Finally, a challenge for DA’s office

When the Paradise Post reported on Nov. 8 that Chico attorney Dale Rasmussen was going to run for Butte County district attorney, Rasmussen was an almost-disinterested party.

His unlikely campaign was more of an uninspired agreement to appease the desires of some of his clients that he challenge incumbent Mike Ramsey. Those clients are medical-marijuana users whom Rasmussen has defended—in some cases quite successfully—from pot charges in a county that is very hesitant to recognize the legitimacy of Prop. 215, the now 5-year-old state law that decriminalized the medicinal use of marijuana.

So Rasmussen had reluctantly agreed to run if the supporters could collect 4,000-plus signatures that could be substituted for the $1,000 campaign filing fee.

But something happened the same day the Post story came out that made Rasmussen re-examine his desire to become district attorney, or more precisely, replace Ramsey.

Just as the Post story hit the streets, Ramsey was tipping off the media that he was about to round up the county’s bad-check writers and haul them off to jail. The media were invited to come along for the fun and record the arrests—in some cases, for single bounced checks written for less than $50. (See Briefly, page 8.)

That, says Rasmussen, was the last straw. The media event, he said, is held to bolster Ramsey’s reputation as a tough-on-crime prosecutor but in reality only humiliates low-income folks who are alleged to have committed petty crimes.

“For an economic crime like this [Ramsey] could issue a citation or a letter advising them to appear, but he has to arrest somebody,” the 48-year-old Rasmussen said this week. “And it’s the same with the round-up of the so-called deadbeat dads on Father’s Day. A lot of it is grandstanding, these arrests for economic crimes. He arrests people when he doesn’t have to. I would want to put the focus on the safety of society.”

Rasmussen says local law enforcement and prosecution are too often concerned about what goes on behind closed doors between consenting adults.

“In my view, what happens inside your home is nobody’s business, unless you are threatening someone with bodily harm. But we don’t need to kick in someone’s door to see if they are doing methamphetamine.’

Rasmussen concedes he faces an uphill battle against Ramsey, who’s been in office since being appointed in 1987 and has seldom faced opposition for re-election.

The criminal-justice system, he said, is set up to make the public believe that all criminal defendants are “scumbags.”

“It’s so easy to demonize someone,” Rasmussen said. “There they are in court in their little orange jumpsuits, they have bad breath and they haven’t shaved for days. They are not maliciously evil people. Maybe they are not so smart, but still …”

Rasmussen said he would operate his campaign “outside the envelope” and focus on asking people how well they think Ramsey is doing his job.

There’s been no official announcement, but he said he expects to make one within the next week.

The self-effacing Rasmussen, who once described himself as a "bottom feeder" in his profession, works out of his home and, besides defending medical-marijuana users, is often appointed cases that the Public Defender’s Office can’t take because of possible conflicts of interest.