Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley is stepping aside

From victims’ rights to police accountability, O’Malley leaves a complex legacy. Her decision to not appoint a successor also creates the most open election for DA in decades–maybe ever.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley pushed prosecutors across the U.S. to better address violence against women, violence against persons with disabilities, and interpersonal violence including sexual assault, domestic violence, elder abuse, child abuse, stalking, and human exploitation and trafficking. Credit: Amir Aziz

When Nancy O’Malley was appointed Alameda County district attorney in 2009, Oakland was tense. Months earlier, BART police officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant III at Fruitvale station. Riots rocked Oakland until O’Malley’s predecessor, Tom Orloff, charged Mehserle with murder. Months later, Orloff announced he would step down as DA. That left O’Malley, his top assistant, to fill his shoes and finish the prosecution.

More than 11 years later, riots over a police killing erupted again, this time all over the nation in response to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer. Calls for police accountability grew, including in Oakland. City governments faced pressure to redirect police funds to social services and alternatives to law enforcement. Prosecutors were pressured to bring criminal charges against officers who kill in the line of duty.

In September, O’Malley charged San Leandro Officer Jason Fletcher with voluntary manslaughter. Fletcher shot and killed Steven Taylor inside a Walmart while Taylor was holding an aluminum baseball bat on April 18, 2020, about a month before Floyd was killed.

Fletcher was the first officer charged with a homicide in the county since O’Malley became DA. Between the time she took office and when Fletcher killed Taylor, 66 people were shot and killed by law enforcement officers in Alameda County. Others were killed by use of restraints, Tasers, or other means that didn’t involve a firearm.

Some observers thought O’Malley’s decision was an attempt to shore up her own progressive credentials in preparation for a run for reelection in 2022, during a time when DAs across the nation are being challenged from the left by civil rights attorneys, public defenders, and others advancing reforms. O’Malley, however, cited a change in state law imposing new standards for when officers can use force as the reason she charged Fletcher, and months later, she made the surprise announcement that she would not seek a fourth term as DA.

“It’s time for the next person to come and bring the next phase of prosecution,” O’Malley, the first woman to ever have the job, said during an interview in her ninth-floor office in the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland. “I’m ready for the next people to come and bring their brilliant ideas and bring their way that they’re going to pursue justice and continue with the legacy of this office as I did.”

In 2022, voters will pick Alameda County’s next DA in the most open prosecutor’s election in decades

O’Malley has pledged to not appoint a successor before her term is up, breaking with decades of tradition that many people feel is problematic. O’Malley’s decision means that for the first time since 1938 there will be an election to fill a vacancy in the office. Ever since then, the incumbent DA in Alameda County has hand-picked a successor when they retire before their term is up. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors has always voted in majority to appoint these chosen assistants temporarily to lead the office, giving them the powerful advantages of incumbency against anyone who might challenge them in the next election. Often, they ran unopposed, as O’Malley did for her first term after Orloff recommended the supervisors appoint her. 

“The U.S. is the only country that elects its prosecutors. And we don’t just elect them, we elect them on a local basis,” said Carissa Byrne Hessick, a criminal law professor at the University of North Carolina and director of the Prosecutors and Politics Project. While popular elections would seem to promote accountability, Hessick’s research has found that only 25% of elected prosecutors nationwide faced an opponent for reelection and nearly half of the candidates running for open seats ran unopposed. Races in smaller cities and rural areas are more likely to be uncontested, where the role of the DA receives less scrutiny.

“We have all these uncontested elections, so in some ways we have the worst of all worlds: We have political prosecutors who respond to political pressure and because we have uncontested elections we have no accountability,” she said.

Prosecutors have drawn increased scrutiny as some criminal justice reform advocates have focused on the role DAs could play in reducing incarceration rates and holding law enforcement officers accountable. In some cities, voters have agreed and elected reform-minded prosecutors like George Gascon in Los Angeles and Chesa Boudin in San Francisco.

