DOUG HAUBERT: SOMEWHERE BETWEEN WINNING UGLY AND SITTING PRETTYBy Dave Wielenga
After winning the ugliest of the eight campaigns that were waged last year for Long Beach elected offices, Doug Haubert is sitting pretty as city prosecutor. At the moment, he’s nestled into the practical padding of one of the black swivel chairs that surround the department’s long conference table, and when he selected the chair at the head of that table, it already seemed out of habit.
Haubert had come across just as comfortably while giving a tour of the suite of offices he oversees on the second floor of City Hall. That probably has something to do with the fact that he’s been here before—in 1999, Haubert’s first job out of law school was a two-year stint with the Long Beach city prosecutor’s office.
But it just as probably derives from his style, temperament, presence and maybe even whoever does his laundry. This interview with Greater Long Beach—Haubert’s first in-depth sit-down with the media since taking office—is starting late in the day and late in the week, but as the tape recorder begins turning and Haubert awaits the first question, the white shirt he put on for work this morning is still crisp and unsullied.
Meanwhile, Haubert has just thought of an interesting anecdote about the summer of 1999, during his very first days in his very first job as a Long Beach deputy city prosecutor.
“I took the bar exam the last week of July—finished it on a Friday and started my job here on Monday in early August, before I even got my bar results,” Haubert recounts. “I didn’t have my bar results ‘til November, but I got to try a case—and I won. I’m the only lawyer I know of who actually won a jury trial before I had my bar result, before I was a lawyer.”
Apparently, pretty just happens to be the way Doug Haubert sits.
He doesn’t have much of a choice. Haubert is a physically trim man, slight of height and frame. His altar boy’s face has remained so fresh and handsome that even his graying hair can’t imply enough real-worldly years to subdue an ever-present aura of earnestness and ambition, somewhere between a seminarian and a fraternity brother. He asked to go off the record several times during this interview, but never to reveal anything that seemed especially sensitive—once, so he could reference his mild college partying in Belmont Shore. At times like that, he almost seems too pretty to be the top-ranking civilian in Long Beach law enforcement.
At other times, Haubert’s campaign for city prosecutor comes to mind.
“I didn’t grow up wanting to be Long Beach City Prosecutor,” he insists. “It was not my main goal in life.”
Once he decided he wanted the job, however, Haubert showed what he was willing to do to get it. The list of high-profile endorsements he assembled from all over California and the way he assailed his opponent—then-assistant deputy city attorney Tim O’Reilly—on issues large, small and sometimes opportunistic left few doubts about how much police dog is packed inside this seeming lap dog.
Haubert relentlessly poked O’Reilly, a solidly built man with a military background, with a two-pronged strategy that alternately made a big deal out of the O’Reilly campaign signs that were posted on public property and questioned the 15 years O’Reilly worked as a defense attorney before joining the city prosecutor’s office.
“Instead of hiring a company to smear intersections with signs like Tim did, I have chosen to walk door-to-door to meet voters and tell them about my background as a prosecutor,” Haubert said during the campaign. “His lifetime career has been as a criminal defense lawyer representing criminals, not representing the interests of the people. When I looked at who else was running it was pretty clear that I needed to be in the race. Do we have to elect a person who represents violent criminals?”
In other words, O’Reilly was not fit for office because of littering and for providing the legal defense that is guaranteed to everybody under our legal system?
“It’s an out-of-body experience to run for office, where my name all of a sudden is in newspaper and on mailers, on lawn signs,” Haubert says. “It is bizarre for me. I’m a private guy. It’s very weird for me. But this is what you have to do to win.”
KNOWING WHAT MUST BE DONE during an election—basically, whatever it takes to attract the most votes—is a much clearer call than the uncountable thousands of decisions involved in the more than 13,000 misdemeanors that the Long Beach city prosecutor’s office takes to court every year.
In fact, the job of city prosecutor is so complex that Haubert can’t precisely explain how he—or his constituents—ought to determine whether he’s doing a good one.
“We measure a lot of things. We look at a lot of statistics. But there is not one indicator I would point to,” Haubert says, suggesting that it’s a little too convenient—and possibly misleading—for prosecutors to promote their effectiveness through a single category of numbers.
“There are prosecutors who brag about their conviction rate, but that’s not a great barometer,” Haubert says. “Prosecutors control which cases are filed, so some will reject cases unless there are 100 witnesses and the documentation is perfect. If they only file perfect cases, they will have a 100-percent conviction rate. But all the less-than-perfect cases aren’t getting prosecuted and that doesn’t make a city safer.”
At the end of all the heady statistical analysis, Haubert more or less recommends that we go by the seat of our pants.
