Wednesday, May 17, 2017
[Contra Costa County] Peterson: Illegal activity by Contra Costa DA casts his tenure as a lie
A snapshot, circa 2008-10. The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office is in turmoil. Sexual assault charges levied against a prosecutor by a junior colleague. A workplace fistfight. A bruising, polarizing runoff election for district attorney. From the outside looking in, it was a nonstop pie fight.
Apparently it didn’t look much better from inside the bunker.
“It was like a war zone,” said a veteran prosecutor who requested anonymity in order to speak freely.
Mark Peterson won the election and the fourth-floor corner office in the DA’s building in Martinez. The pie fight raged on for a time as he continued to play politics in a series of promotions and demotions, some so blatantly partisan that a few staff members, alleging political payback, were awarded five-figure judgments by the county.
And then: quiet.
Whatever residual dysfunction there was in the office played out beyond the public eye. When Peterson ran unopposed for a second term as DA, he earned praise from inside and outside the building. Mostly for policy, but also for restoring the credibility of the office. The latter acknowledgement was not insignificant.
“You’d have to ask people how they feel now,” he said then, “but I think people feel pretty good about the direction we’ve taken the last four years.”
A current snapshot: The office is once again in an uproar. People are not feeling good about the direction of the office. Peterson, having been caught illegally withdrawing funds from his campaign account for personal use, is under fire. His candidacy for a third term is hitting headwinds. A civil grand jury has recommended he be removed from office. The seven-member Contra Costa County District Attorneys’ Association Board has unanimously recommended that its membership cast a vote of no confidence against Peterson.
Should Peterson resign? That’s not even a question. Of course he should. He is the top law enforcement official in the county. Yet he knowingly broke the law he is sworn to uphold, admitting his transgression only after he was caught. The ripple effect of his stunningly poor judgment is being felt as we speak.
“There’s no unwinding this,” said another veteran prosecutor, who also requested anonymity. “I will tell you the vast majority of staff here are humiliated about this. Our families know about it. Friends know about it. Jurors have asked about it. We wear the white hat. We’re supposed to be the good guys.”
The district attorney’s actions don’t resonate only on a practical level. They make his entire tenure seem like a lie. The part about restoring the credibility of the office? The prosecutor who characterized the 2008-era DA’s office as a war zone pointed out that Peterson began illegally withdrawing funds in 2011, shortly after taking office. That conduct is both brazen and maddening. The guy who could have been known for rebuilding the office wound up dousing it in dishonor.
“He’s just so arrogant in the belief that he can do anything he wants,” the prosecutor said. “I’m glad the public is finally seeing why none of us supported him when he was running.”
Actually, the District Attorneys’ Association did endorse Peterson in early 2014, but that was a formality given he was running unopposed and there was no choice. There will be a choice next year — former Contra Costa prosecutor Patrick Vanier announced his candidacy May 4.
That means Peterson will be running against two opponents — Vanier, and the man Peterson claimed to be in 2010. That guy would have thrown the book at the man currently occupying the fourth-floor corner office.
May 13, 2017
East Bay Times
By Gary Peterson