Archive for the ‘District Attorney’ Category

24 Hour Fitness to pay $1.2 million penalty for consumer protection violations

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Settlement will also include costs and restitution for misleading customers by falsely promising guaranteed annual renewal rates to obtain up-front fees

MARTINEZ, California — Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton, in conjunction with Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, announced that on November 1, 2017, the District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Divisions reached a consumer protection settlement of $1.2 million in civil penalties against 24 Hour Fitness, Inc. The company must also pay $100,000 in costs to the County of Orange and Contra Costa, as well as pay restitution to the members who were misled by the promises of a low lifetime annual renewal rate in exchange for large up-front membership fees.

24 Hour Fitness is headquartered in San Ramon, Contra Costa County, California and has 400+ membership fitness gyms in 18 states, of which 140 are located in California. The allegations against 24 Hour Fitness state that between 2006 and 2009, 24 Hour sold pre-paid memberships in a false and misleading manner when 24 Hour sales representatives took large up-front fees for an initial 2 or 3-year membership period, with the promise that members would be guaranteed a low life-time annual renewal rate for life, as long as the member remained in good standing by paying their annual renewal fee on time. The up-front fees ranged from $600 to over $1400 with a promise of a fixed annual renewal rate between $29-$199 a year.

In 2006, 24 Hour made changes to the language of their pre-paid membership contracts that allowed for annual rate increases, but the District Attorneys alleged that 24 Hour sales representatives continued to sell these post-April 2006 memberships with verbal promises that their annual renewal rates would be guaranteed fixed for life. Consumers also believed they were misled by the verbal representations and in 2015, when 24 Hour began increasing annual renewal rates, they complained to the Company and the Better Business Bureau. They also started an on-line petition protesting the company’s broken promises.

The complaint alleges that 24 Hour refused to honor the verbal guarantees, so members who refused to pay the increased annual rate had their memberships terminated after having paid the large up-front fees or forced members to pay the increased rates.

The Settlement requires that 24 Hour Fitness allow pre-paid members to renew their memberships at the promised low annual lifetime renewal rate, if the member submits a claim form and declaration that they were told by a 24 Hour sales representative that their annual rate was guaranteed to remain the same for life.  All past and present 24 Hour Fitness members, who purchased post 2006 pre-paid membership contracts, or were updated to these contracts, and either paid the increase or were terminated for failure to pay the increase, will be sent a notice with instructions on how, where and when to submit their forms and declarations.

The District Attorney’s Offices want to make it clear that, if you receive a notice, it means you have one of the new contracts that allows for the increase, even if your rate has not yet been increased. It is important, that if you were promised a lifetime guaranteed annual renewal rate you must fill out the claim form and declaration to preserve or reinstate your guaranteed annual renewal rate. The restitution provisions of this settlement extend to qualifying pre-paid members nationwide.

24 Hour Fitness admitted no wrong-doing in the Settlement Agreement.

Deputy District Attorney Michelle Cipolletti from the Orange County District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit and Deputy District Attorney Dodie Katague from the Contra Costa Consumer Protection Unit prosecuted this case.

For further information, please contact DDA Dodie Katague at 925-957-8604.

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New Contra Costa DA Becton takes oath of office, begins her interim tenure

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

Diana Becton was given her oath of office as the interim Contra Costa County District Attorney by Board of Supervisors Chairman Federal Glover on Monday, Sept. 18, 2017 as the other Supervisors, John Gioia, Candace Andersen, Diane Burgis and Karen Mitchoff look on. Photos by David Fraser, Office of Supervisor Federal Glover

An overflow crowd of friends, family, colleagues and supporters gathered in the District Attorney’s Office Community Room for the ceremony.

By Allen Payton

Retired Superior Court Judge Diana Becton was sworn in as the new District Attorney for Contra Costa County on Monday, September 18th, at 4:30 p.m.  The oath of office was administered by Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Federal Glover in the District Attorney’s Community Room in Martinez.

“I am honored to have been chosen by the Board of Supervisors to serve the people of Contra Costa County,” she said. “With over two decades of experience in the administration of justice and the practice of criminal law, I am excited by this new opportunity to reform our justice system and restore integrity to the DA’s office. I look forward to serving alongside law enforcement and county prosecutors to promote public safety, equality, fairness, and confidence in our courts and legal system.”