O’Malley herself faced a challenge from civil rights attorney Pamela Price in 2018, the first time a DA’s race in Alameda County had been contested in 40 years. During the campaign, Price portrayed O’Malley as a DA who exacerbated racial inequity in the criminal justice system and did not hold police officers accountable. Price has already said she will run again in 2022. National criminal justice reform organizations and funders, including financier and philanthropist George Soros, spent heavily backing Price, while police unions backed O’Malley, who carried the race by a 15-point margin.

O’Malley, who describes herself as a lifelong Democrat, said that she has been progressive all along: that she has implemented reforms over her 12-year tenure similar to Boudin and Gascon, including diversion programs to rehabilitate in lieu of incarceration. She pointed to one program, the Justice Restoration Program, that provides education, employment and counseling services to people with felony convictions to reduce recidivism.

“What I saw was so disturbing and so horrific for how victims were treated in the criminal justice system.”

Nancy O’Malley

“We’re progressive in the prosecutor world, and maybe not progressive enough for some people that are ‘defund the police’ or something like that,” O’Malley said. “But the things that we’re doing are very effective.”

Even so, O’Malley said she doesn’t agree with all of the reforms that Boudin and Gascon have enacted. She questioned some high-profile cases where Boudin has released a person accused of a crime who went on to commit a heinous crime. And she said that Gascon’s moratorium on the use of most sentencing enhancements, such as for the use of a gun or binding a victim during a kidnapping, goes too far.

O’Malley has also opposed major statewide reforms advanced at the ballot box, including campaigning against Proposition 47, which reduced certain nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors. As the president of the California District Attorney’s Association from 2019 to 2020, O’Malley helped plan and execute the group’s opposition to criminal justice reforms and advance stricter charging and sentencing laws. A report by the Prosecutors and Politics Project found that over a four-year period, the CDAA supported 127 bills that either expanded criminal law or increased punishment while opposing seven such bills.

Current CDAA president Vern Pierson, the DA of El Dorado County, said that he thinks the CDAA is at times unfairly criticized for its opposition to certain reform propositions, which may be good ideas but are poorly implemented. He said that he thinks O’Malley is progressive, though not as much as people like Gascon, whom he described as “reckless.”

“She’s unquestionably a progressive prosecutor in the sense she’s always looking at ways to improve the profession,” he said. “I think there are some people who are elected DA who are DAs and prosecutors in name only, they are ideologues who either don’t understand the criminal justice system or want to reshape it in a way that most of us would not feel comfortable.”

Throughout her career, O’Malley has advocated for new legislation and often advised on or even helped draft bills. Some have increased punishments, but she has primarily focused on securing rights for victims, particularly of human trafficking and sexual assault. For example, she worked on several bills designed to ensure that forensic DNA evidence gathered in sexual assault investigations was properly tested and archived. 

And while it took more than a decade for her to charge a police officer in a fatal shooting, that’s something Gascon never did while he was DA in San Francisco. O’Malley cited the change in law, but said it was a change she agrees with, and she was unequivocal that she believes police officers should be held to a higher standard.

Traditionally, Alameda County’s DAs chose handpicked successors, stifling competition for the office

District Attorney for Alameda County, Nancy O'Malley in her office at 1225 Fallon St, Oakland, CA
Nancy O’Malley was appointed Alameda County District Attorney in 2009 and ran unopposed in 2010. She was reelected in 2014 and 2018. Credit: Amir Aziz.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office dates back to 1853, when William Coombs was named the county’s first DA. Since then, the DA’s top assistant has often ascended to lead it when the previous DA left before their term was up. In fact, the last time the seat was contested without an incumbent was in 1938, when the DA at the time, Earl Warren, ran for attorney general. Warren’s top assistant, Ralph Hoyt, prevailed in the election and was reelected twice. 

