LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Jackie Lacey, the first African-American and the first woman to become Los Angeles' district attorney, stood on a stage surrounded by four of the top prosecutors who preceded her in the job -- all of them white men. As she was sworn in Monday, she spoke of her accomplishment as a dream come true.
“It hardly seems real,” she said as she looked out over a crowded auditorium at her law school alma mater, the University of Southern California.
USC President C.L. Max Nikias spoke of the historic importance of the day, noting that when the district attorney's office was created in 1850, “Los Angeles was a dusty village and only 377 people voted.”
“In all the time since then, Los Angeles has never had a woman or an African-American who has served as district attorney,” he said. “Jackie Lacey has lifted our spirits by breaking down barriers.”
Her predecessor, Steve Cooley, who held the job for 12 years and prepared Lacey to succeed him, administered the oath of office.
Another former district attorney, John Van De Kamp, told her, “My advice to you is to learn from our mistakes and from whatever successes we achieved.”
Van De Kamp, who held the post 30 years ago, reminded her, “On the national stage you will now be a major player.” As head of the largest prosecutorial agency in the nation, he said, she would be called upon to advise others and, “You will be making some trips to Capitol Hill.”
Adding to the words of praise were former district attorneys Gil Garcetti and Robert Philibosian.
“Wow, what a great day!” said Judge Lee Smalley Edmon, the first female presiding judge in the vast Los Angeles County Superior Court system.
“It was not long ago that there were very few women in leadership positions in the courts,” she said, noting that the current Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court and the state Attorney General are women.
“And now the Los Angeles District Attorney can no longer be considered a male-only position,” she said.
In her acceptance speech, Lacey paid tribute to her parents, who left Georgia for California to escape racism, and portrayed herself as an emblem of what can be accomplished.
“For today the voters of this county allowed us to witness that it is possible for a girl from a working class neighborhood ... who was educated in a public school ... and worked her way up from the bottom, can become the district attorney of the largest prosecutorial office in the nation,” Lacey said. “How cool is that?”
An audience of more than 1,000 roared their approval and gave her a standing ovation.
She vowed, “I will make decisions that are in the best interests of justice.”
At 55, Lacey, a native of Los Angeles, has spent most of her working life in the district attorney's office.
With a law degree from USC, she joined the office in 1986. She and her husband, David, have two adult children.
Cooley brought along Lacey as his successor, moving her up in rank until she was his chief deputy overseeing day-to-day operations of the office and cases filed for prosecution.
She oversaw a number of new crime-fighting programs and helped create alternative sentencing courts to deal with nonviolent offenders.
Lacey, who was elected last month with 55 percent of the vote, will oversee the nation's largest prosecutorial office with more than 1,000 lawyers, 300 investigators and 800 support staff employees. With its proximity to Hollywood, the office frequently draws celebrity cases.
During Cooley's tenure, the office prosecuted such high-profile defendants as Robert Blake, Phil Spector and Michael Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray.
Blake was acquitted of his wife's murder, and it took two trials to convict Spector in the death of an actress. Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sent to prison for four years.