Peterson Takes Oath as New District Attorney

Judge John Kennedy gives Mark Peterson the oath of office as Contra Costa's new DA.

Says Public Safety Is Number One Priority of Local Government, Pledges to Fight for Funding

By Allen Payton, Publisher

After a hard-fought, vitriolic campaign, underdog candidate Mark Peterson, a 25-year deputy district attorney, 15-year Concord councilman and three-time mayor, won by an 18% margin in November and was sworn in as Contra Costa County’s new District Attorney, yesterday to an overflow room filled with deputy district attorneys, judges, law enforcement personnel, elected officials including Congressman John Garamendi as well as many supporters.

After speeches by one of his court-room opponents in the Public Defender’s office, David Headley, former council colleague and now State Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, former Concord Mayor and Retired General Dan Helix, Sr., as well as Appeals Court Judge Mark Simons, the 52-year-old Peterson was given the oath of office by Contra Costa Superior Court Judge John Kennedy and then had his turn at the podium.

He gave a gracious speech, speaking to those in the DA’s office who supported him, as well as those who didn’t, as well as in the Public Defender’s office and on the bench, and thanked the Concord Police Officers Association and Contra Costa Firefighters who supported him in his campaign. Peterson also recognized, his opponents Dan O’Malley and Elle Fallahat, who were given a round of applause.

“We were never enemies. We were political opponents,” Peterson said. “We were colleagues then. We are colleagues, today.”

Peterson also introduced and thanked his wife Penny, daughters, one of whom did led the Pledge of Allegiance, and one who sang the National Anthem, and parents (it was his mother’s 81st birthday), who he credited for teaching him the value of hard work, which he applied during his campaign and it paid off.

“My parents are great heroes to me. They were missionaries in a small town in Alaska …where I was fortunate enough to grow up,” he stated.

Peterson then asked and answered the question, “how did I get here?”

He also thanked the Seeno and Garaventa families, who supported his campaigns, financially.

He quoted President George Washington, who said, “The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government.”

He acknowledged the seven new Deputy DA’s he had the privilege of swearing in, earlier in the day.

He mentioned lists of individuals in both the DA’s and Public Defender’s offices, as well as judges he appeared before, and the court staff who have had an impact on him and his career.

“Each one of those is a part of who I am, today,” he said. “Each one of those cases has helped influence who I am today.”

“And I know the criminal justice system is not a perfect system,” Peterson added. “But it’s an inherently a very, very good system and the system works because everyone in this room who’s a part of it does such a great job. And of course we have a Court of Appeals here to tell us when we’re wrong. (To laughter). And hopefully we don’t do it too often.”

He then recognized the DA’s office, including the 85 Deputy DA’s, the 25 investigative staff and the over 40 support staff and had them stand, which they did to applause.

“We have an excellent staff,” Peterson acknowledged. “I know during these last couple of years that we’ve had some bad publicity and we’ve had challenges in our office and there’s things we want to improve and want to work on and make better. But we have an excellent office. We do a very good job protecting this community.”

“The people in our office are committed to public safety and committed to keeping our community safe,” he added.

“So each one of you has contributed to who I am. Each one of you has shaped the perspective I bring to the District Attorney’s office. So in a very really sense each one of you will be helping me in lead that office.”

“So when I screw up it’s your fault,” Peterson joked. “ Not really. I hope that doesn’t happen. I really do mean that each one of you is part of me leading this office.”

He mentioned his service on the Concord City Council and the successes in reducing crime by over 40% and adding 29 police officers to the department.

“I’m very proud of that relationship. I think I learned a great deal from it and it was a privilege to serve in that capacity,” Peterson shared. “Although I was mayor and you might think I got a little prideful, I take the job seriously, but I don’t take my job too seriously.”

He then read some responses and one letter he framed which he received after he proposed fast food restaurants post calories next to a list of food items on the wall, so people can know.

A note from his staff said, a man had called to voice his opinion and said “he’d rather see the I.Q. of those running for office posted on election night, so he would know if he’s voting for a moron or not.”

