Rachel Marshall / (415) 416-4468 / Rachel.Marshall@sfgov.org
SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Today, District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced his cosponsorship of California State Assemblymember Rob Bonta (AD-18)’s first-in-the-nation legislation to require elected prosecutors to recuse themselves from the investigation and prosecution of law enforcement misconduct if they accept financial contributions from law enforcement unions. The legislation follows an ethics proposal to the California State Bar and the American Bar Association that District Attorney Boudin also cosponsored in June of this year to cure the conflict created when elected prosecutors who investigate use of force incidents by law enforcement officers also accept financial and political support from law enforcement unions.
“Now, more than ever, prosecutors have the responsibility to promote equal justice and build trust with the communities we serve. In order to do that, we must eliminate the conflict of interest existing when elected prosecutors accept police union support,” said District Attorney Chesa Boudin. “It is only when prosecutors are not financially beholden to law enforcement unions that the public can be confident in the decisions prosecutors make about holding police officers accountable.”
“This is about trust in law enforcement, and trust in the independence of our elected prosecutors,” said Assemblymember Rob Bonta. “As people across our cities, states and our nation have come together to raise their voices and demand greater justice, we must cure the conflict of interest that gives, at a minimum, the appearance that police are not held accountable due to the proximity and political influence of law enforcement associations and unions.”
District Attorney Boudin cosponsored the legislation along with the Prosecutors Alliance of California. District Attorney Boudin and Prosecutors Alliance members District Attorneys Diana Becton, Tori Verber Salazar and former District Attorney George Gascón, had previously joined together to call on the State Bar to create a rule of professional responsibility to preclude prosecutors from taking police union money. This proposal came in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in an effort to increase the independence of prosecutors from police.
The proposal in front of the legislature differs slightly from the proposal before the California State Bar. Rather than precluding prosecutors from soliciting or accepting law enforcement union contributions, it requires a prosecutor that has accepted a law enforcement union’s contribution to recuse themselves from the decision-making process if one of their members is suspected of criminal conduct. In such cases, the Attorney General’s Office would be asked to handle the case. This will help reassure family members, community stakeholders and the public that decisions are made based on the facts and the law, not political horse trading and back scratching.
By closing this loophole, the Legislature will reduce the presence of conflicts of interest and ensure independence on the part of elected prosecutors. This legislation aims to help build trust in the integrity of prosecutors at a time when national protests have erupted over police violence and the frequent failure to hold police accountable.
“Law enforcement unions generally finance the legal representation of an accused officer, and when prosecutors receive financial support from the entity funding the defense a conflict of interest arises for elected prosecutors,” said Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton, who also cosponsored the legislation. “To restore trust in law enforcement we must cure this conflict.”
“The police officers who killed George Floyd violated our social contract and exposed critical flaws in our criminal justice system,” said former San Francisco District Attorney and Assistant Chief of the LAPD, George Gascón, another cosponsor of the legislation. “We cannot heal, claim reform, or restore the promise of equal justice until we eliminate the cloak of conflict surrounding prosecutors’ decisions to investigate and charge police. The pervasive financial ties between police unions and the prosecutors that will inevitably review the conduct of their members has deepened the chasm between law enforcement and the communities we are sworn to protect and serve.”
“This legislation would ensure there is no conflict in the investigation of officer-involved critical incidents,” said San Joaquin County District Attorney, Tori Verber Salazar, who also cosponsored the legislation. “The tie between police unions and District Attorneys has eradicated the public’s trust in our objectivity to investigate and prosecute officers. The public is demanding transparency from their District Attorneys; if those same District Attorneys are indebted to the very organizations which defend police misconduct, then we have violated that trust. Justice must be equal for all.”
“Police unions are unique from other labor unions and special interests,” said Cristine DeBerry, Executive Director of the Prosecutors Alliance of California. “No other group carries a badge and a gun and faces situations in which they may have to use force, the legality of which will ultimately be determined by the District Attorney. The same cannot be said of teachers or bus drivers and other public employees.”
The State Bar is scheduled to reconvene tomorrow to continue discussions on the State Bar proposal. For more information on this new legislation or the State Bar proposal, follow #CureTheConflict.