Supervisors plan to appoint Interim DA by Sept. 19 draws criticism

Ordinance on illegal Solid waste collection postponed

By Daniel Borsuk

With the field of interim Contra Costa County District Attorney candidates pared down from 12 to 5, Contra Costa County Supervisors on Tuesday are determined to select an interim DA by Sept. 19 even in the face of increasing public criticism over the selection process.

On a 5-0 vote supervisors selected for further consideration Contra Costa Judge Diana Beckton, Contra Costa Judge Daniella Douglas, Contra Costa Assistant District Attorney Tom Kensok, Contra Costa Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves and Santa Clara Supervising Deputy District Attorney Patrick Vanier.

Candidates not making the cut were former Contra Costa prosecutor and current private attorney David Brown, San Francisco deputy district attorney John Delgado, Contra Costa Bar Association Criminal Conflict Program Attorney William Green, private attorney Richard Madsen Jr., San Francisco assistant DA since 1996 Michael Menesini, Stanislaus County Prosecutor Brad Nix, and 50-year prosecutor veteran with the Alameda and Los Angeles DA offices Michael Roemer.

With the two judges as candidates, supervisors learned there might be a potential legal barrier where Judge Beckton and Judge Douglas might be found in violation of a state conflict of interest ruling that a sitting Superior Court justice cannot simultaneously serve as a county DA.  The supervisors decided to have each judge weigh in on whether they are in violation of the state conflict of interest law during the upcoming August 15 finalist interviews.

Supervisors forged ahead showing scant concern that there could potentially be a court injunction filed blocking their process to fill the $258,181 a year DA post that was vacated in mid-June when then DA Mark Peterson resigned from office after pleading in Contra Costa Superior Court to 15 felony charges that he illegally spent $66,000 of campaign funds for personal use.

In exchange for a no contest plea Peterson was sentenced to three years probation.  State prosecutors dropped 11 other counts of perjury and one count of grand theft.  The State Bar of California took steps to disbar Peterson last week.

Critics accused supervisors of privately meeting or consulting with interim DA candidates and some opponents said it is pointless to appoint a short-term DA when county voters could be electing a new DA next year.

“There is no need for the board to appoint an interim DA within a year of an election,” protested Marcie Garrett of El Cerrito.

“The Democratic Party of Contra Costa County calls for the board of supervisors to delay action to another date,” said Maria Alegria, chair of the county Democratic Party.

Alegria said the board needs to do more work to screen candidates because of the county DA office’s history of misconduct.  She referred to the recent Peterson case and the 2008 rape case involving DA Michael Gressett, who was accused of raping a junior DA colleague that resulted in a $450,000 out of court settlement.

Mainly because of the DA office’s track record, Walnut Creek resident Julie Davis commented, “I prefer that you consider candidates not in the Contra Costa District Attorney Office.  I’d prefer candidates from outside.  Your selection process is long, yet needs more transparency.”

Concerned about the rising human trafficking situation in the county, Judith Tannenbaum pitched to supervisors that they need to select Contra Costa Office Deputy Senior DA Paul Graves because of his work combatting human trafficking.

Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger representing the Contra Costa Police Chiefs Association encouraged supervisors to select an interim DA who will cooperate with police departments.  “Whoever you choose make sure your choice will work with us,” he said.

District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff of Pleasant Hill attempted to defended the transparency criticism lodged against the board.  “This is a transparent process the board is using.  Everything is online,” she said.

Mitchoff also said state law requires the board of supervisors to appoint an interim DA under the circumstances the county faces.

“This is a challenging situation and ultimately the people of Contra Costa county will have to decide who will be their DA,” said District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen of Danville.

“We’re not going to please everyone, but I look for someone who will defend racial justice, is fair, shows leadership style, and can move forward,” Board Chair Federal Glover of Pittsburg added.

Supervisor Mitchoff was surprised to learn that the Bay Area Newspaper Group had filed in the past two days a public records request that the county disclose personal information that the five finalists provided in their applications.   The newspaper group had complained the county had redacted personal information and that it should now be public information.  That information will now be unredacted.

Ordinance on Illegal Solid Waste Collection Postponed

In other business, supervisors postponed action until their August 15 meeting on a proposed ordinance that would take aim at cracking down on the illegal solid waste collection and transportation operations in the unincorporated area of Contra Costa County.

The county environmental health department has identified more than 41 illegal solid waste transfer stations located in both incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county and 32 of those operations have been closed down, since early 2015.

In order to regulate the solid waste collection industry, the Contra Costa Environmental Health Department has been developing an ordinance where persons engaged in this business in the county would be required to apply for permits, have collection and transport vehicles undergo inspections, and operators must post bond.

2 Comments to “Supervisors plan to appoint Interim DA by Sept. 19 draws criticism”

  1. Arne says:

    Those complaining that the Board of Supervisors are not being transparent in their selection process for the District Attorney position clearly don’t understand the Government Code for the process.

    All that is required is for the Board to either make an appointment, leave it vacant until the next General Election or call for a Special Election.

    The least expensive way is for them to make an appointment, which doesn’t require them to do the very transparent method they have chosen. They could have appointed someone right away without anything further.

  2. Swen Oleson says:

    The women judges that have applied, Judge Beckton and Judge Douglas, are clearly highly qualified for the position. I think either would be a terrific appointment. In our county we have never had a women elected DA, this is long, long overdue. But it get’s worse. We have NEVER in the history of our county had a women hold the position of elected Assessor or, elected Tax Collector, or elected County Clerk, or elected Sheriff-Coroner. These jobs – dating back generations – have been held by white guys only. Hey, last time I checked it was the year 2017, not 1950. Diversity is the order of the day now. 60% of law school grads are women now, we have terrific women DA’s working at the DA’s office, terrific women judges, like Beckton and Douglas. This effort being made behind the scenes by the white guy candidates to get the two women judges who are applying “disqualified” because of some dubious conflict of interest is disgraceful. Arguably the two women judges – both women of color – are the best candidates, you can easily make that case. I’m a white guy myself, but I got daughters. I watched the both of them knock themselves out putting themselves thru college, they worked their way through college – getting top grades – and went on to successful careers. I am so proud of them. So I am deeply offended to see the county seems to have this white guy only thing going for these top jobs, diversity is the order of the day now, as it should be. This behind the scenes effort to get Judge Beckton and Judge Douglass disqualified from applying is pretty unbelievable. I think county supervisors should recognize the old boy network – insofar as these top county elected jobs is concerned – is alive and well. I hope Supervisor Glover and Supervisor Mitchoff and the rest of the supervisors vote to shatter the glass ceiling by appointing either Judge Douglas or Judge Becton, they are fabulous candidates for this job. Putting a no nonsense former judge in charge of the DA’s office will send a powerful message, the message being that integrity is the new norm for the DA’s office – no more crooked DA’s, no more fist fights among the deputies, no more frat boy behavior. The DA’s office needs to be a place where integrity, honesty and the rule of law reign supreme.

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