Warren, who went on to become the only person ever elected to three terms as governor of California, and later chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was the most famous man to hold the DA’s office. But many former district attorneys have gone on to prestigious judicial appointments. Others who worked there have risen to powerful positions, such as Edwin Meese, who was U.S. Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan, and Vice President Kamala Harris, who began her legal career as a prosecutor.

Nancy O’Malley was not born into a prosecutor’s family, but when she was a teenager, her father Bill O’Malley was appointed DA of Contra Costa County. Bill O’Malley had worked as an insurance adjuster and didn’t get his law degree until he was 37-years-old. But once he did, he ascended quickly in the profession. After he was appointed DA, he won four elections and was named a superior court judge.

Despite her father’s prominent position, Nancy, who was one of nine children, said that early on she did not intend to be a lawyer. But her father’s job had an early influence on her when he funded the first rape crisis center in Contra Costa County. At her father’s suggestion, O’Malley volunteered there.

“What I saw was so disturbing and so horrific for how victims were treated in the criminal justice system,” she said. She visited rape victims in the hospital, where they were questioned by police. “The cops would come in and they’d say, ‘What were you wearing?’” O’Malley recalled. “‘And where were you and what were you doing? Did you think you provoked something? Do you think you gave a subliminal message to the guy?’”

When she interacted with attorneys in her father’s office, she was also disappointed. Police investigators would send shoddy reports that blamed victims and the DA’s office wouldn’t pursue charges. “I just knew that the crimes that were happening to these women were not taken seriously, and many of them didn’t even result in charges being filed unless it was really clear cut,” O’Malley said. “And that’s still true today across the country.”

After she complained about the behavior of some of the attorneys in her father’s office, he told her to file formal complaints. That led to the appointment of a liaison from the DA’s office at the crisis center.

“It made me realize that as a strong person, myself, that I had the capacity to help people to be strong when people were in their most traumatic moment,” O’Malley said. “That’s really what gave me focus on the criminal justice system, not necessarily to be a DA, but to take down a system where there was so much injustice to the victims of crime.”

In fact, O’Malley said that she thought she would enter politics. But during a bout with cancer after college she decided to attend law school. She met with a friend in the DA’s office for advice. Because she’d been taking on police and prosecutors on behalf of rape victims, she thought being a public defender was the right path for her. But her friend told her, “It sounds fine when you’re having a DUI, and you’re sitting next to somebody who got caught drunk driving. But in three years, you’re going to be sitting next to a rapist,” O’Malley recalled. “And I’m like, rapist? No, I can’t do that job,” she said.

So she became a prosecutor. O’Malley was hired by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office in 1984. By 1999, she was the chief assistant district attorney.

A New Year’s tragedy that led to one of the state’s first murder prosecutions of an on-duty police officer

Early on New Year’s Day in 2009, Oscar Grant III was riding home on BART from a celebration in San Francisco. After a fight on the train, police stopped it at the Fruitvale station and detained several passengers on the platform, including Grant. One officer, Anthony Pirone, was particularly aggressive and pushed Grant on his stomach and held him down with his knee on his neck. Officer Johannes Mehserle, standing above Grant, shot him in the back, killing him.

Throughout the encounter, the train, packed with passengers, remained stopped at the station. Several people recorded Mehserle shooting Grant on cellphone cameras and soon the footage was broadcast throughout the country, one of the first viral videos of a police killing. Riots in Oakland went on for weeks until then-DA Orloff charged Mehserle with second-degree murder.

That September, Orloff, who was up for reelection in 2010, announced he would step down as DA as soon as a successor could be named. He recommended O’Malley. She was appointed by a 3-2 vote of the county Board of Supervisors. The two who voted against her voiced displeasure about appointing a new DA just a few months before an election,  giving them the advantage of running as an incumbent. At the meeting, Supervisor Nate Miley said, “To the public, the process stinks and it looks like the fix is in.”

