Candidate Suzy Loftus speaks after being sworn in as interim district attorney (Chris Victorio/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Interim DA Suzy Loftus lays out plans for brief tenure before election day

‘One week matters’: Candidate fends off criticism that appointment was simply politics

Mayor London Breed has been accused of pulling a political stunt by appointing her preferred candidate as interim district attorney just two weeks before voters will decide who holds the position permanently.

But on Sunday, newly appointed interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus explained how much she planned to accomplish while serving in the role for 11 court days before the hotly contested Nov. 5 election.

In an interview with the San Francisco Examiner, Loftus seemed intent on boosting morale in an office that she said had lost more than 40 attorneys over the last year and a half.

“What you can expect from me is me getting right to work and telling both the staff and San Francisco why I’m doing what I’m doing and why I think it’s important for the safety of our city,” Loftus said.

“In one week, 125 new cases come into that office that are charged,” Loftus said. “So one week matters, and how we handle every case, how the prosecutors feel and are they getting direction [matters].”

Loftus said she had already ordered prosecutors to reexamine the handling of a “handful” of sexual assault cases to determine whether further investigation is needed or whether charges were properly filed.

She has also halted the practice of letting first-time offenders accused of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs enter a diversion program instead of facing criminal consequences, Loftus said.

“That is a dangerous practice that was widely criticized,” Loftus said. “It’s not going to make us more safe, and I’m all for identifying smart ways to divert people out of our criminal justice system, and I will continue to look for ways to do that, but drunk driving is not one of them.”

Loftus was surrounded by family when the mayor swore her in to office during a small ceremony Saturday morning.

Former District Attorney George Gascon officially stepped down Friday evening to explore a run for district attorney in Los Angeles after serving as San Francisco’s top prosecutor since 2011.

Gascon had previously said he would not seek re-election in San Francisco, but the public did not expect him to suddenly announce earlier this month that he would not finish his term.

The announcement came in the middle of the first district attorney’s race in more than a century without an incumbent in which Loftus is running against candidates Chesa Boudin, Leif Dautch and Nancy Tung.

Breed has been criticized for unfairly tipping the scales of the election by tapping Loftus for the interim role instead of allowing the race to play out.

The mayor explained her decision by saying that the office was too important to leave vacant for even a minute.

But many said that there was not much Loftus could get done in the short two weeks leading up to election day.

Loftus will be running her campaign while at the same time serving as interim district attorney, and political observers previously told the Examiner she would be wise to avoid making any significant changes.

“It’s strange that the district attorney decided to leave his post when he did,” Loftus said. “It was very unexpected for many people including myself.”

“But when the vacancy opened up,” she continued. “The mayor asked me to step in and do this job which I think is so essential to The City. Who I am is always someone who is going to say yes to serve The City that I love and in particular in an office that I think is in disarray and very needing of leadership.”

Loftus worked as assistant chief legal counsel for Sheriff Vicki Hennessy until her appointment. She previously served as president of the Police Commission and worked in the District Attorney’s Office under former top prosecutor and presidential candidate Kamala Harris.

At least two of her opponents, deputy public defender Boudin and deputy state attorney general Dautch, have said their campaigns garnered more volunteers and support after Breed announced her controversial decision to appoint Loftus earlier this month.

Loftus has a full schedule ahead of her on Monday.

She plans to meet with the executive team at the new District Attorney’s Office location at 350 Rhode Island St. before taking a shuttle to the Hall of Justice and meeting with prosecutors and the presiding judge of the criminal division, Samuel K. Feng.

She is also scheduled to hold an all-staff meeting at the end of the day.

Her message is going to be that people are frustrated with the criminal justice system in San Francisco, Loftus said.

“We have an opportunity to change that and to start immediately,” Loftus said. “My focus is going to be increasing access to the DA’s office in every way possible.”

“I’m going to be asking the teams to be thinking about what are the next community meetings, how are we being present, how are we partnering with neighbors to solve problems,” she said.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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