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.