O’Malley was the first Alameda County DA who was not a white man. In March, after no one filed to run against O’Malley, her election to a full four-year term became assured.

Not long after O’Malley was appointed, a judge ruled in favor of a change of venue for Mehserle’s trial, citing the extensive media coverage and tense political atmosphere in the Bay Area. Mehserle was tried the following summer in Los Angeles. A jury convicted him of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter and he was sentenced to two years in prison. Reflecting on the trial, O’Malley called the defense, which argued that Mehserle had meant to deploy his Taser but accidentally unholstered his firearm, “incredibly flimsy.” She said she was disappointed by the verdict.

Michael Rains, Mehserle’s defense attorney who frequently represents police officers accused of misconduct, said that he thought Orloff capitulated to popular opinion in charging Mehserle with murder. “I think it was ridiculous to charge it as a murder and I told that to Mr. Orloff,” Rains said in an interview. But he added he thinks O’Malley would have succumbed to the pressure as well. 

“I would have frankly understood had either Tom or Nancy charged the case as an involuntary manslaughter,” Rains said. But he said he found a murder charge “implausible and irresponsible.”

John Burris, a civil rights attorney who represented Grant’s family in a civil suit, agreed that a murder charge was too aggressive. “I thought that they overcharged it. I thought the case was a manslaughter case, but DA’s offices, including Nancy, have a tendency to overcharge,” Burris said. “I’m assuming that he had a good faith belief that he thought that Oscar was going for a gun but that was unreasonable because there was no evidence to support that. To me, that gets you to voluntary manslaughter and he should have been convicted of voluntary manslaughter.”

O’Malley said that she believes the decision to charge Mehserle with murder was right. “That’s what I believe he did and I believe that we had the evidence to prove that,” she said.

Even so, Grant’s family has been critical of O’Malley. A decade after the shooting, internal BART police records were released under a new transparency law. The records revealed that investigators concluded Pirone, the officer who held Grant down with his knee on his neck, used excessive force, called Grant a racial slur, was responsible for escalating the situation, and lied to investigators. BART fired Pirone after the incident and investigation, but he was not criminally charged.

After the family called for a reexamination of the case, O’Malley announced in October that she would reopen it. Months later she said that she found the evidence did not support a murder charge against Pirone because there was no indication Pirone knew Mehserle would fire his gun. She also defended the decision at the time to not charge Pirone with assault, saying that his testimony was critical to convicting Mehserle. Burris said he questioned at the time why Pirone wasn’t charged but said that reopening the case after so long just gave the family “false hope.”

Angry over the decision, Grant’s family announced a recall campaign against O’Malley, weeks before she announced she would not run again. Recall proponents say they will proceed regardless.

O’Malley spent much of her career working with victims of sexual assault and other crimes

District Attorney for Alameda County, Nancy O'Malley in her office at 1225 Fallon St, Oakland, CA
District Attorney Nancy O’Malley in her office at 1225 Fallon St., Oakland, CA. Credit: Amir Aziz

During the 2010 Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco, Heather Marlowe was handed a red plastic cup of beer and soon lost consciousness. She woke up in a strange home. A man she had never met was sitting next to her. When she asked what happened he told her, “We had sex.”

Marlowe said that San Francisco police took bizarre investigatory steps such as instructing her to knock on the door of a home to see if she could identify the scene of the crime and asking her to set up a date with a possible suspect under an assumed name. Meanwhile, Marlowe sought the results of her sexual assault forensic exam, an invasive medical exam administered after an assault. The department eventually admitted it had not been tested because of the crime lab’s “backlog.” Two years later, she was told her case was inactive and her rape kit had been placed in storage.

Marlowe’s activism, both through a lawsuit and a one-woman play she wrote and performed called The Haze, brought nationwide attention to the failures of police agencies to properly investigate sexual assaults. In 2014, San Francisco police confirmed that the department was in possession of hundreds of untested rape kits. 

