosa, who has two adult daughters. “We have to allocate our money so the most violent and dangerous people won’t hurt anybody, while coming up with a better way to handle lower level and juvenile crimes.”

Ravitch denied Murray’s claim that she is trying to bolster her conviction and incarceration statistics, saying she supports treatment programs and jail alternatives. She said adult court proceedings differ from juvenile court, where Murray has been working the past five years.

“The job of the prosecutor is to hold the offender accountable and be a voice for the victim,” Ravitch said. “Can the prosecutor show empathy? Can the prosecutor recognize what challenges the offender has or had? Of course. Every case stands on its own. We use our discretion to make sure justice is done.”

She said she was surprised Murray was running because he never expressed any concerns about her office or policies.

“All he had to do was stop by or pick up the phone,” Ravitch said. “The same is true with any member of the public.”

Murray became a lawyer in 2000 after a long career in radio broadcasting. He said he has been promised support from many in the legal community including some prosecutors.

Attorney Traci Carrillo, who was a Sonoma County prosecutor for seven years before leaving for private practice in 2014, said Murray has the experience and temperament to be the county’s top prosecutor, in charge of 130 employees and a $29 million budget.

“I’ve always known Scott to be a straight shooter,” said Carrillo, who campaigned for Ravitch’s last challenger, Victoria Shanahan, four years ago. “He’s vested in the community. He will be committed to ethics and transparency.”

However, Murray’s former boss, Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi, is endorsing Ravitch.

“Scott is a really good guy. I couldn’t say a negative word about him,” Pozzi said. “But he’s not qualified to be district attorney.”

Before he entered the law, Murray, a Philadelphia native, was a DJ and station manager for several local radio stations. He started on KVRE in the early 1980s and was program manager for KRSH before becoming general manager of KRCB in 1994.

He graduated from University of California, Santa Barbara before attending Empire School of Law years later at age 39. He was inspired by serving on a jury, he said.

Murray was hired as a deputy public defender in 2000. Over the years, he has defended a range of clients, including those charged with murder.

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

He said being a defense attorney gives him a unique perspective in the prosecutor role. Ravitch was briefly a defense attorney before she was elected, he noted.

“We may have as part of our job to protect clients, but if anything, we know more about those folks than the prosecution does,” he said.

Murray was defending minors in juvenile court before retiring last year. He now works among a panel of court-appointed defense lawyers in the same court.

Only he and Ravitch will appear on the June ballot.

Ravitch was among the top 10 highest-paid Sonoma County officials in 2017, with a salary of nearly $240,000. She prosecuted landlords suspected of price gouging in the wake of the October wildfires, expanded her environmental fraud team and established a dedicated elder protection unit, among other things.

In 2014, she won re-election against Shanahan, an attorney and former prosecutor, with 64 percent of the vote.

The last uncontested race for Sonoma County district attorney was in 1998 when then top prosecutor Mike Mullins ran unopposed.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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