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Reform candidates come under attack in Contra Costa County District Attorney selection process

Contra Costa County Courthouse, Martinez, CA

Reform candidates come under attack in Contra Costa County District Attorney selection process


At two recent public forums, candidates to become Contra Costa’s interim District Attorney focused mostly on the degree to which their views and proposed policies aligned with Contra Costa County’s solidly progressive constituents’. But the selection process took an unexpected turn on Friday when local news outlets reported that two finalists — Superior Court Judge Diana Becton and Assistant District Attorney Tom Kensok — had failed to attribute portions of their applications to the proper sources.

Becton borrowed language from Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Kamala Harris’s recent New York Times column advocating for bail reform. Kensok pulled information from a Harvard Business Review article and also pulled material from implementation guides designed for violence reduction programs and mental health programs. Both told the East Bay Times that they should have cited the material, and that they weren’t trying to suggest the words were their own.

In Becton’s case, it is unknown who discovered the borrowed passages; several county officials said they received anonymous mailings alerting them to unattributed work in Becton’s application. Radio station KQED discovered Kensok’s unattributed work after subsequently examining the other applications.

In an interesting coincidence, both Becton and Kensok have emerged as the applicants most likely to shake things up in the office and advance progressive policies as district attorney. Both have voiced support for bail reform, reducing mass incarceration, and scaling back the use of excessive punishments within the county.

And as those two applicants have come under attack, conservative finalist Paul Graves, a deputy district attorney within the office, has benefited. After receiving the endorsement of a handful of private criminal defense lawyers, he picked up the endorsements of the East Bay Timesseveral local law enforcement units, and the Contra Costa Deputy District Attorney’s Association.

Graves would seem an unlikely selection for Contra Costa County, which has consistently voted in favor of criminal justice reform. Graves has consistently tacked to the right of the other four finalists in the competition to replace the disgraced former district attorney Mark Peterson, who resigned earlier this year after pleading no contest to one count of felony perjury after using $66,000 in campaign funds for personal use.

Peterson was sentenced to three years probation and 250 hours of community service. He also faces possible disbarment.

The Contra Costa County Supervisors now must pick a replacement district attorney who will serve until June 2018 when the next election is scheduled. The other two finalists are Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Patrick Vanier and Judge Danielle Douglas.

All five candidates will appear before the Board of Supervisors in September. The five-member Board will then select the interim district attorney, though their method of selection remains unclear.