Judge picked as Contra Costa interim D.A.
The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors appointed a longtime judge Tuesday to serve out the term of the former district attorney, who resigned after pleading no contest to felony perjury.
Diana Becton, who served as a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge for 22 years but never worked as a prosecutor, will be the first woman and the first African American to lead the district attorney’s office. She can hold the post until at least January 2019 — longer if voters elect her in next year’s election. She has not said whether she intends to run.
The supervisors picked Becton despite her admission that she plagiarized whole sections of her application. She copied and pasted the words of U.S. senators and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and lifted passages from several Bay Area district attorney websites.
She told the supervisors Tuesday that she
took responsibility for the plagiarism but said that the board should be “focused on the real issues” of criminal justice reform.
“I drew liberally from all kinds of sources because I wanted 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. I own that mistake,” Becton said during her public interview with the board. “That is the same kind of leadership and transparency and accountability that I will bring to the district attorney’s office.”
Becton spoke of the need to implement bail reform, increase trust between law enforcement and the community, and reduce recidivism and incarceration rates. She said prosecutors should worry less about their trial records.
“Our current system does not work because it focuses our attention on convictions and sentences but not on just outcomes,” Becton said. “I want to change that culture in our office, because there’s too much pressure to try to get cases out.”
Contra Costa County has been without a district attorney since June, when Mark Peterson resigned hours after state Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office filed 13 felony charges against him in connection with his admitted use of $66,000 in campaign funds for personal expenditures. In a plea bargain, state prosecutors agreed to drop all but one perjury count, for making false statements on campaign disclosure forms.
Becton started her law career in private practice and was appointed to the bench in 1995 by then-Gov. Pete Wilson. In 2011, her colleagues voted for her to be presiding judge, which put her in charge of the court’s budget when state funding cuts forced a large-scale reduction and reshuffling of staff.
She ran for re-election, unopposed, in 2014 and retired last month to concentrate on her bid to win the interim district attorney’s job.
The majority of prosecutors in the office and law enforcement associations supported Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves for the job. On Tuesday, however, it was Becton’s supporters who showed up in force at the board meeting in Martinez to highlight her record of community involvement and helping offenders change their nonviolent felony convictions to misdemeanors.
Supervisors John Gioia, Diane Burgis and Federal Glover supported Becton, while Supervisors Candace Andersen and Karen Mitchoff backed Graves. When the 3-2 split became clear, Anderson and Mitchoff changed their votes so Becton would win unanimous approval.
Aron DeFerrari, president of the Contra Costa County District Attorneys’ Association, which campaigned for Graves, declined to discuss the outcome but gave a brief statement to reporters.
“This is an interim appointment, and we will work with Judge Becton to keep our community safe until the voters select the next district attorney,” he said.
Graves and another finalist for the interim job, Supervising Deputy District Attorney Patrick Vanier of Santa Clara County, have filed paperwork to run for the post next year.
Becton will start later this month and make an annual salary of $258,181.