Civil movement

Progressive prosecutors movement on trial in California primary

Three prosecutors at the forefront of the progressive movement in California will be tried on June 7.

Chesa Boudin, San Francisco’s chief prosecutor, faces a recall election in the primary. Polls suggest there is a good chance he will lose.

Diana Becton and Tori Berber Salazar, chief prosecutors for two counties just east of San Francisco, face tough re-election bids against career prosecutors.

All three are founding members of the Prosecutors Alliance, a unique organization of prosecutors that advocates for progressive change in the California criminal justice system. The fourth founding member, George Gascón, is also mired in a vigorous recall campaign in Los Angeles.

Boudin, a former public defender and son of incarcerated parents, was elected in 2019 on a progressive platform. He set out policies to restrict cash bail and sentencing enhancements for offenders, while stepping up criminal prosecutions against police officers.

His tenure, which coincides with the pandemic years, has been marked by an increase in property crimes and homicides, according to San Francisco police data.

The political committee most active in the recall campaign, San Franciscans for Public Safety Supporting the Recall of Chesa Boudin, spent nearly $4.5 million in 2022, according to the latest campaign fundraising information released by the San Francisco Ethics Commission. The committee’s treasurer is Mary Jung, former president of the Democratic Party of San Francisco.

Four committees opposing the recall spent a total of $2.1 million in 2022. Among them, a committee set up by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California spent $263,171.

A San Francisco Examiner poll taken a week ago found that 56% of San Francisco voters favor recalling Boudin, 32% oppose it and 12% are undecided. Another poll commissioned by the Boudin campaign finds likely voters are also split on recall.

Contra Costa County

Diana Becton. (Courtesy of Diana Becton’s Reelection Campaign)

In Contra Costa County, incumbent Diana Becton is facing a re-election bid against career prosecutor Mary Knox.

Becton, a former judge, was first elected in 2018 on a progressive platform. During her tenure, she stopped prosecuting some drug possession cases, piloted a reconviction program to reduce sentence lengths, and launched a data collection project to identify racial disparities within the system.

Knox told The Epoch Times that she disagrees with Becton’s policy to stop pursuing a wide range of drug possession cases. Pursuing cases encourages people with serious addictions to seek court-ordered treatment and reigns in drug-fueled crimes such as robbery, robbery and burglary, she said.

“I think crime will only increase until we start enforcing our laws as they are written. It is the district attorney’s ethical duty to press charges when the facts prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed and not to let your own personal beliefs get in the way,” Knox said.

Becton told The Epoch Times in a statement that his office is focusing its resources on prosecuting violent crimes.

Knox also finds fault with Becton’s handling of organized retail thefts at high-end stores. During the pandemic, Becton set a higher standard for prosecutors to charge looters, which emboldened thieves, Knox said.

Becton said his office continues to press charges for organized retail thefts.

Epoch Times Photo
Marie Knox. (Courtesy of Mary Knox)

Knox has raised $385,978 this year, surpassing Becton by about $143,000, according to the latest campaign finance information released by the Contra Costa County Elections Office.

However, much more money was spent by super PACs who chose to support Becton’s campaign. These super PACs can raise and spend as much as they want, but they are prohibited from coordinating directly with candidates.

California Justice and Republic Safety PAC spent $963,884 on TV ads, digital ads, direct mail, and more. to support Becton and oppose Knox in 2022, according to the latest data.

George Soros, who is used to supporting progressive prosecutorial candidates, contributed at least $652,000 to the PAC. Smart Justice California Action Fund invested $300,000.

Lift Up Contra Costa Action PAC, affiliated with Tides Advocacy, has also spent tens of thousands of dollars supporting Becton.

In support of Knox, Contra Costans for Progress and Justice, a PAC formed by a coalition of local organizations and individuals spent $228,548 in 2022. The Contra Costa Deputy Sheriff’s Association is the PAC’s largest donor , with a contribution of $190,000.

In 2020, Knox and four other prosecutors filed a federal lawsuit accusing Becton of discriminatory promotional practices. In 2019, Knox filed an unfair treatment lawsuit alleging Becton demoted her after supporting Becton’s challenger in the 2018 election.

San Joaquin County

Epoch Times Photo
Ron Freitas. (Courtesy of Ron Freitas)

In San Joaquin County, incumbent Tori Verber Salazar faces a re-election bid against career prosecutor Ron Freitas.

Salazar, a Republican career prosecutor who worked in the Gangs and Homicide Unit, was first elected in 2014 and re-elected in an uncontested race in 2018.

In 2020, Salazar joined Boudin, Gascón and Becton to form the Prosecutors Alliance. The alliance follows the 21 Principles for Progressive Prosecutors developed by Fair and Just Prosecution, Brennan Center for Justice and Justice Collaborative, including an end to cash bail, an end to misdemeanor prosecutions, police accountability, the removal of criminal records and the end of the death penalty.

In April, the district attorney’s portion of the San Joaquin County Attorneys’ Association concluded a vote of no confidence in Salazar’s ability to effectively run the office.

Freitas told The Epoch Times that he disagrees with the direction given by the Prosecutors Alliance. For example, he thinks stopping prosecuting misdemeanors will embolden criminals and lead to more violent crimes.

Freitas has raised $222,287 in 2022, surpassing Becton by two times, according to the latest campaign finance information released by San Joaquin County.

Cara Ding

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Cara is a Chicago-based Epoch Times reporter. She can be reached at [email protected]