Even with the election for California’s next attorney general more than a year away, contenders have begun lining up in the race. Already at the starting line: newly appointed incumbent Attorney General Rob Bonta, who took over for Xavier Becerra on April 26 after Becerra resigned to become U.S. Health and Human Services secretary. Bonta has quickly asserted himself as a reform-minded progressive with the expansion of the Bureau of Environmental Justice and the establishment of a Racial Justice Bureau.
On the same day of Bonta’s appointment, Beverly Hills native Nathan Hochman announced his own candidacy. Hochman comes to the field with an extensive resume in both the public and private sectors. He worked as an assistant United States attorney for the Central District of California from 1990 to 1997. In 2008, he served as U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Tax Division. Hochman, a Republican, has strong connections to law enforcement. He founded the non-profit Los Angeles Sheriff’s Foundation, which helps support the Sheriff’s Department through education and training. As a private defense attorney, Hochman represented former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who was found guilty in 2017 of obstructing a federal investigation into jail abuses.
Voters will not cast ballots for attorney general until November 8, 2022. The Courier spoke with Hochman about his childhood in Beverly Hills, his career, and his hopes for California.
Beverly Hills Courier: What did you carry with you from growing up in Beverly Hills? What made an impact on you in terms of the trajectory of your life?
Nathan Hochman: Beverly Hills’ school system was one of the 10 best public school systems in the United States. It had incredible teachers. My fellow students who were there were all motivated to do something with their lives, and, in fact, have done tremendous amounts of different things with their lives in all different fields. Ranging from politics to law, science, entertainment, business, real estate. It was an incredible group of classmates that I had in the class of 1981. John Mirisch was one of my classmates. I met John when I was in kindergarten. I’ve known John for over 50 years. I think he’s probably one of my oldest friends. Isn’t that funny?
Skipping past college and law school, I wanted to touch on your professional career. Are there any experiences of your career that inform your decision to run for office and assume a broader role in the justice system?
Probably three different experiences kind of stand out. The first is the first job I had after law school. I was working for federal judge Stephen Wilson. Seeing at a very early age how you distill arguments, [how] you figure out the facts, [how] you apply the law, and then [how] you make the tough call was an incredibly useful thing to see early on in your career.
[My] second formative experience would be at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which was basically my second job. People who have had that job as an [Assistant U.S. attorney] generally say it’s probably the best job they’ve ever had. And the reason they say that is you’re generally fairly young when you have that job. You’ve got time and energy, you’re surrounded by incredibly accomplished people whose mission in life during the time you’re there is not to make money, but to do justice.
Then probably the next opportunity, at least in the public service realm, was when I got sworn in as the Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division. It’s not every day when you get a call from the President of the United States asking if you want to serve your country. Then going through a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, then being voted on by the Senate, being confirmed. I got sworn in by the Attorney General at the time, Michael Mukasey, and my mother was there.
What was entailed in overseeing that division?
You’re overseeing over 350 lawyers–civil, criminal and appellate tax lawyers. You’ve got a budget of a little over $100 million. And there are billions and billions of dollars at stake in what you do. And that’s on the civil side. On the criminal side, you’re trying to choose the cases that will have the greatest impact, not only for the person who may have committed the crime, but to send a deterrent message to society, that if you do these crimes, there are severe consequences that can happen.
California has trended increasingly Democratic in the last two decades, so it seems like you’ll have to convince some Independents and Democrats to vote for you. Why should they?
I think I bring two crucial things that are missing right now and any voter should want in their attorney general: qualifications and independence. On qualifications, I’ve been on all sides of the courtroom. I’ve been a clerk for a judge. I’ve been a prosecutor. I’ve headed a government litigation division. I’ve been a defense attorney representing individuals, organizations, nonprofit groups, and defending their constitutional rights. I represented victims and victims’ groups. So, I have the qualifications over the last…30 years, and the skill set to run what is the second largest law office in the United States, which is the California Attorney General’s Office. And then I’ll have independence. Right now, the Democrats control all levers of state government. They have every statewide office; they have super majorities in the State Assembly and the State Senate. They’ve been in control for years at this point. Yet we have all the problems that you see throughout our entire state.
What are those problems?
Some of the most important that we need to tackle are those dealing with public safety issues and criminal justice. The agenda that has been enacted in California over the last two years has been from the far left, embodied by George Gascón in Los Angeles and Chesa Boudin in San Francisco. It’s an agenda whose animating principles are defund the police, to treat the police as your enemy, to focus on defendant’s rights over victim’s rights, and to, in essence, let the people out of jail and not prosecute people in connection with various types of crimes. And were that working out, such that people felt more secure, rather than less secure, then this experiment that usually showed up in academic journals would be deemed a success. However, the statistics don’t lie. And this experiment is proving to be a failure, and not just a failure on paper, but a failure in terms of people’s lives. So, the prime statistics that have come out just in 2021 alone, almost all different types of crime are up and violent crime is up very significantly. And those aren’t just words on a piece of paper, that means that people are losing their lives. They’re getting injured, their businesses are getting harmed, their financial security is being harmed. The far left move towards criminal justice is resulting in huge public safety and public insecurity issues.
As attorney general, how would you address those issues?
What I wouldn’t do is do what Rob Bonta, the current attorney general, is doing and double down on the Gascón/Boudin far left view of criminal justice. My goal is to get back to the common sense, balanced center. It’s a balance of criminal justice with public safety. On the one hand, individuals who pose a threat to public safety need to understand that there are consequences for their actions. On the other hand, to the extent that there are issues with police forces–what I believe are small numbers of police officers, compared to the overwhelming majority, who are not trained well, who are not supervised well, and commit crimes or abuses while wearing the badge–I believe that making sure that you increase both the selection process on who becomes a police officer, the training, as well as the supervision and making sure that supervisors are well trained, is actually crucial to achieve the balance.
Looking back at a year of historic protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, protests that called for broader reform of law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Do you feel like there are issues in our criminal justice system that need to be addressed and is there common ground between you and Bonta?
The common ground that may occur is the identification of many of the problems in the system. In other words, are there issues with police abuse in the system? One hundred percent. Where I will differ with Mr. Bonta are the solutions to the problem. If this was a pendulum, he has swung the pendulum to the far left, as far as his solution, the notion that you can defund the police or treat the police as your enemy and then expect good quality people to sign up to be police officers in your city or county is sadly mistaken.
In his confirmation hearing for attorney general, Bonta said that he believes that law enforcement are invaluable parts of our communities and that the vast majority want to build and earn that trust. Have you seen the attorney general make any explicit statements calling to defund the police?
Well, I think what he’s explicitly supported is Gascón in LA and Boudin in San Francisco. Both in running for election and the way they’ve carried out their offices, they have in practice treated the police as the enemy, not given the presumption [of innocence] to the police and assumed also that the police officers are getting it wrong, rather than right, as their starting point. I think that Mr. Bonta, by endorsing Gascón and Boutin, and they in turn endorsing Mr. Bonta, indicates the direction that he actually will go, as opposed to any words he might have said during a speech.
You aren’t the only candidate challenging Bonta for the position. You’re joined by former Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who is running as an independent. Why do you think you’re the better candidate?
Like myself, she points out the flaws of someone like Rob Bonta in a sense that he completely lacks prosecutorial experience, but is expected to preside over one of the largest prosecutorial organizations, the State Attorney General’s Office of California…. I think I have a skill set of unique qualifications that the voters are going to want for this job.