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?

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