Hal Jewett is the "Jack McCoy" of the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office, says Contra Costa Times Political Editor Lisa Vordergruebben. Her blog Tuesday published a letter that Jewett has sent to the Times, criticizing the paper for too easily dismissing allegations that one candidate’s supporters in the DA’s office violated the law.
The prosecutor’s union has endorsed one of the candidates, Dan O’Malley, a former Contra Costa County prosecutor and Superior Court judge. That means, the union is not endorsing the second candidate Mark Peterson, who is currently another senior prosecutor in the office.
This latest brouhaha stems from Peterson crying foul about a January 14 fundraiser hosted for O’Malley by some of his DA’s office supporters. Peterson alleged that these O’Malley supporters acted illegally by hosting this fundraiser and asking the 50 invited prosecutors to donate money. An Internet invitation, written by prosecutor Johanna Schonfield, asked guests to "join Dan O'Malley and your fellow Deputy District Attorneys ... at an intimate fundraiser." It suggested that prosecutors give $200 to $500.
I’ve seen Jewett in action in the courtroom and spoken with him. I know some of our politics would clash, and I don’t agree with some decisions he has made on certain cases, but I’m convinced he acts out of respect for the law and a desire to do the right thing, not to further his personal glory. By the way, in 2008, he was named "Prosecutor of the Year" by the California District Attorney's Association. 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).
Harold W. Jewett