Hal Jewett, Contra Costa County’s own Jack McCoy, has something very interesting to say in his response to this newspaper’s recent editorial blasting District Attorney candidate and deputy district attorney Mark Peterson for “reckless accusations.”
Peterson has asked the state Department of Justice to investigate potential criminal violations related to a campaign fundraiser some of his colleagues hosted for one of the other District Attorney candidates, Dan O’Malley. The editorial board, of which I am not a member, concluded that it was a flimsy and unworthy pursuit. In one of my recent columns, I also questioned whether the incident was a sufficiently serious enough to warrant a criminal investigation.
I was copied on Jewett’s letter and while I usually leave letters to the editor to, well, the editor, Jewett, a top Contra Costa prosecutor, offers a highly credible and succinct look at what he describes as the poisonous atmosphere inside the District Attorney’s Office.
Here is his letter:
It was with some dismay I read today’s editorial telling a candidate for public office to “shut up”, and castigating him for reporting a violation of campaign fundraising laws to the attorney general. Your remarks were profoundly ironic and rude.
Your conclusions were wrong. Any newspaper (or other advocate of the 1st Amendment) telling any citizen to “shut up”, or trivializing the violation of a law designed to prevent undue influence being placed on public employees vested with a public trust, is itself irresponsible.
As a prosecutor of 27+ years in this county, I have never seen the kind of political environment that exists in this office now. Our new prosecutors union has long since exceeded its stated purpose of maximizing benefits for its members, and now seeks to exercise substantial influence in the political arena.
Historically, that was the job of the district attorney … but times have apparently changed. I have never previously seen a solicitation for monies even approaching the $500 mentioned in the “e-vite” here. The suggestion that the idea of this solicitation originated with some young lawyer who didn’t know better is ludicrous.
The assertion that this wasn’t a fundraiser by prosecutors for prosecutors (with a few police detectives thrown in the mix for good measure) is poppycock. However, the truly disturbing aspect of this story is not the violation of a relatively obscure law. It is the denials; it is lawyers in full spin mode prepared to sacrifice a young attorney to avoid responsibility. Your editorial did not help.
This office is almost daily treated to closed door sessions of experienced lawyers and managers talking political strategy. Banter in the hallways includes experienced prosecutors openly singing about “war”.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist for the low and mid-level attorneys to figure out which side their bread is buttered on. The effect of all this on the clerical personnel is undoubtedly numbing. It is precisely this kind of environment the statute you pay lip service to was designed to prevent.
With all of the posturing going on, one thing is certain: in our zeal to promote our candidate (whoever that may be) we are quickly loosing sight of our client (The People).
If your newspaper is not the partisan rag your editorial suggests it is, you should carefully and critically examine all of the assertions being made by all of the candidates, both about themselves and about their opponents.
If the public is being misled or the law is not being obeyed, it is your responsibility to expose the truth regardless of your predilections. That’s what Mark Peterson did (while trying murder case after murder case, by the way). Truth first.
Harold W. Jewett