As DA, O’Malley started looking into the issue in Alameda County.

“What I believed, when I was a deputy and head of sexual assault, was that we were getting these kits tested on a regular basis,” O’Malley said. “Then when I became the DA, I did a survey, and I assigned people to work with the police departments. And I was shocked to find out that we had 1,900 kits that had not been submitted for testing.”

O’Malley brought the issue to the attention of then-FBI Director James Comey. The FBI had been building a database of offenders for years to check DNA samples. But if victims’ kits weren’t tested, it was impossible to check the evidence against the FBI database. Later, O’Malley worked with U.S. Rep. Mike Honda to secure funds to test rape kits. Federal officials estimated that there were about 400,000 untested rape kits nationwide, many stacked in police storage rooms. “I felt like, ‘Oh my god, I’m back in the 1970s where the police aren’t doing their job,’” O’Malley said. 

In California, O’Malley worked with then-state Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, on a 2014 bill that set time frames for testing rape kits. Even though the guidelines did not require the agencies to finish tests by a certain date, the bill faced opposition from the California State Sheriff’s Association, which complained that it would further stretch their resources. It wasn’t until 2019 that another bill by Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, and co-sponsored by O’Malley required agencies to promptly test DNA evidence from sexual assaults.

There have been numerous examples of repeat violent offenders who have evaded capture because of the failure to process DNA evidence. A man later implicated in the sexual assault of two Berkeley teens in 2008 remained unidentified for years because Berkeley police failed to test DNA evidence collected from the victims. After O’Malley pressed the department to process its untested kits in 2014, police issued a warrant for the man. But before he was arrested he allegedly attacked a woman in her North Berkeley home and murdered a dental student in Albany. Sexual assault and murder charges are still pending.

While California has made headway on testing rape kits, nationally it remains a problem, as well as the more enduring and harder to solve issue of police culture being at times antithetical to conducting thorough and sensitive investigations into sexual assault. O’Malley said that she has attempted to address this through legislation as well, such as by sponsoring a 1996 state bill, the Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, which among other things allowed a victim to have an advocate present at any physical exam or law enforcement interview.

“When you have a volunteer or an advocate there, police behavior can change, because now they’ve got an independent person who’s advocating for the victim,” O’Malley said. 

Because victims of sexual assault cannot be compelled to participate in prosecutions, the behavior of police in early interviews can make or break a criminal case. “I think that the way the police interact in those initial moments can set in motion a, ‘Oh hell no, I’m not getting involved in this system,’ versus somebody who feels safe or feels believed,” O’Malley said.

Few officers in the Bay Area’s 2016 sex exploitation scandal were convicted of crimes

The toxic masculinity of police departments was on full display in 2016, when an internal Oakland police investigation into the sexual exploitation of a teenager by police officers at several Bay Area agencies spilled into public view. After three Oakland police chiefs stepped down in a week, Mayor Libby Schaaf directed the department to report to the city administrator and said, “I am here to run a police department not a frat house.”

O’Malley announced at a news conference that she intended to file criminal charges against seven officers from three departments, but the most serious charges — two officers charged with oral copulation with a minor — were either dropped or dismissed. One of the officers O’Malley went after, Giovanni LoVerde, had his charges dropped after the DA submitted a motion to dismiss. LoVerde remains an Oakland police officer. Another officer O’Malley said she intended to prosecute for misusing a police database, Warit Utappa, was never charged.

The woman at the center of the scandal, known as Celeste Guap, was named publicly in news reports and testified during the prosecution of the officers. She has since publicly expressed frustration with the limited accountability for some officers, including saying during an Oakland Police Commission meeting in 2018, “I have to walk around Oakland a lot. And seeing the same officers who have violated you, and seeing them smirk at you, like they got away with it, that’s a real slap in the face.” 