The overflow crowd included friends, colleagues and supporters, as well as her new office staff including her Deputy District Attorney overflowing into and standing in the hallway outside.

A Bay Area native and an El Sobrante resident, Becton attended Oakland public schools and received her B.A. in economics from S.F. State University and her J.D. from Golden Gate University Law School. She worked as the Housing Finance & Development Supervisor for the City of Richmond from 1979 to 1987. Prior to that she worked as the Housing Finance Corporation Manager Becton then worked as attorney in private practice from 1987 until 1995, first as a partner of Alexander & Becton (Brown) Law Offices which had has many as nine lawyers. Later she operated her own law practice, which according to her application for the appointment, “focused on litigation in real estate, business, landlord tenant, personal injury and criminal cases.”

Although Becton has no experience prosecuting criminal cases, in private practice she “was responsible for both criminal and juvenile cases. I appeared at arraignments and bail hearings, analyzed cases, talked to witnesses to determine what happened, identified strengths and weaknesses, participated in plea bargaining and resolution, developed trial strategies, conducted jury selection, opening statements, questioned witnesses, prepared law and motion, and presented closing arguments,” also according to her application. DBecton DA apptmt application

She was appointed to the court in 1995 by Gov. Pete Wilson and presided over a diverse collection of misdemeanor, felony, civil, mental health and juvenile cases.

In 2011, Becton was elected Presiding Judge of the Contra Costa Superior Court. In this capacity, she was responsible for leading the court and managing its staff and resources, including an annual budget of approximately $56 million. In 2012, Becton received the Rose Bird Memorial Award for judicial excellence from the California Women Lawyers. She subsequently served as President of the National Association of Women Judges.

In 2013 she obtained her Real Estate Broker’s license which expired in January. In 2015, Becton earned her Master’s degree in Theology from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. Upon her appointment, she became the first African American and first female Contra Costa County District Attorney.

“This job is a tremendous responsibility,” Becton said. “I am committed to restoring public trust in the DA’s office. The people of Contra Costa County need to be confident in their judicial system, and I will work tirelessly with law enforcement, deputy district attorneys, and public defenders to rebuild that trust. As District Attorney, I want to bring people together to improve our office’s accountability and encourage community engagement throughout Contra Costa County.”

According to a news release from the county, it was an informal ceremony at which the constitutional oath of office necessary for Becton to assume office was administered.  The ceremonial investiture proceeding that traditionally accompanies the District Attorney’s assumption of office will be held in the Board of Supervisors’ Chambers at some point in the near future, for the public to witness. The election for District Attorney will be held next June.

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DA’s office expands education outreach on cyber-bullying, campus and online safety for kids

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Starting on September 14, 2017, the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office Sexual Assault Unit, in conjunction with the Silicon Valley Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, expanded an outreach program directed at parents, teachers and students on the topics of cyber-bullying, campus sexual assault awareness and online safety for kids.  The presentations are aimed at educating parents and teachers on new trends involving social media, as well as providing students with information and tools to improve campus safety and prevent online exploitation.

“The effort was started last year, first at DVC,” according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves. “The first presentation in a high school was at Campolindo in Moraga.”

“Since then we’ve been working with police officers and those in our office on the task force,” he continued. “Campus sexual assault awareness is geared toward high school seniors and community colleges, due to the content. The cyberbullying and online safety for kids is for everyone, but mainly targeted to middle school students and parents, with presentations for both,”

“We’ve been working to have somewhere for schools to call to have presentations made for students and parents,” Graves added.

Schools, community organizations and parent/teacher groups who are interested in learning more can call Deputy District Attorney Lauren Whalen at 925-957-8603. 

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Graves to hold campaign kick-off for Contra Costa DA in Pleasant Hill Friday

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Contra Costa Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves. photo courtesy of Paul Graves for DA

The campaign for Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves, running for Contra Costa District Attorney in next June’s election, announced they will hold a Kickoff Celebration this Friday, September 22. The event will be held at the Pleasant Hill Senior Center, 223 Gregory Lane from 5:30 – 7:30 PM.

Join Paul Graves and his supporters for drinks and tacos to celebrate. All are welcome. RSVP through their Eventbrite page.

