When Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson appears before a judge Wednesday, he’ll be in the Martinez courtroom not as a prosecutor but as a defendant in a rare proceeding that could end in his removal from office.
A finding last month by a civil grand jury that Peterson engaged in misconduct and should be ousted in a proceeding that hasn’t been seen against a California county prosecutor in decades, legal experts said.
“It happens three times in a century,” said Stanford law Professor Robert Weisberg. “It’s very, very rare.”
The case stems from Peterson’s admission last year that he routinely used campaign funds for personal expenditures over a four-year period.
Under California law, when a judge receives an accusation against a sitting district attorney by a grand jury — similar to a vote of impeachment by a legislative body — the judge must appoint a prosecutor from another county — or in this case, a deputy state attorney general — who tries the case in front of a jury. The jury may ultimately decide to oust the district attorney, who can appeal to a higher court.
In Contra Costa County, the vast majority of rank-and-file prosecutors want Peterson gone and took a vote of no confidence against their leader earlier this year. But Peterson has rejected calls to give up his seat, and in April filed paperwork to run for re-election in 2018.
Peterson didn’t return requests for comment.
Investigators with the state attorney general’s office have separately launched a criminal investigation and are looking through Peterson’s personal email account, bank records, calendar and personal electronic devices.
An affidavit said the items could show evidence of a felony, such as perjury, embezzlement, fraud and grand theft. Peterson has yet to be formally charged with any crime stemming from the investigation, which began in February.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle