Friday, June 16, 2017

Even District Attorneys Are Not Above the Law

 In October 2014, I produced an episode of Talking with Henrietta, called Crime and Punishment: How Will You Vote? On the show, I talked with three guests: Stacey McGruder, Raj Jayadev and Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson. We discussed the pros and cons of Proposition 47, a measure on the November 2014 California State Ballot that, if approved, would reclassify crimes that were considered felonies as misdemeanors.

Such a reclassification would allow many ex-prisoners, who were convicted as felons to get the felony convictions off their records. Their record clearances would allow them more access to employment, housing opportunities, financial aid and the right to vote. It would also open other doors that were once formerly closed to them.

On the show McGruder and Jayadev argued for the passage of Prop 47, while Petersen argued against it, supporting the idea that the passage of Prop 47 would lead to an increase in crime. In his words, it would “make our neighborhoods and schools less safe.” See the show description on the East Palo Alto Today website here

During the November 2014 election, California voters gave overwhelming support to Prop 47, leading to its passage by a vote of 59.61% to 40.39%

At the time of the show, Peterson was up for reelection as Contra Costa County’s District Attorney and he ran uncontested. 

Well, three years later, as life would have it, in an ironic twist of fate, the California Attorney General’s office charged Peterson with 12 counts of felony perjury and a single count of felony grand theft for allegedly lying on his campaign disclosure forms from 2012 to 2015.

In response to the charges, Peterson, pleaded no contest to a felony perjury charge of using more than $66,000 in campaign funds to make 600 purchases, which included the purchase of jewelry, groceries, various other items and the payment of personal bills.

Immediately, after his plea on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, Peterson was sentenced to three years’ informal probation and ordered to serve 250 hours of community service. After being sentenced, Peterson resigned from office.

Earlier this year, a Contra Costa County grand jury formally accused Peterson of “willful or corrupt” misconduct and initiated proceedings to remove him from office.

Peterson was fined $45,000 by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which ruled that he had “violated California’s political reform act nine times.”

In response to the grand jury findings, the fine and other allegations surrounding Peterson's office,  a petition was posted to, calling for his resignation. The petition garnered 442 votes.

With Peterson’s felony conviction and his resignation from office, it seems only just that public officials, who are sworn to uphold the law, are prosecuted when they commit crimes. What a dramatic fall from grace for Peterson!

Peterson’s case shows that district attorneys are not above the law themselves when they commit crimes. So, is it true that the way you judge others is the way you, yourself, will be judged? Now wouldn’t it be interesting if the felonies Peterson had been charged with had been reclassified as misdemeanors? He, certainly, would not have supported that idea when he was campaigning in 2014. Would he have a change of mind now?

Given his situation today, wouldn’t it be accurate to consider him a convicted felon, who took a plea deal?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

East Palo Alto has a Climate Action Plan

Dealing with Climate Change
Talking with Henrietta - Taped February 13, 2011

The fact that Pres. Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord has disturbed  millions of people throughout the world. It’s somewhat troubling to see that the U. S. now joins only two other countries, Nicaragua and Syria, which are not signatories to the agreement. It is  reported that Nicaragua did not sign the climate agreement because the agreement was not strong enough. Even North Korea has signed it.

In explaining his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, Pres. Trump made his now famous remark that he was elected to "represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris." You can read the complete text of his speech here  on the website. However, Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh, PA, issued a statement in which he wrote, “Pittsburgh stands with the world and will follow the Paris agreement.”

The day after making his statement, Peduto issued an executive order stating, “The City of Pittsburgh endorses and remains fully committed to our 2030 objectives, as announced during the Paris summit.”

As of today, 187 U.S. mayors, including Peduto, and 10 state governors denounced Trump’s decision and vowed to uphold the Paris agreement. You can see a partial list of their names here.   

Some U.S. cities already have Climate Actions Plans. It might be surprising to hear that the City of East Palo Alto is one of these cities. In fact, Russell Averhart, the former redevelopment manager for the City of East Palo Alto, wrote the city's Climate Action Plan more than five years ago. He discussed the city's plan on the Talking with Henrietta television show called, Dealing with Climate Change. Averhart appeared on the show on February 23, 2011 with two other guests, artist Michael Killen and NASA scientist Edwin Sheffner. You can see a video excerpt from the show at the top of this column or click here to see it directly on YouTube. 

Of course, now, there are people, who agree with Trump and one such group held a rally across from the White House on Sunday, June 4, 2017, holding signs saying, "Pittsburgh, not Paris." 

So, with whom do you agree, with most of the world or with President Trump and his supporters?