San Jose’s Democratic Assemblyman Ash Kalra was looking for a state lawmaker across the aisle with criminal justice experience to support a criminal justice reform bill earlier this month when he reached out to Jordan Cunningham.
Cunningham — a former prosecutor now working in defense — has gained a reputation as a lawmaker with an expertise in the sometimes politically conflicting areas of public safety and law enforcement accountability in his one-and-a-half terms as the Central Coast’s representative in the Assembly.
Though he wasn’t a co-sponsor of the former public defender Kalra’s legislation to shorten the time it takes for criminal defendants to get information about misconduct by police officers involved in their cases, Cunningham took the Assembly floor in support of the bill he called both “consistent with due process” and “a good change in law.”
“I can tell you as a deputy (district attorney), the last thing you want to do is carry a case forward to a jury not knowing whether you’re going to put a police officer on the stand that has impeachment material in their file that you haven’t gotten access to,” Cunningham said on the floor May 22. “I know a lot of my colleagues on our side of the aisle are nervous about this bill, but I don’t think you should be.”
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Cunningham has set himself apart as an ally when it comes to several hot-button issues of the day: law enforcement transparency, criminal justice reform, public safety, commercial privacy and predatory lending, to name a few. He describes himself as a free market capitalist but also a moderate conservative in the vein of popular three-term local Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian.
He was named Legislator of the Year this year by law enforcement groups such as the state Police Chiefs and District Attorneys associations.
“I try to be thoughtful,” Cunningham said last week from the road back to San Luis Obispo County for the Memorial Day weekend. “To be effective in this line of work, where I can, I try to find agreement.”
Cunningham said that, like it or not, trust in law enforcement has eroded in recent years, referring to his support for aspects of criminal justice reform — not usually popular among his GOP colleagues.
“It’s unhealthy to society — they’re the people who come when we call,” Cunningham said of police. “I’m trying to use the position I have to do the job the voters sent me to do, things that are pro-transparency.”
Cunningham’s most high-profile legislative efforts have aimed to tighten laws that give more tools to prosecutors to combat human sex and labor trafficking and convict offenders.
Two of Cunningham’s four anti-sex trafficking bills submitted last session were signed into law by former Governor Jerry Brown. This week, two anti-human trafficking bills he authored cleared the Assembly and are headed to the state Senate.
Assembly Bill 662 would modernize that law with gender-neutral terms and remove the requirement that the minor be of “previous chaste character” and make other technical changes Cunningham says would “breathe life into a little-used statute that could be helpful in closing down trafficking locations by simplifying current law.”
Current state law prohibits “entic(ing) an unmarried female under 18 years of age and of previous chaste character to a house of prostitution or elsewhere for the purpose of prostitution or illicit carnal connection with a man, to aid or assist in that enticement, or to procure by fraudulent means a female to have illicit carnal connection with a man, as specified.”
The bill passed 76-0 in the Assembly.