April 24, 2009
CoCo Supe Bonilla finds D.A.'s decision on not prosecuting some misdemeanors "troubling." Requests special meeting.
Susan Bonilla, the chair of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, has called a special meeting of the board's Public Protection Committee. Bonilla is inviting the Sheriff Warren Rupf and members of the Contra Costa Police Chiefs Association to attend.
Bonilla, like fellow Supervisor John Gioia, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, expressed dismay at the decision by District Attorney Bob Kochly to no longer review and file charges against many misdemeanors as of May 4. These misdemeanors include drug offenses, property crimes, simple assault or battery cases, and trespassing and loitering cases. The D.A.'s Office, however, will continue to prosecute misdemeanor DUIs, domestic violence cases, and sex crimes.
In a memo to county police chiefs, obtained by Claycord.com, Kochly said: "With respect to these types of cases, we ask that they not even be submitted by your agency. If they are submitted, they will be screened out by category by support staff and returned to your department without review by a deputy district attorney."
This language did not sit well with Bonilla who states in a press release, shared with Claycord.com:
“I find the District Attorney’s decision deeply troubling. The Board of Supervisors understood, while there would be reduction in services, the District Attorney would make every effort to efficiently schedule cases and seek cost-saving opportunities that would preserve the infrastructure of prosecuting all misdemeanors.
"The Board of Supervisors relies on the District Attorney to manage his office in a manner that best serves the public. However, the District Attorney’s decision of summarily returning cases to police departments without review by a deputy district attorney and requesting police chiefs to no longer submit certain types of cases threatens the safety and well being of Contra Costa County residents.
While the Board of Supervisors establishes the budget for the District Attorney’s Office, as a separately elected official, the District Attorney has sole discretion as to how he will allocate resources to 'seek justice and enhance public safety for all our residents by aggressively, fairly, ethically, and efficiently prosecuting those who violate the law' as stated in the D.A.’s mission statement."
To me, it sounds like Bonilla is suggesting that Kochly mislead supervisors about how he would deal with this crisis. So did John Gioia in an interview with the Chronicle.
Kochly's latest decision comes after supervisors labeled law enforcement, including Kochly's office, a top priority in deciding in March which of the many county services would be cut in this current budget crisis. The supervisors decided that, instead of asking Kochly to make $4.1 million in cuts, they would ask him to only trim $1.9 million, meaning he would have to lay off 18 deputy district attorneys instead of the 33 originally proposed.
Gioia told the Chronicle that the list of crimes that Kochly says he now won't prosecute is far longer now than what he told the supervisors during its budget deliberations.
"I don't think it's a good idea for the chief prosecutor in the county to inform the public at large what cases they're not going to prosecute," Gioia said.
Meanwhile, David Livingston, president of the county Police Chiefs Association, told the Contra Costa Times that all the chiefs agreed that officers would continue to make misdemeanor arrests as usual, regardless of what prosecutors decided to do.
Back in February, I questioned whether Kochly was grandstanding when he threatened that the $4.1 million cuts would force him to stop prosecuting DUIs. Well, he didn't have to make all the cuts he feared. He received concessions from the supervisors. Meanwhile, other vital health and human services have been cut, and the Sheriff's department, despite the supervisors' promise that law enforcement would be a top priority, still has to let go 56 deputies.
I have to agree with Bonilla. Kochly's latest move is "deeply troubling."
While the Contra Costa Times, in an editorial today, disagreed with Gioia and gave Kochly props for being public about how he intends to deal with the shortfall, the Times also rightly said: "Kochly needs to show more flexibility. While maintaining an even hand in prosecution of cases across the county to ensure crimes are prosecuted without regard to locale or economics, Kochly should also be more willing to evaluate cases individually to ensure some of the worst misdemeanor offenders do not get a free pass. ... And Kochly needs to determine whether he is making best use of the funding he's receiving."