The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to appoint recently retired Superior Court Judge Diana Becton to serve as interim district attorney, making her the first woman and first African-American to hold the position in the county.
"I am honored to have been chosen by the Board of Supervisors to serve the people of Contra Costa County as District Attorney," Becton said. "With over two decades of experience in the administration of justice and the practice of criminal law, I am excited by this new opportunity to reform our justice system and restore integrity to the DA's office."
Becton, one of five finalists being considered for the position, was chosen after the Board of Supervisors publicly interviewed the applicants Tuesday in Martinez. She will serve until early 2019, the expiration date of the elected term of former district attorney Mark Peterson, who resigned in June amid a campaign spending scandal and felony conviction.
"Diana Becton brings a wealth of experience as a retired Contra Costa Superior Court judge," Supervisor Candace Andersen, whose district includes most of the San Ramon Valley, said after the meeting Tuesday. "She cares deeply about improving our county's justice system. I look forward to working with her as she brings a new perspective to our District Attorney's Office."
Becton, an El Sobrante resident, was appointed to the bench in 1995 and since then has presided over a variety of misdemeanor, felony, civil, mental health and juvenile cases. She was elected presiding judge of the Contra Costa Superior Court in 2011, responsible for leading the court and managing its staff and resources, including its $56 million budget.
"This job is a tremendous responsibility, and I am committed to restoring public trust in the DA's office," Becton said. "The people of Contra Costa County need to be confident in their judicial system, and I will work tirelessly with law enforcement, deputy district attorneys, and public defenders to rebuild that trust."
She received initial support from three supervisors following public interviews Tuesday, with Andersen and Supervisor Karen Mitchoff instead picking senior deputy DA Paul Graves as their top choice. The board then voted a second time, and Becton was unanimously approved as interim DA.
The position as the county's top prosecutor became vacant mid-June after Peterson resigned in light of a perjury conviction stemming from a campaign spending scandal.
Peterson, who took office in 2010 and won re-election in 2014, pleaded no contest to one felony count as part of a plea deal with state prosecutors after spending more than $65,000 in campaign money on personal expenses.
Rather than call a special election to fill the position, the Board of Supervisors opted to solicit applications for an interim DA to serve out the remainder of Peterson's unexpired term. The next regular election for the DA position is scheduled for next June, with a potential runoff election in November 2018. The elected winner's new term will start Jan. 7, 2019.
Chief assistant DA Doug MacMaster has been serving as interim DA since Peterson's departure, but once Becton is sworn in, he will resume his prior position. MacMaster did not apply for the job.
The application and open recruitment process included a county-hosted public forum, several opportunities to offer public and online comments and public interviews of each finalist during a Board of Supervisors open meeting.
Becton and Graves were joined as finalists by Superior Court Judge Danielle Douglas, Contra Costa assistant DA Thomas Kensok and Santa Clara County deputy DA Patrick Vanier, who lives in San Ramon. Twelve people originally applied before the board narrowed the candidate pool down to the five finalists.
Originally from the Bay Area, Becton attended Oakland public schools and received her B.A. in economics from San Francisco State University and her J.D. from Golden Gate University Law School.
In 2012, Becton was the recipient of the Rose Bird Memorial Award for judicial excellence from California Women Lawyers and later served as president of the National Association of Women Judges.