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Contra Costa district attorney on the hot seat

Contra Costa District Attorney Robert Kochly

Contra Costa District Attorney Robert Kochly

Boy oh boy, is the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors mad at Contra Costa District Attorney Robert Kochly.

The board will hold a special meeting at 3 p.m. today to air their grievances over a memo (see the memo is at the bottom of this post) Kochly sent out to the county’s police chiefs and his staff, which advised them that due to budget cuts, his office will no longer prosecute certain misdemeanor crimes. (Click here to read Malaika Fraley’s CCT story.)

Late yesterday, Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg announced that he will call for Attorney General Jerry Brown to investigate into how Kochly manages his office. (By way of background, the Board of Supervisors controls Kochly’s budget but the district attorney is a directly elected countywide official and the board has no jurisdiction over the management of his office.)

And prior to the board meeting this afternoon, unions representing 656 Contra Costa deputy sheriffs and 73 prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office will hold a press conference outside the board chambers at 651 Pine Street in Martinez and call the on the board to restore the funding cuts to both the district attorney and the sheriff’s office.

This folks, to quote an old saying, is where the budget rubber starts to smell bad.

Budget cuts are no longer impacting impacting selected segments of the population, such as the poor woman without health care who needs the county hospital or that elderly man who needs an aide to care for him in his home. The budget axe has now struck the very core of what most taxpayers view as a critical government service for everyone: Public safety.

The debate over how government will pay for all the services the public demands at a time of serious financial restraints will continue, of course.

From a political perspective, this assault on Kochly, a Republican, comes at a time when he is still on the fence about whether he will seek re-election to a third term. A handful of people are reportedly chomping to run for the seat including Republican Concord Councilman Mark Peterson and a son of former District Attorney William O’Malley, Democrat, retired judge and attorney Dan O’Malley.

Alliance of Contra Costa Taxpayers chief Ken Hambrick, a vocal critic of the way the board has handled the county’s finances, has another theory.

“The board, in the form of Glover, is trying to lynch Bob Kochly as a cover-up for their own incompetence in handling the financial woes of the county,” Hambrick said. “As Charlie Brown said in one of the comic strips, ‘Find a scapegoat.’  This is a blatant attempt to move blame and responsibility from themselves to another and to smear Kochly’s name in the process.”

APRIL 20, 2009, MEMO FROM BOB KOCHLY TO POLICE CHIEFS AND HIS STAFF:

In my 35 years as a prosecutor in Contra Costa County, I have always tried to maintain a “can do” attitude in the face of cutbacks and increased demand for our services. During the last several years, I have proudly proclaimed that the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office has accomplished “more with less”.

Unfortunately, we have now reached a point where we cannot maintain the status quo, and I am faced with the reality of informing all of our law enforcement partners that we will definitely be doing “less with less” as a prosecution agency. With the budget cuts imposed on my office last month, we will be laying off six deputy district attorneys effective April 30th, and 11 more deputy district attorneys will have to be let go at the end of this calendar year. We can no longer continue to prosecute all crimes as we have in the past.

On the felony level, we will be reorganizing and downsizing many of our prosecution units. For the most part the changes on the felony level will be in how some cases are handled after they are filed. On the misdemeanor side, the changes will be much more drastic. We will attempt to continue filing and prosecuting certain “core” misdemeanor offenses, assuming the courts cooperate with revisions in their calendars that will enable us to meet our court appearance obligations with a severely reduced attorney staff.

The changes I am about to outline will apply to all cases delivered to the District Attorney’s Office for filing consideration on or after Monday, May 4, 2009.

For felonies, the changes involve only drug cases. We will no longer accept for review, nor will we file, any simple possession cases where the net weight (excluding packaging) of the controlled substance or the quantity of pills is below the following thresholds:

1. methamphetamine – 1.0 grams;
2. cocaine – 1.0 grams;
3. heroin – 0.5 grams;

4. vicodin, oxycontin, MDMA, valium, etc. – 5 pills

In addition, out-of-custody felony drug cases which are now being reviewed by our Drug Prosecution Unit at 900 Ward Street, Martinez, should be submitted for review to the appropriate branch felony filing deputy at our Richmond office or our 10 Douglas Drive, Martinez, office.

For misdemeanors, we will continue to review and file the following types of cases:

1. All DUI cases;
2. All domestic violence misdemeanors, including domestic violence restraining order violations;
3. Misdemeanor weapons cases if the weapon is a firearm (e.g., 417, 12025, 12031). Conversely, we will no longer review or file any non-firearm misdemeanor weapons cases (e.g., 653k, nunchuks, dirk or dagger, billy, etc.);
4. Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter cases;
5. Misdemeanor sex crimes, such as 314.1, 647.6, and misdemeanor 290 violations. These cases, regardless of where the crime occurred, should be delivered to our Sexual Assault Unit at 900 Ward Street, Martinez, for review;
6. Misdemeanors involving police officer victims (e.g., 148, 69, 243(b)) will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis for filing, but must be presented in person to the appropriate misdemeanor filing deputy by your agency (no drop-offs);
7. Cases of assault with a weapon and some degree of injury will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis for filing, but must also be presented in person to the appropriate misdemeanor filing deputy by your agency (no drop-offs).

Of necessity, we will not be reviewing or filing a number of categories of misdemeanor offenses as partially described below. With respect to these types of cases, we ask that they not even be submitted by your agency. If they are submitted, they will be screened out by category by support staff and returned to your department without review by a deputy district attorney.

1. Misdemeanor drug offenses of any kind;
2. H&S 11550 and PC 647f cases;
3. All non-DUI driving or traffic offenses (e.g., 14601’s of any kind, 20002’s, 23103’s, 23109’s, etc.);
4. Misdemeanor property crimes (e.g., 484, 487, 503, 459, 470, 594, etc.);
5. Simple assault or battery cases
6. Trespassing or loitering cases;
7. All other misdemeanor crimes not specifically enumerated.

We will continue to review and file charges otherwise eliminated in the above list if they are part of the same case involving crimes we are continuing to prosecute (e.g., 14601 will be filed along with a DUI charge when appropriate). These new policies apply only to offenses involving adults. For the time being, filing and prosecution policies for juvenile offenders remains status quo.

Please disseminate these new policies throughout your department. There will undoubtedly be many questions raised, and unforeseen situations will arise. We stand ready to answer your questions and concerns and to assist in this difficult and drastic transition.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen