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California

Former Contra Costa County prosecutor convicted of perjury could lose license, State Bar says

Contra Costa County Dist. Atty. Mark Peterson
Former Contra Costa County Dist. Atty. Mark Peterson.
(Paul Chinn / San Francisco Chronicle)

The former district attorney of Contra Costa County has been temporarily suspended from practicing law in California, the State Bar announced Friday, after he was convicted of perjury for lying about spending campaign funds on personal expenses.

Mark Peterson is on interim suspension starting Aug. 21 until the State Bar determines if additional discipline is warranted. He pleaded no contest last month to filing a false Campaign Disclosure Statement. The decision could take months.

Peterson was charged with 12 counts of felony perjury and a single count of felony grand theft for allegedly lying on his campaign disclosure forms from 2012 to 2015.

Prosecutors said he’d used more than $66,000 in campaign funds to pay personal bills and to buy jewelry and other items.

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In exchange for the no contest plea to the one felony, prosecutors dropped the other charges. He was sentenced to three years’ informal probation and ordered to serve 250 hours of community service and resigned June 14.

The felony counts came after a county grand jury formally accused the county’s top prosecutor of “willful or corrupt” misconduct and began separate proceedings to remove him from office.

Peterson was fined $45,000 in January after a state investigation disclosed the personal expenditures to the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

According to the FPPC inquiry, Peterson used campaign funds for about 600 personal expenditures totaling $66,372, including groceries, jewelry store bills and movie tickets.

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First elected district attorney in 2010, Peterson ran unopposed in 2014. But his political career faltered in December 2016 when questions arose about campaign fund expenditures and withdrawals.

Peterson acknowledged to the FPPC that he used campaign funds for personal expenses when he served as treasurer for his reelection campaign. Peterson has maintained that he borrowed the money with the intention of paying it back. He admitted to the violations and said he was “humbled and embarrassed” by them.

In levying its January fine, the FPPC ruled that Peterson violated California’s political reform act nine times.

Then in May, a civil grand jury recommended that Peterson be removed from his position. The grand jury found that Peterson had engaged in “willful or corrupt misconduct in office.”

After the civil grand jury called for his ouster, Contra Costa County prosecutors gave Peterson an overwhelming vote of no confidence.

“Every single day the prosecutors in this office work hard to protect the people of this county and get justice for victims of crime,” said Aron DeFerrari, president of the Contra Costa County prosecutors union. “We have done our jobs in the shadow of Mr. Peterson’s malfeasance for too long. … As line prosecutors, our efforts to bring justice will never relent, but we are ready to close this chapter in our office history.”

Peterson’s ultimate discipline could include disbarment. The state Supreme Court has the final say on his fate.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

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For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.


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