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California Supreme Court ruled correctly against SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow 

In 2020, we dealt with monumental change, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May that year. Floyd's death was a powder keg moment that led to widespread protests throughout the country, including right here in San Luis Obispo County.

In July 2020, then 20-year-old activist Tianna Arata led hundreds of demonstrators to Highway 101, blocking lanes in both directions for approximately an hour. District Attorney Dan Dow charged Arata with 13 misdemeanors over the incident and charged six other demonstrators who were involved.

This long and protracted case remains fresh in people's minds, especially Dow, who twice appealed a local judge's ruling that his office could not prosecute because of his political opinions. The opinions in question appeared in the form of a September 2020 political fundraising email from his wife, Wendy Dow, on his behalf. The email claimed Dow was "leading the fight against the wacky defund police movement." San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Matthew Guerrero ruled the email was a "clear conflict of interest."

The state Appellate Court agreed, and the California Supreme Court decided on Jan. 11 that it would not hear arguments regarding the local DA's participation in prosecuting the case. This means the California Attorney's General Office will now prosecute the case.

Regardless of how one feels about the case, this is a blemish on Dow's record as a prosecutor for a couple of reasons.

Justice is blind, at least that's what it's supposed to be. A District Attorney is supposed to impartially try a case based on the rule of law, not lead a fight against any political or social movement.

Around the time his office charged Arata, Dow appeared on Washington Watch with Tony Perkins, a daily politics broadcast that prominently featured the views of Perkins, who was known for describing the Black Lives Matter movement as a "Marxist" group that promoted "cop killings, prostitution, anti-Semitism, anarchy, and the suppression of speech and religion."

In September 2020, Dow appeared on the private far-right Facebook group "PRotect Paso" to beg for leniency from its hostile members and explain why he charged Arata with misdemeanors instead of felonies. The group was formed in fear of and in opposition to local BLM protests, with its members regularly and feverishly disparaging the movement.

In October 2020, Dow spoke alongside conservative activist Candace Owens at a fundraiser for "New California," a far-right organization that pushed for a new state to be formed within California. At the event, Owens described the BLM movement as "one of the most racist movements that ever existed in this country."

Dow himself may not have personally echoed those statements, but he used the Arata case as a springboard to enter the political conversation about it. Clearly, Dow was more concerned about appealing to his political base than exercising professional, prosecutorial discretion.

In their appeals, the DA's Office argued the local judge's decision infringed on Dow's First Amendment rights and it would have long-lasting implications against prosecutors expressing their political ideologies—that a defendant could easily request prosecutors be taken off their case based on those grounds. However, the First Amendment is not under threat. A district attorney can absolutely exercise their particularly unwise choice to opine or align with those who opine about the politics involved in their cases. However, making that choice has clear consequences, as that completely shatters the veneer of fairness.

If he wants to express his political views with direct ties to his cases or politically align himself with those with similar views, Dow should resign and seek public office that won't jeopardize people's rights to a fair trial.

Every time Dow's handling of the Arata case is discussed, his supporters often pivot to talking about the Arata case itself as if these particular sets of rulings have any actual bearing on the case's facts. They don't. They relentlessly dwell on Arata and the way she chooses to live her life, but what's happening at this very moment has nothing to do with her and has everything to do with Dow.

For more than two years, Dow's supporters chatted obsessively about demonstrators being punished to the fullest extent of the law with their digital tiki torches on full display, but rarely do they lament how Dow's zeal for the political spotlight have effectively reduced the credibility of any prosecution.

Because of Dow, the state Attorney General's Office now has an uphill battle to prosecute a years-long case that requires meticulous review for any potentially political decisions involved in how the case was originally presented. One of those decisions involves the DA's Office allegedly cajoling a "John Doe" witness into claiming victim status. In October 2020, an attorney representing the unnamed witness claimed one of the DA's investigators told his client that "it would really help us out if you were scared" as one of the freeway drivers blocked by demonstrators.

How embarrassing for the DA's Office and SLO County. ∆

Aaron Ochs has lots of opinions and shares them from Morro Bay. Write a response for publication by emailing [email protected].

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