“In my opinion, the best way to say whether your city prosecutor is doing a good job is whether people feel the neighborhoods are getting safer,” he says. “It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that crime is out of control, it doesn’t matter what the statistics say. If you feel unsafe in your neighborhood, unsafe when walking down the street, then it sounds to me that there’s a lot more that public safety in general needs to do. And I’m just a part of the public safety team.”
Haubert says he intends to extend that sense of teamwork throughout the community.
“I try to go to as many neighborhood meetings as can, to be visible in public, because I want people to feel this office is accessible to them,” he says. “I think my success in large part will depend on whether people feel I am accessible—like, you may not be able to get the district attorney on the phone but you can get the city prosecutor on the phone. Also, it’s important that I hear, first-hand, what people feel the problems are in their neighborhoods. The statistics may say there is no problem with a certain type of crime but if the people feel there is a problem, well, they need to feel safe.”
About 2 ½ weeks ago, Haubert made one of his public appearances at the Main Library, spending a precious part of a sunny Saturday afternoon—his day off—delivering a speech that was intended to set the tone for Long Beach’s participation in the Season of Nonviolence. The annual homage to peaceful coexistence was setting forth on a 64-day run.
But at 10:50 that night—eight hours, give or take, after Haubert wrapped up his remarks—two gang detectives from the Long Beach Police Department were ambushed while on patrol. As their unmarked vehicle traveled east on Anaheim Street, a car pulled up next to them and somebody inside opened fire. The uniformed detective at the wheel was wounded by a bullet that somehow avoided his protective vest. He was hospitalized but survived.
The assailants escaped, although two 19-year-old Long Beach men—Erick Sianez and David Silva—were arrested five days later. At a Feb. 4 press conference announcing their apprehension, Police Chief Jim McDonnell identified them as gang members. They are awaiting a Feb. 24 preliminary hearing on charges of brandishing a firearm, attempted murder of a police officer with great bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon and shooting at an occupied vehicle.
The same-day juxtaposition of the Season of Non-Violence kickoff and the brazen armed attack may have been shocking to some. Not Haubert.
“I see no correlation between the two events,” he said flatly when contacted for comment. “I doubt that the attackers saw any correlation. I doubt they said, ‘This is the beginning of the Season of Non-Violence—let’s shoot at some police officers.’ If that shooting had not occurred it wouldn’t have meant the problem of gang violence was over. The nature of that violence is sporadic and unpredictable.”
What about the things Haubert just said about evaluating the work of the city prosecutor by citizenry’s general feeling of safety?
“Again, I see no correlation between the events,” he repeated. “But we’re working on that.”
HAUBERT HAS ESTABLISHED three priorities for his term in office:
1) Quality-of-life crimes, wherein zoning ordinances and building codes are strictly enforced on the theory that keeping neighborhoods orderly and free of broken windows, trash and overgrown vegetation sets a standard for cleanliness and pride that prevents more serious crime.
2) Anti-gang tactics, such as gang injunctions (in which specific gang members are prohibited from socializing in public, displaying tattoos and throwing gang signs) and school-truancy programs (in which parents can be prosecuted when their children miss too much school and for contributing to the delinquency of a minor when their children commit crimes because of a lack of supervision).
3) Innovations in the city prosecutor’s office, which has begun with a recently announced volunteer prosecutor program, in which attorneys sign on for a three-month minimum to be trained in criminal law and used to lighten and facilitate the workload of city-paid staff.
Haubert formally introduced his approach to one of those priorities—tackling the issue of school truancy—at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Long Beach City Council. He outlined the PACT (Program for Parent Accountability for Truancy) program—based on a new California law—that he has just created in partnership with the Long Beach Unified School District and the Long Beach Police Department.
As described above, the terms of the law and the PACT partnership allow parents of children in grades kindergarten through eighth grade to be charged with misdemeanors (punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine) if their children miss 10 percent or more of each year’s school days. Also, parents of children under 18 can be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor if their children repeatedly commit crimes.
“Parents need to take responsibility for their children, and in some cases parents need to be held accountable when their children violate the law,” Haubert told the City Council, referencing studies that tie early truancy to high school dropout rates to an overwhelming percentage of the California prison population. “But the purpose of our program is not to prosecute—it is to try to get children back in school.”
Upstairs in his office, Haubert expanded on his commitment and contributions to this issue.
“I’ve told the (school) district, whatever you need from the city prosecutor, let me know,” he said. “If you need me to talk tough to kids, I’m happy to do it. I’ll bring prosecutors that look like them—that are Hispanic, for example. I’ll let them meet attorneys and say, ‘You might not think attorneys are Black, so let me introduce you to some Black attorneys, some Hispanic attorneys. There are some things you can do with your life, and here are the consequences if you don’t do what you should be doing.’
