Sacramento DA Thien Ho makes it a priority to meet with the community to demystify the role of a district attorney. (Photo by Wes Davis)

The Way We Work: Thien Ho

A glimpse into the daily life of Sacramento County’s district attorney

Back Article Jun 26, 2024 By Jeff Wilser

This story is part of our June 2024 issue. To subscribe, click here.

The obvious part of a district attorney’s job is to prosecute criminals and serve justice. The less obvious: connecting with the community. “We serve the community. It’s important to be out in the community, interacting with the community and listening to the community,” says Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho, a UC Davis alum who has now been a prosecutor for 23 years.

The work can be grim. The DA spent much of his career prosecuting sex crimes, homicides, gang violence and hate crimes. He brought justice to the victims of the East Area Rapist, also known as the Golden State Killer. Now Ho oversees 180 attorneys and a budget of $129 million with a purview of prosecuting all misdemeanors and felonies in the county. Or, as Ho puts it, “Really the scope and the constitutional authority is everything and anything that involves public safety.”

How does he pull it off? It starts with lots of water.

Tips for staying focused: As a study trick in college, Ho learned that we tend to remember the first and last thing we study, thanks to “primacy bias” and “recency bias.” So he leverages this dynamic by taking a quick break every 15 minutes — even if it’s just to stand up and sit back down — which maximizes the number of beginning points and end points. “I’ve doubled the mind’s ability to retain something.”
Tips for gaining perspective: Throughout the day, Ho tries to find quick pockets of time just to reflect and think. That could even be while driving. “I think it was the Buddha who said, ‘Our thoughts give rise to our emotions, our emotions give rise to our words, our words give rise to our actions.’” 

5:00AM – Wakes up, then immediately drinks two tall glasses of water. “I’m trying to watch my health,” says Ho. “As we get older, all of us should take care of our health. We don’t recover as quickly from working out.” 

5:30AM – Heads to a local gym for weightlifting, then hits the sauna, followed by a cold shower or a plunge in the pool; this regimen is informed by health studies. Skips breakfast as he’s intermittent fasting.

7:00AM – Gets ready, does “family stuff.” Ho has a policy of not sharing personal information. “There are a lot of security issues. I’ve put murderers and gangbangers away.”

8:30AM – Arrives at the office. Meets with his executive assistant, reviews his schedule and to-dos, knocks out emails.

9:00AM – Meets with his chief deputy, who’s in charge of day-to-day operations. 

10:00AM – Weekly meeting with the bureau chiefs who supervise teams like the Domestic Violence Unit and the Sex Crimes Unit. These meetings are often focused on Ho’s three themes for the department: protecting people, connecting communities and preserving promises. 

12:00PM – Grabs lunch at his desk (salad with protein) or takes a lunch meeting, often as some form of community outreach.

1:00PM – Meets with community leaders or the team that oversees community outreach. For him, this is critical. “When I grew up, I never met my DA. I didn’t know what the DA does.” Ho wants to change that. 

2:00PM – Provides input and gets updates on certain high-profile legal cases, but “for trial strategy, I leave that to the supervisors. I have 180 lawyers; I can’t micromanage every single case.”

3:00PM – Instead of trial specifics, his meetings are often about big picture policy issues, such as homelessness. Ho sued the City of Sacramento over its handling of homelessness; he believes the suit has helped. “They’ve done more enforcement and clean-up in the past seven months than in the past seven years.”

4:00PM – More policy discussions. “We’re working on race-blind charging, which is where the attorney doesn’t know the race of the individual being charged.” 

5:00PM – Heads to an event for more community outreach. He listens to concerns. “For example, the Asian groups who might want to talk and say, ‘There’s hate crime going on in our community, what can we do about it?’” 

7:00PM – Tries to avoid eating at community events so he can enjoy dinner at home. He loves to barbecue (especially smoked ribs and brisket) and says, “Since I’m Vietnamese, I do like to make a pho on weekends.” (He doesn’t skimp on the broth; it takes 24 hours to cook.)

8:00PM - Maybe unwinds by watching sports (especially Kings or 49ers), but definitely not by watching legal movies or TV shows. “I end up criticizing them too much.” Instead of watching “Law and Order,” his actual hobbies are golf, fishing and snowboarding. 

10:00PM – Before going to bed, reviews tomorrow’s to-dos and meetings and sets alarms throughout the day, reminding him of tasks. Heads to bed.  

Stay up to date on business in the Capital Region: Subscribe to the Comstock’s newsletter today.

Recommended For You