Contra Costa County supervisors choose new DA in close vote

Interim District Attorney Diana Becton speaking at a community forum in Richmond on September 9. Photo by Alex Nieves.

Interim District Attorney Diana Becton speaking at a community forum in Richmond on September 9. Photo by Alex Nieves.

This afternoon, Contra Costa County named Diana Becton its interim district attorney, replacing former DA Mark Peterson, who resigned in June following a felony perjury conviction.

The board of supervisors approved Becton by a narrow 3-2 margin, with Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves receiving the remaining votes.

In securing the board’s approval, Becton overcame a recent plagiarism scandal and a candidate in Graves who enjoyed support from the law-enforcement community. She is the first black woman to hold the office.

Becton will transition from her previous role as Contra County Superior Court judge and is scheduled to be appointed on September 18. She retired from her judgeship in August after 22 years, and is current president of the National Association of Women Judges. She also served as the presiding judge of Contra Costa County from 2011-2012.

She was the only finalist to lack previous experience as a prosecutor, but believes her time as a judge prepared her for the career change.

“A district attorney really needs to be a leader in the criminal justice system,” Becton said. “I’ve been elected presiding judge of this court and that’s because people saw in me the ability to effectuate change and to lead through difficult times.”

Becton will serve until June 2018, through what would have been the remainder of Peterson’s term. At that time, county voters will chime in on a permanent DA, although Becton is now the presumed frontrunner.

The announcement closes the book on what was an often rocky seven-year tenure for Peterson. This past December, he admitted to spending more than $66,000 in campaign funds on personal items during a five-year period.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra charged Peterson with 12 counts of felony perjury and one count of felony grand theft. The county’s top law enforcer eventually took a plea deal that bars him from running for office for three years.

Becton was among five finalists for the interim role. The hopefuls, who the board interviewed this morning at a public meeting, also included superior court Judge Danielle Douglas, Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Patrick Vanier and Assistant District Attorney Tom Kensok.

Before their 30-minute interviews, members of the public spoke at an occasionally contentious hearing. A majority of the speakers supported Becton.

One of the topics touched on this morning was plagiarization that arose during the application process.

In August, an anonymous letter received by local media outlets and county officials highlighted plagiarism in Becton’s DA application. Later, KQED reported that Kensok had also included plagiarized material his application.

Both candidates denied the accusations. Becton told the East Bay Times that she was attempting to “bring the brightest thinkers and best ideas into the discussion,” by pulling from a letter written by California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, in addition to culling from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and passages from other Bay Area DA websites.

Kensok said his use of material from the Harvard Law Review was an “oversight.”

Becton, who emerged as an early favorite among Richmond Progressive Alliance members and local residents at community forums, kept this support even after the plagiarism allegation.

Richmond Councilman Melvin Willis also endorsed Becton, adding that he wanted a DA with a “racial-justice background.”

“We live in a county where people of color are not the majority of the population, yet we are a majority of the criminal justice cases,” Willis said. “I would want to see the DA start to address a lot of those issues.”

At a community forum in Richmond this past Saturday, which was attended by all five candidates, Becton was well-received. At one point, Alameda County DA candidate Pamela Price even awarded her with a plaque for her participation in a local softball league.

Local law enforcement preferred senior deputy DA Graves, who received endorsements from the Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorneys’ Association, along with the Deputy Sheriffs and Police Officers’ associations.

At Saturday’s forum, the last public meeting before this morning’s interview process, the issue of plagiarism was not addressed.

This story was updated at 5:01 p.m.

One Comment

  1. Commenter

    How surprising that the RPA is willing to overlook plagiarism in their favored candidates. I’m sure that would have been enough to disqualify anyone else. Good to know that the double standard is alive and well among the “progressive” faction.

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