Paul Zellerbach

09:19 PM PST on Monday, January 3, 2011

By RICHARD K. DE ATLEY
The Press-Enterprise

Paul Zellerbach was sworn in Monday as Riverside County district attorney, facing a $5 million deficit, layoffs, managers he didn’t choose but must work with for at least three months, and an office he wants to reorganize.

Zellerbach, 57, who was a judge for 10 ½ years and before that a Riverside County prosecutor and manager in the office for 22 years, took his oath during a short, standing-room-only ceremony in the Riverside County Historic Courthouse.

Zellerbach beat one-term incumbent Rod Pacheco in the June election after a bitter campaign, but had to wait six months before taking office.

“I had to find out where my office was,” Zellerbach said after briefly sitting at the desk in the 10th-floor corner room with views to the north (Mission Inn, San Bernardino Mountains) and east (Box Springs Mountain, UC Riverside.)

“It’s overwhelming,” he said. “I just walked into this huge, beautiful new building. I’ve seen diagrams and schematics of the layout of the building but that’s different from being inside it.”

Staff had to tell Zellerbach which hallway turns to make to reach it.

BUDGET ISSUE

Zellerbach comes into the $223,165.90 salary job after four contentious years that put the district attorney’s office at odds with the county and courts, and defense and civil bars.

During Pacheco’s tenure, criminal cases crowded civil trials out from overwhelmed, understaffed courts.

Critics claimed the district attorney’s refusal to plea-bargain some matters brought unworthy cases before juries, and caused trial conviction rates to fall under 45 percent.

A county grand jury report said Pacheco’s office operated under “a pervasive climate of fear and intimidation.”

Zellerbach pointedly told his audience Monday, “If I am doing something wrong, I want you to tell me. The people I am bringing in will definitely tell me. And those I am not bringing in — you’ll tell me, too.”

Zellerbach has said bringing the office’s budget under control along with reorganizing its management, courtroom procedures and investigation unit are among his priorities. A 100-day progress report is planned, he said.

Zellerbach said previously he would issue pink slips to at least 12 employees during his first day in office, to meet a campaign promise to eliminate an executive division created by Pacheco but also to control the office’s budget.

Also Monday, the international law firm SNR Denton announced it had hired Pacheco as a partner in its Los Angeles-based white-collar and government investigations team.

INFORMAL CEREMONY

The courtroom audience was packed with judges, county supervisors, Public Defender Gary Windom and current and former prosecutors, supporters and well-wishers.

They gave a standing ovation moments after 4th District Court of Appeal Associate Justice Tom Hollenhorst administered the oath.

Hollenhorst was a Riverside County assistant district attorney who had hired Zellerbach in 1978.

“You can either blame him or thank him,” Zellerbach said.

During a sometimes emotional, impromptu 15-minute speech, Zellerbach thanked his supporters, some of whom Pacheco had criticized by name in a news release during the campaign.

Zellerbach said they were “people who stood up early in the campaign, at risk to themselves, at risk to their businesses, their professions, because they felt they were doing the right thing.” He was overcome in his speech a few moments later.

He kept the informality alive by saying, “Alright! Enough of this!” before making a few thank you’s and concluding.

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