Santa Clara

Contra Costa Appoints County's First Female, African-American District Attorney

Amid a push for more progressive leadership, Contra Costa County’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday appointed retired Superior Court Judge Diana Becton as interim district attorney.

Becton, whose term begins next Monday, is the first woman and the first African-American to hold the position in the county’s 168-year history. She will be replacing Mark Petersen, who resigned in disgrace after being charged with perjury and grand theft for using $66,000 in campaign cash as a personal slush fund.

Despite being one of two candidates who admitted to plagiarizing sections of their applications, Becton was able to maintain vocal community support in the weeks leading up to Tuesday's meeting. She lifted significant portions of her application from a variety of sources, including from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and an op-ed by U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.

Becton addressed the plagiarism charges at Tuesday's meeting, saying she drew “liberally” from sources in an attempt to “lift certain issues up.”

“I recognize that I should have used quotation marks when I used the words of other people, and I didn’t do that,” she said. “I have owned that mistake; I don’t hide from it.”

The vote was close, with supervisors Candace Andersen and Karen Mitchoff signing off on applicant Paul Graves, a senior deputy district attorney in the county who had the support of law enforcement. Supervisors John Gioia and Diane Burgis, meanwhile, threw their weight behind Becton, who stressed the need for bail reform and restorative justice.

In breaking the tie, Supervisor Federal Glover said he recognized the need to restore "public trust" and "promote different voices."

Becton, who has never been a prosecutor, told the supervisors that she was dedicated to changing the culture of the District Attorney’s Office and returning its focus to “just outcomes.” For too long, the office has been consumed with sentences and convictions and “getting cases out,” she said.

“I’m here because I want to do what I’ve done for the last 22 years as a judge, and that is to stand for what is right,” Becton, who also holds a master’s degree in theology, said. “My mission is clear, and that is to make Contra Costa County a place that is safer for everyone while we’re promoting fairness and justice in our system.”

The former judge received a bachelor’s degree in economics from San Francisco State University and a law degree from Golden Gate University. Before becoming a Contra Costa County judge in 1995, she worked for the City of Richmond and as a private attorney. Last year, she was elected president of the National Association of Women Judges.

Sheriff David Livingston wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors and appeared in person to oppose the potential appointment of Becton or Tom Kensok, the other candidate who plagiarized portions of his application. Livingston said any of the other three candidates — Graves, Santa Clara County deputy district attorney Patrick Vanier, and Judge Danielle Douglas — would be a better choice.

Appointing either Kensok or Becton would be “offensive to law enforcement,” Livingston said. His remarks were met with hisses from the crowd of onlookers, many of whom spoke in support of Becton. 

Richmond resident and Cease Fire coordinator Darnell Jones took to the podium to defend the former judge, lambasting Livingston for “railroading” his community "with gang enhancement charges.”

“We should not look at a person’s writings, but a person’s work,” Jones said. “I’m not going to let someone who helped destroy our communities talk about one of my sisters.”

Becton’s interim term will last until January 2019. If she chooses to run for election in 2018, she will face off against Graves and Vanier, who have already filed election paperwork.

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