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CoCo prosecutor blasts newspaper

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 at 10:44 am in 2010 election, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics.

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

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  • Mike F.

    An attorney, even if young, should know it was a conflict to distribute the e-vite for a party among the office members. County leaders should call for some outside help from the California Fair Political Practices Commission to do conflict of interest training. I’m sure there were more people involved in the planning of the event that should’ve known better. Poor judgment to distribute a party invitation for someone running for office has the appearance of a conflict, even if well-intentioned, and it creates suspicion that more is happening behind the scene.

    Lisa, the result of the Citizens United case you identify in your recent column is misleading. That particular provision of the McCain-Feingold Act stricken down by the Supreme Court was a poor attempt to control campaign financing by corporations, non-profits and unions of electronic broadcasting. We need real campaign financing reform, especially on what labor unions do within government offices. I find it quite odd that there is even a labor union for Attorneys, as its obvious that the organization does far more than negotiate a bargaining agreement.

    I applaud Mr. Jewett’s response.

    PS – Dear Editorial Board, in case you didn’t get it, I think this is an issue we should all be concerned about.

  • http://deleted Fact Check

    Poisonous atmosphere indeed, however, are we going to get to know what the issues are in the DA’s race?
    Or is the case being made to simply fire them all?

  • Drunkennoodlesfriend

    I must agree with Mr. Jewitt on this, the Times has sold out their practice of wanting public officials held accountable for their actions. I have no idea why the Times editors are so tounge tied with the O’Malley camp. The Times, a newspaper which prides itself on public accountability (such as public salary disclosures), seems to have lost interest in the truth.

    I think this is the best example yet of Mark Peterson’s leadership ability, holding people accountable even when it might not be popular. In fact, not just holding anyone accountable, but his own co-workers and hopefully future subordinates. In fact, if laws were broken, why wouldn’t O’Malley make a public statement agreeing to cooperate with an investigation and demanding the truth come out. He is running for District Attorney right. Oh, that’s right, he is a criminal defense attorney, the truth with these people is a flexable commodity.

    I think if a majority of the deputy DA’s would be more interested in a hard working senior attorney that has shown the value of leadership than hanging out with the cool kid (thats O’Malley for anyone not getting my drift), the atmosphere at that office would change for the better.

    And hopefully the Times re-examines their own value system before making a formal endorsement in this election.

  • Mike F.

    Well, why doesn’t the CoCo Times sponsor a debate or a forum between the candidates? “Build it and they will come.” Just coordinate and give them enough lead time, so they can’t say they had a conflcit. Cheers!

  • Margie P

    IMO, the CoCo Times is outta money to actually do more than reprint PR releases. It is abhorrent that Lisa does not do more that spit out what appears to be right wing-ish points of view here. She needs to go visit the Newseum in DC – that wakes up the heart to what the point of journalism used to be: to offset corruption.

    We no longer know what’s being buried in our county. Leaving it all to the Grand Jury is just unconscionable and questions about the DA’s office abound – like why does Bolen’s office only prosecute non-county public officials? Gus Kramer was convicted by a civil jury of sexual harassment – why is he still in office – where is Bolen on that case?

    Wake up Contra Costa!

  • Margie P

    actually, I checked on myself and Gus Kramer was technically only convicted for not promoting the gal, but the rest of what I said still stands –

    IMO he should be outta there and Bolen is not doing his job!

  • Dan Helix

    I agree with Hal Jewett’s comment about the rudeness of the Contra Costa Times editorial concerning Mark Peterson’s action in seeking an investigation concerning O’Malley’s fund-raising tactics. The late Dean Lesher, when he was publisher of the Times told me he had one rule for reporters. You can disagree but do not do it in a disagreeable manner. Dan Borenstein, author of the Times editorial broke that rule in spades. To tell anyone to “shut up” in an editorial is beyond anything I have ever seen in the C.C. Times. Shame on you Mr. Borenstein, your comment shows more arrogance than intelligence. The method employed by Mr. O’Malley in raising money was illegal and you should know it. I’m sure he did.