Two years into the job, the former Concord city councilman at the head of the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office is making slow progress reforming an agency with a reputation for cronyism and bad behavior.
That’s the assessment of a profile of Mark Peterson in a recent issue of the East Bay Express, which casts a reform-minded liberal against an Old Boys network unwilling to let go of power without a fight. At the heart of the piece is Peterson’s efforts to make advancement for prosecutors more transparent.
The DA’s office still uses an unusual and controversial cost-saving method that puts lawyers on contract for three year stints, after which time they are hired or the contract is not renewed. Critics have said that the system rewards sycophants and sends smart lawyers looking for better places to practice.
In January, Peterson’s office provided its own self-assessment to the Board of Supervisors. The report noted that at 92 percent, Contra Costa boasts the highest felony conviction rate in the Bay Area.
But the report also warned that if the office's lawyers aren't paid more, prosecutions in the county could suffer: It is absolutely essential that the salaries of all of our prosecutors be increased to be more competitive. Otherwise, we will simply be the “training ground” for other prosecuting agencies; we will lose our very best, most experienced prosecutors; and our prosecution efforts discussed above will suffer.