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Contra Costa Supervisors select first African-American and female District Attorney Diana Becton

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Diane Becton. Courtesy of CCLawyer.cccba.org

By Daniel Borsuk

On an initial split vote, Contra Costa County Supervisors picked Superior Court Judge Diana Becton to complete the nine remaining months of former Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson on Tuesday.

Supervisors initially made their preferences known on a 3-2 split vote, to pick Becton from a field of five well-qualified competitors, for the top county criminal prosecutor post that pays $21,415 a month. Supervisors John Gioia of Richmond who represents District 1 and Diane Burgis chose Becton, while Candace Andersen and Karen Mitchoff chose Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves. Board Chair Federal Glover broke the tie and stated his preference for Becton.

A few minutes later, supervisors voted to unanimously approve the selection of Becton as interim DA.

She has announced her retirement as judge in order to assume the DA position next Monday.

Becton, the first African American female judge to be selected by former California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, will now become the first African American and first female in history to be in charge of the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, an office marred by scandal, most recently the June resignation of Peterson for illegally spending of $66,000 of his campaign funds over a five-year period for personal use, then not disclosing it on finance reports.  In 2008, the county DA office was rocked when deputy prosecutor Michael Gressett was charged with allegedly raping a female DA colleague.

Graves, who had won the endorsement from the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Association and most all of the police officers associations in the county, has already announced his candidacy to run for the DA office in the June election. Santa Clara County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Patrick Vanier, another applicant for the interim post, has also announced his candidacy.  Vanier, who is running on a campaign of conducting a “comprehensive audit” of the department, did not draw a vote from any supervisor.

In addition to Vanier, Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Danielle Douglas, a former San Francisco prosecutor, did not attract any votes from supervisors, either.  Douglas portrayed a conservative management “if it isn’t broken don’t fix it” style that may have turned off supervisors.

During the public hearing prior to the supervisors’ vote, Becton had scored the most support from 20 out of 40 speakers, many who had acknowledged the judge’s 22 years of criminal courtroom experience and progressive views about bail reform and the need to decrease the rising number of BART crimes, gang and freeway shootings.  Becton also earned the endorsement of the NAACP clergy, following the East County Branch’s public interview of the five applicants, last Saturday.

On the topic of plagiarizing material for her application for the post Becton admitted, “I did liberally copy from all sorts of sources.  I own those mistakes. But you have to look at my 22 years of service in this county of working with integrity to improve our criminal justice system.”

She also stated that she didn’t think U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) would have a problem with Becton’s use of her words.

Under questioning from supervisor Andersen, Contra Costa County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Kensok, a 30-year veteran of the DA office, also admitted he had copied material in his application without identifying his sources.

“I should have put in quotation marks, but I did not think of it,” he said. “There was no intent to deceive.  I’m sorry for the way it came out.”

So far Becton has not stated whether she will run in the 2018 election campaign for the full-time position.

Sheriff David Livingston chipped in a recommendation that supervisors might want to develop a duo DA position with Beckton/Kensok holding the post in a caretaking status until the June election. That idea did not draw any reaction from supervisors.

“There is need for change.  The department needs to be transparent,” said Glover of Pittsburg, who represents District 5. “We want the department to think differently, and Judge Beckton can bring that.”

On the initial vote, District 4 Supervisor Mitchoff voted for Graves because of his “integrity and extensive prosecution experience.” Later on the supervisor joined her colleagues to make the appointment of Becton unanimous on a second vote.

Andersen of Danville, who represents District 2, had also initially voted for Graves, but later voted to support Judge Becton. “We need to have a person who can restore public trust, public safety, and protect the mentally ill who enter our criminal justice system,” she said in support of Graves.

District 5 Supervisor Burgis of Oakley said, “My first choice is Judge Diane Becton.”  Burgis said Becton will promote diversity and that “she’s earned the trust of our community.”

Supervisors to Consider Rubicon Contract

In a related matter, supervisors will get an update at their Tuesday, Sept. 19 meeting on the status of a $408,750 contract with the non-profit ex-felon organization Rubicon Programs, Inc.

With the contract expiring at the end of September, a political tiff has developed between Livingston and Gioia, who had opposed the recently approved $70 million West County Detention Jail expansion in north Richmond, a major project of the sheriff.

