Sally Orme Moreno and Paul Hornick, both residents of the Madera Ranchos, are competing to fill the seat that will be left open in January due to the defeat in June of current DA David Linn.
Moreno, 50, has been a prosecutor for some 20 years in the district attorney’s offices of Merced, Fresno and Madera counties. She said she left the local office because of differences with Linn and returned to Fresno, where she currently works.
“I was born and raised right here in the Central Valley,” Moreno said. “In my 20’s, I was in the Army and am a decorated Desert Storm veteran, and was a police officer in Los Angeles. Those job (experiences) led me to believe I was called to justice ... really I was called to be a prosecutor. I returned and went to law school right here in Fresno with the intention of being a prosecutor, and I have been a prosecutor off and on since 1996.” Moreno said, noting her absences were for maternity leave.
“For over 20 years I have been keeping my Valley safe, and sending serious and violent felons to prison. During that time I’ve also had the opportunity to see that not everybody needs to go to prison. That’s why I participated in developing programs like behavioral health court, where we take people who have a diagnoses of a serious mental illness and before we just lock them up and throw away the key, we see if — without compromising public safety, we can help put those people’s (lives) back together. But the priority is keeping the community safe,” Moreno said.
Hornick, 40, originally from New York State, has approximately seven years of experience in two prosecutor’s offices. He obtained a license to practice law in south Florida in 2005, where he joined the Broward County, Florida, State’s Attorney’s Office, until leaving to join the Army in 2009. After serving four years as a Second and First lieutenant stateside in the Army Transportation divisions in Colorado Springs, Hornick transitioned into the Army Reserves in September 2013 in the San Jose area, passed the California Bar exam in 2013 where he joined the Judge Advocate General legal division, and attended additional training in specialized military law and regulations. Hornick’s law license in Florida is no longer active, according to Florida Bar Association records.
Hornick was hired in the Madera County DA’s office as a deputy district attorney in 2016. “I handle everything from traffic tickets to murder cases,” he said. “I’ve been a licensed attorney since 2005. I am licensed to practice in both Florida and California, and have worked in both states as a prosecutor. At the age of 31, I felt the calling to join the United States Army and so I did. I went to Fort Benning, Georgia. and officer’s candidate school and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. I spent four years on active duty serving our nation, holding various jobs and most importantly as a platoon leader. I continue to serve as a reserve officer as a JAG (Judge Advocate General) officer. I was recently promoted to the rank of major. I am endorsed by four major law enforcement agencies here in Madera County. The Madera and Chowchilla Police Officers Associations, the Madera Department of Corrections, and the Madera Prosecutors Association. I’ve gone door to door in this county and met over 4,000 people, worked hard to meet as many people as I can and spent over $60,000 of my own money on this race. This is something very important to me and this is my home. And I want to make this county as safe as we can make it.
“My platform is very simple: It’s leadership, it’s professionalism, and actually doing the job as it’s suppose to be done, in a way that should be done. I will work hard ...” Hornick said.
On Sept. 24, both candidates answered questions from moderators and members of the audience at a forum sponsored by the Madera Tribune, the Madera Coalition for Community Justice and the Madera Chamber of Commerce.
Such questions dealt with whether they would take recommendations from the Madera County Grand Jury seriously, including whether action should be taken to prosecute local government agencies accused of corruption.
On the removal of local, illegal felons by federal I.C.E. agents
Moreno said the situation was challenging and had to be approached with balance. “We work with the sheriff and the local law enforcement agencies. What I can support is when we have illegal aliens who have finished a sentence for a serious violent felony crime, those people need to be deported and removed. What we can’t tolerate is a victim population who is afraid to report (crimes) because they are afraid of being deported. It’s a tenuous balance, one handled quite well by our Sheriff Jay Varney.” She said Varney has endorsed her.
Hornick said, “My goal as district attorney is to follow and obey the law. I understand that folks feel maybe that immigration law and having I.C.E. remove people is unpopular. I would certainly not prohibit I.C.E. from acting lawfully. It’s not my position to encourage that behavior, but if I.C.E. showed up and said we are going to go to the courthouse and look for people that are subject to removal, I wouldn’t stand in their way and tell them no. It’s not my job, or my authority.
How many serious felony cases have you been lead or sole prosecutor on in your career?
