Talking with … The No. 1 enemy of South Bay criminalsby renee ghert-zand, j. correspondent
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Name: Jeff Rosen
City: Los Altos
Position: Santa Clara County District Attorney
Jeff Rosen: I was a deputy district attorney for about 15 years before I ran. I was a prosecutor and tried cases in court: misdemeanors; juvenile; drug trafficking; robbery; child molestation; rape and murder. Before that, I worked for a couple of years in private law firms in Los Angeles, where I am from, but that was not my thing.
J.: You’re not the only lawyer in your household, right?
JR: That’s right. My wife is a federal prosecutor. She’s an assistant U.S. attorney in San Jose.J.: Has it been hard adjusting to being an elected official after having been a prosecutor?
JR: There have definitely been new challenges. For instance, campaigning really took me out of my comfort zone. Many decisions I make are public and high-profile, and you can’t please all the people all the time. Even if it’s the right decision, there will always be people who will disagree with it. Nobody wants people calling them names or saying that they aren’t doing what’s right, or that they’re unfair or unethical. But it’s not really about me. It’s about what the issues are and doing what’s right. I’ve developed a thicker skin and it has gotten easier for me.
J.: The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office is huge, right? The largest north of Los Angeles?
JR: Yes. We have 185 prosecutors, 85 investigators, 75 criminalists and over 200 support staff. We have four offices — the main office in San Jose, small offices in Palo Alto and Morgan Hill, and we also run our own crime laboratory. We prosecute approximately 40,000 criminal cases per year.
J.: You don’t personally try cases anymore, so do you miss being in court?
JR: I do go to court to watch prosecutors at trial. It’s very important for me to see the great work they are doing there and to support them. I miss some aspects of trying cases, but the truth is I’m completely engaged in what I am doing now.
J.: From 2004 to 2006, you were president of Congreg-ation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto. Did that help prepare you for running the DA’s office?
JR: Being shul president prepared me, in many respects, very well for this. Neither at the shul nor here at the DA’s office can I just walk in and say, “We’re going to make changes.” I learned at Kol Emeth about taking time and getting everyone’s buy-in as best as possible, and that’s how I do things here.
I’ve also brought specific practices from the synagogue to the DA’s office. For example, I started a new tradition whereby we start every management meeting with a d’var Torah [a talk or an essay based on a reading]. Of course, it’s not the Bible, because this is the DA’s office, but every week someone brings in a reading. This week’s was an article about how Disneyland has created happiness on the job. We talk about the readings, and we get the parallels to what we are doing here. It’s a shared experience.
J.: How do you explain to your two teenage daughters what you do?
JR: They think my job is really boring. What they really want to know is why I don’t actually go bowling when I eat lunch at 4th Street Bowl, which is near my office.
J.: Do you consider your work as your tikkun olam?
JR: There are things that are broken in our society, and I am trying to fix it in my own small way with the people I work with. A crime creates a tear in the fabric of a person’s life or in our community, and I’m trying to repair that tear. There’s a scar that’s a reminder of what happened, but there is some amount of healing. I don’t like people being taken advantage of and I want to do something about that, and I think that is totally Jewish.
Things are the way things are, not the way they are supposed to be. You can say there is nothing I can do about it, or you can do something to try to make it better. All my Jewish upbringing and learning has led me to be an active participant in making the world better.
“Talking with …” is a j. feature that focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting.
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