March 13, 2010

Contra Costa D.A.'s race getting bloody, literally, with top homicide prosecutor reportedly throwing punch at supervisor

Harold Jewett, the top homicide prosecutor in Contra Costa County, was placed on administrative leave, and his supervisor went to the hospital for two stitches below the eye, the Contra Costa Times is reporting.

Amid rising tensions over the upcoming District Attorney's race, an argument broke out between the two on Monday over a letter to the editor that Jewett sent to the Contra Costa Times. In that letter, Jewett criticized political fundraising inside the "toxic" atmosphere of the office, and said that he had "never seen the kind of political environment that exists in this office now." I published the text of that letter before, and you can read it here. You can also read about the fundraising controversy that led to the letter.

The fight echoes political divisions in the office, where prosecutors are apparently lining up behind the two leading candidates to replace District Attorney Robert Kochly, who is not seeking re-election. Those two candidates are Dan O'Malley, a former deputy district attorney in the office, and superior court judge, and Mark Peterson, a deputy district attorney who still works in the office.

Attorneys told the Times said that the fight between Jewett and Sequeira took place Monday in a third-floor office.

Sequeira, a supervisor ranked No. 3 in the office, was talking to another prosecutor and his raised voice lured Jewett out of his office. ... Jewett ignored Sequeira's orders to return to his desk and followed him to another office. As the argument escalated, Sequeira accused Jewett of harming the office with the letter to the Times, which came in response to an editorial that criticized prosecutor and district attorney candidate Peterson. The candidate had asked the state to investigate his opponent Dan O'Malley and some of O'Malley's supporters in the office on accusations they broke campaign laws.
Sources said Sequeira was body-to-body, face-to-face with Jewett when Jewett hit him in the face. Sequeira never struck Jewett. Some colleagues said Jewett felt Sequeira was going to strike him and acted in self-defense. Others viewed the incident as a straightforward assault by Jewett.
No one is saying anything official. Kochly declined to comment, citing confidentiality over personnel matters.  Jewett just confirmed to the Times that he was placed on leave.

The Times says the fight "shocked" the local legal community with the two men considered among the county's top legal talent. Apparently, though, the two have a "history of butting heads," the Times reports, "and they now stand on opposite sides in an election with job assignments at stake."

Both have litigated some of Contra Costa County's highest profile homicide cases. Sequeira has taken on more administrative responsibilities in the office but has nonetheless prosecuted the murder trial of Jimena Barreto, a nanny who was intoxicated when she ran over Danville siblings Troy, 10, and Alana Pack, 7, in 2003, the Times says. He also prosecuted Susan Polk, the Orinda woman who received national media attention when she represented herself before being convicted of killing her husband.

Jewett was named "Prosecutor of the Year" by the California District Attorneys Association in 2007. He prosecuted Concord's Helzer brothers, who were convicted of killing five people as part of an extortion scheme, and the trial of Scott Dyleski, the Lafayette teenager convicted of killing the wife of attorney Daniel Horowitz.


Anonymous said...

Too bad nobody caught this on video. It might have had some utube potential. Prosecutors are supposed to be fiesty and combative so this just proves they have the right spirit for the job. I'm waiting for round two.

Anonymous said...

Sequiera's management style is to scream and yell and bully subordinates. There are lots of DA's and ex-DA's (now defense attorneys) who would love to hit him. I'm sure that Jewett acted in self-defense. Sequiera creates a "hostile workplace" at the DA's office yet the "good ole boy system" who run the place won't do anything about it.
If Dan O'Malley is elected, he''ll keep "the good ole boys system" in place and keep Sequiera in a position of power that will continue to foster the low morale in the office. That's why many DA's are supporting Mark Peterson.

Anonymous said...

Sequiera is a dirtbag.

Anonymous said...

The "many" DAs supporting Mark Peterson are about nine out of ninety--remember the association took a vote. Oh, that's right, ten counting Gressett but he didn't get to vote because he's charged with rape. Stop trying to make something political out of a guy losing his cool. He has battled with many in the office for a long time--it is time Jewett retire.

Anonymous said...

Good for Hal Jewett. It’s too bad he didn’t knock a few of Paul Sequeira’s teeth out. As a police officer in Contra Costa County for over 25-years I had a few cases with Sequeira and Hal Jewett. Sequeira will ignore exculpatory evidence, perjure himself to win a case, and then fib again to protect himself at the expense of others. Jewett can be intimidating and somewhat difficult to work with, but approaches his cases with complete integrity and resolve. said...

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