In one felony case against former Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Deputy Ricardo Perez, a judge ruled that prosecutors did not demonstrate that he knew or should have known that Guap was underage when he engaged in sex acts with her. O’Malley’s office initially filed an appeal in the case, but later withdrew it.

“She was very traumatized,” O’Malley said. “In one of the felony cases where she was testifying, she was sitting on the witness stand throwing up the whole time. She had a bucket next to her. It was very difficult for her to testify and be cross-examined, she was very brave and courageous to do it.”

Compounding the difficulties, O’Malley said that Guap’s story changed during the prosecution. Guap told prosecutors she performed oral sex on an Oakland police officer in an apartment building doorway near Lake Merritt, but at times wouldn’t confirm LoVerde was the officer. O’Malley said she keeps in touch with Guap, who will now admit she was protecting some officers, including LoVerde, from prosecution.

“I went back and forth with the mayor on this one, because they didn’t want to fire him,” O’Malley said. “And I said, ‘She identified him in the beginning. And we’re moving forward with this prosecution.’”

In an interview, Guap said that she wanted the officers involved to face more consequences but it was difficult to endure what she described as bullying in the media. “I really just wanted it to go away so things could go back to normal,” she said. “I was very disappointed with how the cases came out, very light sentences or no sentences at all.”

She doesn’t blame O’Malley for the outcome, however. “She’s a sweetheart,” Guap said. 

Not long after that, O’Malley’s office took on a similar case against a San Leandro police officer who also was not convicted. In September 2017, Marco Becerra was charged with having sex with a minor, a student he advised in the department’s youth Police Explorer program. 

Investigators learned of the situation through a county social worker. A search of Becerra’s and the victim’s cellphones showed text message conversations where the two swapped explicit photos and videos. Becerra admitted to investigators that he had a sexual relationship with the girl and resigned from the department. But the DA’s office dropped the case the following year, saying that the girl declined to move forward. 

O’Malley acknowledged that sexual assault prosecutions can proceed without the cooperation of victims, but said that a confession is not sufficient evidence to prove a crime has been committed. “You can prove that if there’s a video or you can prove it independently,” she said. “But she had to be able to say something happened.”

A recent change in state law allows DAs to prosecute more officers for using deadly force

California’s legislature passed a new law in 2019 strengthening the standard for when officers can use deadly force. It required officers to deescalate situations and only allows officers to use deadly force when it is necessary to prevent injury or death to the officer or someone else.

In April 2020, San Leandro police Officer Jason Fletcher responded to a call of a man wielding a baseball bat inside a Walmart store as he attempted to walk out without paying. Video of the shooting shows that Fletcher walked up to the man, Steven Taylor, so he was face to face with him, but when Fletcher tried to grab the bat, Taylor stepped back. Fletcher drew both his gun and Taser. He tased Taylor, but when he did not fall, Fletcher shot him once. Another officer arrived and also tased Taylor, and he crumpled to the ground and died.

That September, O’Malley’s office charged Fletcher with voluntary manslaughter, the first police officer charged with an on-duty homicide since Mehserle. Previous shootings had similar circumstances as that one, such as when Hayward police officers shot Agustin “Augie” Gonzalez within seconds while he was standing in the street with a razor blade in 2018, or when a Fremont police officer shot and wounded Rolonte Simril in 2017. O’Malley said the change in state law, a change she agrees with, allowed her to bring charges against Fletcher. 

“Police have more responsibility to engage before they resort to lethal force. And I think that’s a big game changer. Because that was never required before.”

Nancy O’Malley

“And the law says now the police have to engage in de-escalation,” O’Malley said. “Police have more responsibility to engage before they resort to lethal force. And I think that’s a big game-changer. Because that was never required before.”

Fletcher’s defense attorney Michael Rains — the same attorney who defended former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle in the Oscar Grant case — disagreed and said that he believes Taylor was about to hit Fletcher with the bat. 

“Nancy has conveniently invoked the new use of force law as an excuse to file this case but I do not think the new use of force law justifies the filing,” Rains said. “I don’t think cops should be victims of politics and I think this decision makes Jason Fletcher a victim of politics and not a fair evaluation of the facts and the law.” 

The case against Fletcher is still pending.

Burris, the civil rights attorney who frequently represents families of people killed by law enforcement, said that regardless of the law in previous shootings, there were cases that he believes the DA’s office should have charged. 

He pointed to the 2008 shooting of Mack “Jody” Woodfox by Oakland Police Officer Hector Jimenez, which happened before O’Malley was DA but was still under investigation by her office when she took over. Recently released records under California’s expanded transparency laws reveal that Oakland’s internal affairs investigators determined Woodfox was not a threat and was running away when Jimenez shot him in the back. 

Burris also cited the case of Sahleem Tindle, who was shot in the back by BART police Officer Joseph Mateu in 2018 while struggling with another man over a gun outside the West Oakland station. O’Malley’s office cleared Mateu, but a jury awarded $6.34 million to Tindle’s family. 

Still, Burris said that he thought that O’Malley took a fair look at each case and came to her own conclusions. “We had professional disagreements but I never thought her position was in any way malice or she had a predisposition,” he said. “She took a very strong hard look at the Celeste Guap case and I thought she tried to do right by Celeste not only as a victim but as a person she tried to be helpful toward.”

O’Malley plans to continue working to change the criminal justice system

Of all the legacies she will leave, one of the biggest impacts O’Malley might have on the county criminal justice system is due to her decision not to appoint a successor. Her choice to allow a competitive race for the office creates perhaps the most open election for the position ever. 

It’s part of a nationwide trend of DA’s races becoming more frequently contested and incumbents’ advantage slipping. New research published in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law found that over the last decade, the likelihood an incumbent DA would run unopposed fell by 8% and that more diverse points of view were represented. 

DAs like Chesa Boudin and George Gascon have shaken up DAs offices in two of California’s biggest population centers by advancing progressive reforms, but there has been an aggressive backlash seeking tougher on crime policies, and even efforts to recall Boudin, signaling that more conservative DAs and their supporters aren’t giving up a seat of government that’s traditionally been theirs.

Already three candidates have announced campaigns to run for Alameda County DA in 2022: civil rights attorney Pamela Price, who received 42% of the vote in 2018, assistant district attorney Terry Wiley, and deputy district attorney Jimmie Wilson. Each is Black and, if they win, would be the first Black person to ever be Alameda County’s DA. O’Malley said she supports Wiley.

While O’Malley has no immediate plans for a new position, she said that she will not be retiring from public service. She has foundations that she started to support her work in the DA’s office, like the H.E.A.T. Institute, which helps coordinate local responses to human trafficking and find more effective ways to engage with survivors, and the Family Justice Center on 27th Street in Oakland, which provides resources for victims of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault and exploitation, child abuse, child abduction, elder and dependent abuse, and human trafficking. She said she’ll continue working on drafting and advocating for legislation. But she said unequivocally she’s not interested in a new career as a legislator. 

“I don’t want to have a role where I have to do things to keep my job, I want to be able to advocate for the things that are important to me,” O’Malley said. “I’ve got plenty to keep me as busy as I want to be. But I also want to play golf, and remember to smell the roses and travel and things like that.”

O’Malley said that her advocacy work, establishing the nonprofits, pushing for legislation in Sacramento, and lobbying the federal government for funds to test DNA evidence, are the biggest impact she’s had on the office and in the country. She said that programs she’s implemented as DA are now used nationwide and DAs from across the country call her for advice. 

“Nobody ever had whatever work they were doing be so widely adopted or so widespread,” she said. “Maybe because I was an activist and I have a lot of energy and I have a lot of ideas and a lot of vision. And maybe it’s just I was leading the changing times of how we engage in the community as prosecutors.”