The problem is the CCP panel is not scheduled to convene until November, too late to renew the Rubicon Contract for the West County Reentry Success Center.

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BREAKING NEWS: Retired Judge Diana Becton appointed Interim Contra Costa District Attorney

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Retired Judge Diana Becton. Courtesy of CCLawyer.cccba.org

Three County Supervisors prefered retired Judge Diana Becton as Interim Contra Costa District Attorney over Supervising Deputy DA Paul Graves. Supervisors Gioia, Burgis and Glover favored Becton, while Andersen and Mitchoff favored Graves. 

However, they then voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to appoint Becton who starts in her new job next Monday. She will be the first woman and as an African-American, Judge Becton will be the first person of color to hold the position.
Please check back later for more details.
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East County NAACP Branch to hold public interviews of applicants for Interim DA, Saturday Sept. 9

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

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Antioch Police, Contra Costa law enforcement associations issue joint endorsement of Graves for interim District Attorney

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Contra Costa Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves. photo courtesy of Paul Graves for DA

The Antioch Police Officers Association along with nearly all of the law enforcement associations in Contra Costa County have announced their joint endorsement of Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves for the position of Interim D.A. They issued the following statement, this week:

“We have either met or are very familiar with all five finalists for the interim District Attorney position. We watched yesterday’s Board of Supervisors public forum and have read the applicants’ platforms and listened to input from our members.

“The work of fighting and prosecuting crime is ongoing. An interim District Attorney must be experienced and ready to step into the position and function effectively immediately. We believe there is one clear choice ready to lead the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office at this critical moment, and that choice is Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves.

“County Supervisors have also expressed their desire to appoint an interim District Attorney who can hit the ground running, and Paul Graves is uniquely ready as someone who already knows how to lead other prosecutors. He has supervised both the Homicide Unit and the Family Violence units with distinction – two of the toughest units in the DA’s office.

“Paul Graves’ extensive experience also makes him the best choice for improving public safety. As law enforcement officers, we know that our ability to protect and serve our communities is greatly strengthened by the experienced, seasoned judgement that Paul Graves will bring as a prosecutor with 22 years of experience right here in Contra Costa County. He has tried over 70 jury trials and prosecuted two capital cases, and over the course of that career he has worked extensively with our colleagues in law enforcement to build strong cases and fight for justice for the victims of crime.

“We have witnessed Paul Graves’ commitment to preventative justice that reduces incarceration rates. At each step in his career, Paul Graves has taken a proactive approach to crime prevention that emphasizes youth and community engagement and other preventative measures as evidenced by his support of the Children’s Interview Center and especially his leadership in the fight against human trafficking in Contra Costa.

“We encourage everyone who hasn’t had the benefit of our years of working with Paul Graves to read his application for interim District Attorney. There you will see the thoughtful, experienced, professional that we’ve come to know and respect.

“One last important point. The law enforcement officers we represent share a ’24-7’ full-time commitment to public safety. We know Paul Graves is a prosecutor who shares that dedication. We’ve been able to count on him over the years for counsel and advice on any case at any time, day or night. We believe that character and commitment is what the people of Contra Costa will value most in Paul Graves. He’s a ‘24/7’ leader who is fully committed to serving the people with dedication and integrity at all times.

“We stand ready to fully support Paul Graves as interim District Attorney. We hope the Board of Supervisors of Contra Costa will support him as well. The events of the last few months have led us to this critical moment, and Paul Graves is the experienced, trusted prosecutor who is ready to meet that moment and move all of us forward.”

Respectfully Submitted,

Antioch POA, Brentwood POA, Clayton POA, Concord PA, Contra Costa Co DA Investigators Assn., Contra Costa Co Deputy Sheriffs Assn. (County Probation, Orinda, Lafayette, Danville Officers), El Cerrito PA, Hercules POA, Martinez POA, Moraga POA, Oakley POA, Pinole PEA, Pleasant Hill PA, Richmond POA, San Pablo PEA, San Ramon POA, and Walnut Creek PA.

Graves is one of five finalists who have applied for the appointment by the Board of Supervisors which is expected to make their choice at either their Sept. 12 or 19 meetings.

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