County district attorney resigns after pleading no contest to perjury

Peterson steps down after being hit with criminal charges for campaign spending scandal

Contra Costa County's embattled District Attorney Mark Peterson resigned Wednesday and pleaded no contest to a single charge of perjury amid the fallout from a political misconduct scandal that's plagued him for months.

Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Theresa J. Canepa sentenced Peterson to three years probation, 250 hours of community service and a $300 fine.

State prosecutors had argued for a slightly more severe sentence when they asked the judge to at least give Peterson a term of home confinement.

"This is a serious offense," said David Bass, a prosecutor with the California Attorney General's Office, which was handling the case against Peterson. "The attorney general wants to ensure that all people are treated the same under the law."

Peterson didn't address the court directly, except to answer some routine questions about his plea agreement, and he left the courtroom without making a statement.

His attorney, Ted Cassman, said that Peterson "made a terrible, terrible, tragic mistake."

"This procedure is a tragedy, Shakespearian in its dimensions," Cassman told the judge prior to Peterson's sentencing.

The case against the now-former district attorney began in December 2016 when the Fair Political Practices Commission fined him $45,000 for violating the California Political Reform Act by spending $66,372 on personal expenses.

Then in May, a civil grand jury sought Peterson's ouster, saying his conduct amounted to "willful or corrupt misconduct in office."

Peterson was due to be arraigned in a rare civil procedure in superior court on the grand jury's accusations Wednesday when, just hours before his scheduled court appearance, state prosecutors filed 12 felony counts of perjury and one felony count of grand theft against him.

Peterson agreed to plead guilty to the perjury charge rather than face the possibility of two trials, either one of which could have resulted in his removal from political office.

As part of his plea agreement, the judge dismissed the remaining criminal charges and the grand jury's civil accusations.

Peterson, who first took office in 2010 and won re-election in 2014, admitted to the FPPC that he misappropriated the funds, saying he considered the money to be loans that he was paying back.

The money came from Peterson's political campaign coffers and it is a violation of state law to use it for anything other than campaign or political expenses.

Peterson spent the money on meals, clothes and other personal expenses, but failed to report any of that spending in his campaign finance disclosure documents filed with the state.

He admitted the spending only after he became the target of a state audit.

"I am humbled and embarrassed by my mistakes," Peterson said in December.

Peterson reached an agreement with the FPPC's Enforcement Division on the fine and paid back all the money he took from the campaign account.

Outside of his legal difficulties, Peterson also lost the support of the prosecutors working under him. In May, the county's District Attorneys' Association passed a vote of no-confidence leveled at him.

Now that the county's top law enforcement job is vacant, it will be up to the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors to appoint a temporary replacement, according to chief assistant district Attorney Doug McMaster.

-- Kiley Russell, Bay City News

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5 people like this
Posted by Dan Davis
a resident of Danville
on Jun 15, 2017 at 6:31 am

The lead prosecutor in the county gets a slap on the wrist. Shame, shame, shame.

12 people like this
Posted by danville dad
a resident of Danville
on Jun 15, 2017 at 7:53 am

How can a crime of such proportions be admissed by the court as an egregious mistake?
Another example of our legal system failing our communities, families, children and future.
We must demand that the judge not only be admonished for such a miscarriage of justice, but the Judge must go!!
No what if's, how abouts or mistakes, this "So Called Judge" has got to be punished for not only this ridiculous sentence, but such a total disregard for our laws and the rationale our society has placed on such obvious criminal activity!! If anyone of us took money from our work, church or temple and offered a defense of sorry, I was gonna pay it back, well, hello jail time! Should be sharing a cell with both of these deadbeats!!

7 people like this
Posted by Erick
a resident of San Ramon
on Jun 15, 2017 at 8:45 am

Peterson's statement, "I am humbled and embarrassed by my mistakes," is telling. The word "mistakes" trivializes his deliberate choice to use funds for his own benefit. Thankfully, the FPPC auditors and the Attorney General's prosecutor pursued this even if other commenters feel the sentence was too lenient.

9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 15, 2017 at 11:48 am

300.00 dollar fine is a far cry from the 66,372.00.
Once again the system fails us and protects its own.

6 people like this
Posted by FedUpRes
a resident of San Ramon
on Jun 15, 2017 at 3:30 pm

Evidently there is, and has been lots of corruption in Contra Costa's legal system and police tasked with drug enforcement. In May 2013, former Contra Costa County drug task force commander Norman Wielsch was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for stealing drug evidence, robbing prostitutes and making phony arrests.

Kind of ruins one's confidence in this County's legal system & police/drug enforcement. Wonder how extensive this rot permeates? I do not have much confidence at all.

3 people like this
Posted by Not Surprised
a resident of Danville
on Jun 15, 2017 at 5:41 pm

A kangaroo court.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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