DA Morse leaves of­fice soon to move to state’s DA as­so­ci­a­tion

The Modesto Bee - - Local - BY THADDEUS MILLER [email protected]­ced­sun-star.com

On the heels of an un­suc­cess­ful run for re­elec­tion in Merced County, out­go­ing District At­tor­ney Larry Morse II has snagged a job with the Cal­i­for­nia District At­tor­neys As­so­ci­a­tion, of­fi­cials con­firmed this week.

Morse will be the as­so­ci­a­tion’s leg­isla­tive di­rec­tor be­gin­ning on an un­de­ter­mined date in Jan­uary, the as­so­ci­a­tion’s spokesper­son Jen­nifer Ja­cobs said. He will act as the chief lob­by­ist on be­half of the elected pros­e­cu­tors in Cal­i­for­nia, she said.

“Larry brings a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence to the job. In ad­di­tion to spend­ing sev­eral decades as a ca­reer pros­e­cu­tor, Larry has been co-chair of CDAA’s Leg­isla­tive Com­mit­tee for more than 10 years and has also served on the CDAA Board of Di­rec­tors,” as­so­ci­a­tion CEO Mark Zah­ner said in a state­ment. “He is well known in the Capi­tol and has many years of prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence in the Leg­is­la­ture, in­clud­ing serv­ing as Press Sec­re­tary/Leg­isla­tive Aide to Con­gress­man Bob Whit­taker and Leg­isla­tive Di­rec­tor for state Sen­a­tor Mil­ton Marks.”

The Cal­i­for­nia District At­tor­neys As­so­ci­a­tion is the source of con­tin­u­ing le­gal ed­u­ca­tion and leg­isla­tive ad­vo­cacy for its mem­ber­ship, ac­cord­ing to its web­site. The as­so­ci­a­tion has pulled down state and fed­eral grants for pro­jects like the En­vi­ron­men­tal Cir­cuit Pros­e­cu­tor Project, HighTech Crimes Project and Vi­o­lence Against Women Project, to name a few.

“I’ll be work­ing with pros­e­cu­tors across Cal­i­for­nia mak­ing sure we do our very best with the Cal­i­for­nia Leg­is­la­ture and gov­er­nor to en­act poli­cies we be­lieve make lives bet­ter and en­sure the safest com­mu­ni­ties,” Morse said Wed­nes­day.

The vet­eran at­tor­ney, who has been district at­tor­ney since 2006, lost in the June pri­mary elec­tion to Kim­berly Helms Lewis, a gov­ern­ment at­tor­ney and pros­e­cu­tor who made her first bid for of­fice.

De­spite be­ing a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure in the past few years, he was an ac­com­plished pros­e­cu­tor. He se­cured the death penalty con­vic­tion of Cuit­lahuac Tahua “Tao” Rivera, who is on death row for the April 2004 mur­der of Merced po­lice of­fi­cer Stephan Gray.

In the past three years, Merced County law en­force­ment has also brought the mur­der rate down sig­nif­i­cantly. From 2005 to 2015 the county av­er­aged 27 homi­cides a year. There are 12 so far this year com­pared to 20 last year, and nine in 2016.

“We’ve re­ally made a dif­fer­ence, es­pe­cially with gang vi­o­lence, which just a few years ago seemed out of con­trol,” Morse said. “We’ve made an enor­mous im­pact in re­duc­ing gang vi­o­lence. That’s the most im­por­tant thing for any pros­e­cu­tor is to make your com­mu­nity safer.”

He has also been cred­ited as a ma­jor force be­hind Merced County se­cur­ing funds through the Vi­o­lence In­ter­rup­tion/ Preven­tion Emer­gency Re­sponse pro­gram. VIPER was also touted as a key role in Op­er­a­tion Scrap­book, raids through­out Merced and Stanis­laus coun­ties in May 2017 net­ting more than 50 ar­rests, at least 70 guns, $225,000 cash, 21,000 rounds of am­mu­ni­tion and 6.5 pounds of metham­phetamine, au­thor­i­ties re­ported.

Morse was head­ing the District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice when the county first got its Gang Task Force. When he took of­fice, the pros­e­cu­tors were also scat­tered into mul­ti­ple down­town of­fices that the county leased at about $350,000, and con­sol­i­dat­ing into a sin­gle build­ing was a sav­ings.

The build­ing they are in now cost the county about $7 mil­lion to buy and $3.4 mil­lion to re­model, ac­cord­ing to ar­chives. The work was paid for with to­bacco tax funds des­ig­nated for im­prove­ments to county fa­cil­i­ties.

The out­go­ing District at­tor­ney was also known to preach the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion and cre­ated Project 10%, a pro­gram in mid­dle and high schools aimed at get­ting more young peo­ple to fin­ish high school.

“Kids who drop out are more likely to end up in the sys­tem,” he said. “Any­thing we can do to keep kids in school is a huge ben­e­fit to pub­lic safety and the com­mu­nity at large.”

Morse said he takes pride in the health of Merced County District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice as he leaves. “I will have the fond­est mem­o­ries of ev­ery day I served as district at­tor­ney,” he said.

The land­slide vic­tory Helms Lewis’ pulled off fol­lowed a bumpy year for Morse. Her can­di­dacy was an­nounced just weeks af­ter the Sun-Star re­ported al­le­ga­tions from three for­mer pros­e­cu­tors who said Morse in­ap­pro­pri­ately kissed a mar­ried sub­or­di­nate em­ployee and made sex­ual com­ments to women in the of­fice. Morse de­nied any wrong­do­ing and said the al­le­ga­tions were in­ci­dents taken out of con­text.

In Au­gust, a coun­ty­funded in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Morse “sus­tained” the al­le­ga­tions as “more likely than not” that Morse sex­u­ally ha­rassed a mar­ried fe­male em­ployee, the re­port con­firmed.

AN­DREW KUHN

Merced District At­tor­ney Larry D. Morse II an­swers ques­tions dur­ing a press con­fer­ence in 2016.

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