Hornick said “I’ve handled thousands of cases here in my time as a prosecutor, both here in California and in Florida. Everyday I take a box of cases to court that weighs 50 pounds. All these matters are serious. Robberies, kidnappings, arson. I can’t begin to list all the serious matters I’ve been involved with. Most recently a (stabbing) homicide in Oakhurst, and most a felony DUI injury crash in the Ranchos in which the person was sentenced to 10 years in prison.”
Hornick mentioned the three to four felony cases he’s personally prosecuted or taken to trial in Madera County.
Moreno said all prosecutors handle or process thousands of case files, a large majority of which can be plea deals, in which with the accused pleads guilty for a lesser sentence negotiated out of court.
“If you are a prosecutor you drag boxes of cases in and out every day. I’m going to define (my answer) as cases I’ve personally taken to a jury. I have tried scores and scores of serious and violent cases myself. One year here in Madera County when I was prosecuting child sexual assaults I sent seven child sexual offenders to prison for life terms, by jury trial. That’s why I have the endorsement of the Madera County Deputies Association, and Sheriff Jay Varney has personally endorsed me.”
What changes would you like to see in the DA’s office in five years?
Hornick said he’d like to see the office go paperless. “I’d like to see a completely different office. One that’s paperless. We spend so much money on paper and toner. I’d like to see a new leadership structure. We currently really have no leadership in the DA’s office. I’d like to have small teams of lawyers, three to five people with a supervisor working with each various law enforcement agency. They would be responsible for answering calls and also for explaining the rejected files,” Hornick said.
Moreno said, “the DA’s office currently has a lot of great lawyers. We can get them the resources they need to prosecute cases well. Absolutely going paperless will be a byproduct of that. That will be easy. Managing the big data we will get, the data from officers’ body cameras, we will be able to do that too. I’ve watched it happen in the Fresno (DA’s) office and I have experience doing that. The most important thing we can do is make sure our attorneys are enabled to become the best they can be,” Moreno said.
With the last two (DA) offices (administrations) there has been a lot of turmoil. Why would the office be different under you?
“I’m a trained leader,” Moreno said. “I lead out of a sense of service. When I left this office in 2015 it was with a very heavy heart, because I knew the leadership I was leaving it to. It was clearly very dysfunctional. My leadership skills are not only through the military but also from being a prosecutor, a police officer in South Central Los Angeles. That taught me about people. How to guide and mentor people. As a prosecutor now in Fresno, I help guide their serious and violent crime unit. And those young lawyers, eight of them, come into my office on a daily basis asking for guidance, knowing that they can trust me for good advice.”
Hornick said, “Well, first I am actually there now doing the work. I understand what the problems are, what problems they are facing. I’m actually the only one serving Madera County now. Beyond that, I am endorsed by my peers. They had two opportunities to endorse Ms. Moreno and they passed on both times. When times were tough she left. She left us here. She knew what Mr. Linn was about. She was part of the prior regime under Mr. Keitz — which was an absolute disaster. If I’m elected, I will work hard everyday. I will bring my A game everyday and we will look forward not backwards.”
What would you do in the event a Brown Act or other violation by an elected official or entity was reported to you? Are you willing to investigate and prosecute if the facts support the allegation?
Hornick said, “Absolutely. We can go back and speak about a point that happened earlier, in my role as a public corruption prosecutor and that the rumor I was not willing to prosecute. I can’t tell you how often it is for my opponent to say false things about me. If I had evidence that something was actually going on I would immediately investigate or even prosecute. (But) I’ve had certain limitations. I think you can imagine, running against your boss from inside the office brings those.
Mr. Linn’s ability to allow me to move forward (with corruption investigations) on many of these things has been non existent. As a DA I will certainly move forward with those items and prosecute them as they should be. I would not stand for anybody who is violating the laws of our county. (For the record — when contacted in July about ongoing corruption allegedly going on in The City of Madera, Hornick said the Corruption Unit was not a real entity but a fictional creation of Linn.)
Moreno said “What Mr. Hornick is telling us is that when he was there in the DA’s office working for Mr. Linn he didn’t see what everybody else saw and what we all read about in that (investigational) report. Then, I think we have some other problems. If he did see it and didn’t do anything about it — then we have problems there, too. I am absolutely against any kind of corruption, the Brown Act or other kind. We should be doing things properly,” Moreno said.