By Layla Mustafa
STATE CAPITOL – Multiple District Attorneys across California Thursday partnered up with Assemblymember Rob Bonta to announce new state legislation to cure the conflict of interest in prosecutorial investigations on police misconduct.
Bonta announced the bill in a virtual presentation with former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and current District Attorneys Chesa Boudin of San Francisco, Diana Becton of Contra Costa County and Tori Verber Salazar of San Joaquin County.
Currently, California’s elected DAs are allowed to accept money and funding from law enforcement . Critics have questioned the ability of a prosecutor to unbiasedly investigate law enforcement officials who have potentially engaged in misconduct if law enforcement is contributing money to the prosecutor’s campaign.
The proposed legislation would require elected prosecutors to recuse themselves from an investigation of law enforcement misconduct if they have accepted any financial contributions from law enforcement entities.
Referring to police union funding of DA’s, DA Salazar remarked “It destroyed trust within our community. We need to repair and heal that. And the only way we can is by cleaning our own house and making sure we are standing tall behind our ethics and our professionalism.”
Some questions were raised by members of the press about whether this legislation would violate union speech rights to fund prosecutors.
Assemblymember Bonta clarified that this legislation would not make it illegal for prosecutors to accept financial aid from law enforcement , nor would it prohibit campaign contributions.
But, under the proposed legislation, prosecutors financially backed by police unions would understand that if law enforcement officials were later accused of misconduct, they would not be a part of the decision-making process.
The legislation comes at a time when community trust in prosecutors and law enforcement is low.
Assemblymember Bonta made a point to say that the legislation was heavily inspired by the nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd. Bonta and the DA’s sponsoring the legislation hope that this will be the first step towards rebuilding trust between the community, and those sworn to protect it.
On the subject of the nationwide protests, Gascón commented, “The pain we are seeing would not be as raw and as widespread if we had seen police held accountable by local prosecutors quickly and with regularity.”
The community needs to know that prosecutors are fair and objective, said DA Boudin, who added that if prosecutors are indebted to law enforcement when investigating misconduct, then “we haven’t earned community trust.”
Only when law enforcement leadership is not beholden to law enforcement unions can the public be truly confident in prosecutorial investigation against law enforcement, he argued.
As DA Salazar stated, “As DA’s, morally and ethically we should all be standing across the nation together, whether there is legislation or not and say we will take this step. But as you can see, there’s four of us here today. There should be more. There should be all 58 of us (district attorneys) standing here today saying that I pledge to do this. But they’re not.”
Ninety-five percent of elected Californian DAs have accepted funding from law enforcement, and only four of the 58 DAs were seen at the press conference publicly sponsoring the bill. There is currently a similar measure under consideration at the California State Bar which would effectively prevent prosecutors from accepting police union monies through an ethical rule.
The CA District Attorneys association has firmly opposed the rule request, and is in opposition to the reform. The sponsors of the proposed legislation still remain hopeful that individual DAs will support the new legislation. The State Bar will reconvene Friday to continue to discuss the subject.
Finally, one member of the press questioned the probability of the bill passing – considering Gavin Newsom’s denial of the Brady Bill. Assemblymember Bonta emphasized Newsom’s public support towards efforts to rebuild trust with the community- a goal highlighted in the new legislation.
Following some additional tweaking, the bill will be introduced in December and may make necessary amendments as sponsors continue to fine tune the language of the bill.
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