New district attorney contender Vu Trinh piques San Francisco's interest 

A latecomer to the district attorney race, Vu Trinh brings a new flavor to a tightly contested battle between a career cop, a career prosecutor and a career scholar.

Trinh, 43, a criminal defense attorney with a daily meditation practice, raised eyebrows and more than a few chuckles at his first debate last week with a disarmingly honest style and seemingly unrehearsed, if not unusual, answers.

While incumbent George Gascón and challengers Sharmin Bock and David Onek were weighing in about how to end the federal war on drugs, Trinh noted his opposition as well but replied bluntly, "I don’t see how the D.A.’s going to end that."

When asked how the District Attorney’s Office could independently investigate police for misconduct, Trinh answered, "I’ve never seen a local D.A.’s office go after local cops." He suggested hiring an independent prosecutor.

As some candidates were carefully parsing their words, Trinh was telling the audience why he supported Tasers for police.

"It’s better than a gun," he deadpanned.

And Trinh argued that community courts — championed by some as a way to clear low-level crimes from the courts — are unconstitutional. "It’s a cop-out," he said. "You just need to have two good-trained lawyers on both sides, moving these cases."

Trinh, who also opposes criminalizing prostitution, prosecuting sit-lie, and charging minors with adult crimes, brought the house down by acknowledging he had been arrested — twice.

Both cases, one for theft and the other assault, were later dismissed, he said in the interview.

Trinh said he wants to focus on prosecuting violent and serious offenders, empower prosecutors "to do justice," without fear of losing their jobs, and pay more attention to victims than the conviction rate.

Despite his enthusiasm, Trinh may be facing an uphill battle in November’s election. Disillusioned with traditional politics, he’s not done any fundraising and is unsure if he will. His opponents are sitting on campaign war chests that range from about $75,000 to more than $150,000.

In an interview Sunday, Trinh talked of his life as a Vietnamese immigrant, his training in the law, and his strong belief in de-politicizing the justice system, including the district attorney’s office.

Trinh’s family escaped the Vietnam War when he was 7, arriving in Orange County at a time when "no one cared about your immigration status," he said. "They knew I was a foreigner ... but we cherished freedom."

A reaction to recent anti-immigrant sentiment brought Trinh and his wife and two children to San Francisco this April, where he graduated from UC Hastings in 1992.

"I wanted a diverse place for the kids," he said. "I love this city. I want the kind of values that we have here, though I disagree with a lot of the ways The City has been run."


Meet the DA candidate

Name: Vu Trinh

Born: Vietnam

Age: 43

Education: Law degree from UC Hastings, San Francisco, 1992

Experience: Criminal defense attorney, member of the California state bar Criminal Law Advisory Commission

Family: Married with two children, ages 3 and 4

Home: South of Market

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Ari Burack

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