Peterson said, “I got a big kick out of that so I framed it and it hang in my office. So I will take my job seriously, but I hopefully won’t take myself too seriously.”

He then touched on budget concerns the county and his department currently face.

“I know these are tough economic times. I pledge to work with the county to look for ways to save money,” Peterson exclaimed.

“But I want to remind everyone that the number one priority in local government is public safety. I pledge to work collaboratively with the Board of Supervisors,” he stated. “The Board has a difficult task ahead of them. I will fight for funding. I have a responsibility, a duty to represent every citizen, every voter in every city and every unincorporated area of this county.”

“I promise to speak professionally, but forcefully for those citizens and voters,” Peterson said. “Our office is understaffed and underfunded. I believe we must look for structural changes to the county budget.”

The audience gives Peterson a standing ovation following him taking his oath of office.

Peterson spoke of the mission of the DA’s office, which inspires him, and he summarized in three lines, “Seek Justice, Serve Justice and Do Justice.”

“Part of that will be to work at preventing crime through truancy and other programs,” he stated. “Part of that will be the prosecution of gangs with gang injunctions. But I promise to fulfill that mission with respect. Respect for our fellow citizens, respect for all of you.”

Peterson then focused on the word respect – for all those involved in the criminal justice system.

“When someone commits a crime they show a lack of respect for their fellow citizens. When you drive drunk, you demonstrate a reckless disregard for your neighbors, for your fellow citizens. We demand, we insist then that the criminal justice system get involved.”

“But, isn’t it ironic sometimes that those of us who try to seek justice, who have devoted our lives to it, might sometimes, ourselves sink into the trap of not exercising respect. That we ourselves might exercise disrespect. I’ve seen prosecutors disrespect the court and counsel. I’ve seen co-workers disrespect others. I’ve done it myself. I’m the first to admit it. I’ve seen prosecutors disrespect our colleagues in the criminal justice system. I’ve also seen judges occasionally disrespect counsel. It happens, sadly to say. Sometimes defense counsel disrespects prosecuters.

“Everyone of us respects the criminal justice system,” he added.

“I don’t want to live in a world where I as the DA can lock someone up and keep them in jail for however long I wish. I’m glad that we have…all my colleagues in the criminal defense bar to keep myself and my colleagues honest. I’m glad we have the bench that we have…to keep my colleagues, my office, all of us as participants honest in the process.”

“But we all have respect for the presumption of innocence. We all respect the requirement for proof beyond a reasonable doubt, for the Bill of Rights and due process.”

The public defenders aren’t my enemies, they’re my colleagues, they’re the colleagues of the district attorneys that work in our office. We’re professionals, each with a crucial role to play in the process.

“The judges are not our enemies. While it’s true that we often times disagree, they’re there to serve justice, just like we are.”

Peterson mentioned having respect, even for the accused.

“We as those who seek justice must to do a better job of that I believe seeking justice and showing respect even for the accused. The bench actually is very good at doing that,” he shared. “But the vast majority of our cases are misdemeanor cases. A huge percentage of those cases involve first-time offenders. And sometime when we encounter a defendant, we lose sight of the fact that there, but for the grace of God, go I.”

“Not every misdemeanor deserves the maximum sentence, and not every felon deserves the maximum sentence,” Peterson stated. “I will be tough on crime.”

Then quoting new California Attorney General Kamala Harris, he said “I’m going to be tough on crime, but I’m going to be smart on crime, also.”

“Administer justice, like George Washington said…but let’s do it with respect.”

Finally, he pledged to fulfill the mission statement of the District Attorney’s office.

“Our office will fulfill our mission statement…by fighting for public safety as a priority in this county…in innovative ways…and we’ll do a very good of it,” said Peterson. “But we will make sure that we show respect to all of our partners – probation, defense, victims, witness, police officers, court staff, the bench.”

The ceremonies were followed by a reception held at a hotel in Concord.

the attachments to this post:

Audience applauds Peterson’s oath

Mark Peterson takes oath of office as DA

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