“Is that going to affect any crime statistic this year or next year or year after? I don’t think so. But I’m hoping it might prevent a lot of serious crimes in the future. I could never put a number, a statistic together that would support that. But I personally believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s not part of my primary job responsibility, but I am doing that.”
But perhaps the most-controversial of Haubert’s programs are the gang injunctions. The latest, instituted in North Long Beach last fall against members of the North Side Longos and a prison-based umbrella group called the Surenos (the Southerners), prohibits certain gang members against engaging in various behaviors that otherwise might be legal or might not be considered serious crimes.
“For example, two people hanging out if they are both gang members—they no longer have the right to hang out in public in the target area if they have both been served with the gang injunction,” says Haubert. “We can arrest them for being in public. We can arrest them for throwing gang signs. We can arrest them, not just for discharging firearms, but for being in the presence of someone when a firearm is discharged. They can be arrested for violating curfew—they now have a curfew. They can be arrested if they are blocking the passage of a sidewalk. Drinking in public.
“These are what I would consider rather low-grade crimes, if you just looked at what they were doing, but it’s really part of an intimidation going on by the gangs. They are out in public, they are doing thing intentionally to intimidate the public so the public doesn’t feel safe. They’re tagging houses and they’re tagging public property, they’re destroying public property, they’re intimidating witnesses. And a lot of it, you might think if you look at each individual act, is relatively minor—but it’s the cumulative effect that creates a great, great problem for our community.”
You might also wonder whether what kind of precedent is set by such an injunction—whether it’s use as a law-enforcement tool might be eventually expanded into areas that take away significant rights in other situations. Or you might wonder about the gang injunction’s potential for abuse even in this situation—the targeting or accidental inclusion of individuals who are not gang members.
Haubert doesn’t blame anybody for wondering, but he insists nobody has to worry.
“It’s not easy to be a part of our injunctions—you have to deserve it because of past behavior,” he says. “Police screen individuals and they put together, if you will, a resume. They look for arrests and convictions, for people who are there with others who are arrested and convicted, for gang-related crimes. They look for that personal involvement in criminal activity.
“Also, they look for gang affiliation—someone who has big tattoo on his back that has name of the gang, who admits being member and is involved in activity that furthers the interests of the gang.”
The police bring a list of people to the city prosecutor’s office.
“We do a second screening,” says Haubert. “We review reports and incidents. We either say, ‘No, we don’t think they are active enough to be part of this gang injunction,’ or we file in court a request to have those people served. And the court is a third screening level, which ultimately decides whether or not this group of individuals really are a gang, and whether or not the conditions we want to impose are fair.”
Still, a previous incarnation of gang injunctions was criticized for being applied too widely and for not providing a way for those included to ever be removed from its list.
“That was before,” says Haubert. “The latest injunction allows us the ability to remove people from the injunction with criteria that we still developing. But that criteria is going to require them to disavow the gang, it’s going to require them to do community service, have a community sponsor—someone who is going to vouch for that person—and will watch that person. So there is a way out.”
Haubert pauses to take a breath.
“Look, not in our interest to have people on this list who are not active gang members,” he contends. “We can only watch so many people at time. In our interest to make sure it’s a tight injunction and we truly going after the worst of the worst, the most active gang members, the ones who are the greatest threat to our public safety. That’s what I want.”
IT’S NOT THAT DOUG HAUBERT couldn’t be sitting prettier. Of all the offices in the city prosecutor’s department, his turns out to be the one that should have had the best view—of the roof of the Main Library, which years ago was grandly planned as a garden park. But when engineers couldn’t stop rain and irrigation from leaking through the roof and into the library, the vegetation was removed and the garden paved over. Consequently, Haubert’s view is of a sprawling slab of white concrete. Rather stark, although not without potential value … perhaps, for instance, as a silent reminder to a new office-holder laying out an ambitious agenda.
Perhaps, but it’s probably doubtful that’s how Haubert would see it. Anyway, he’d rather show photos of his wife and children—who, it dawns upon you, have never appeared in any of his campaign literature.
“Well, I’d never want to put them in any danger,” he says. “I prosecute some pretty dangerous people.”
And as the gravity of that reality hits—really, for the first time—you wonder how a pretty boy like Haubert ended up in a job like this.
“I mean,” you confide to him, “we’re not tough guys here.”
“You’re speaking for yourself now, right?” Haubert asks, and after a second or two, he laughs.