New Ethics Rule Would Help Restore the Independence, Integrity, and Trust of Elected Prosecutors by Preventing Them From Taking Donations From Police Unions
STOCKTON - Yesterday, in the wake of mass protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, a coalition of current and former elected prosecutors representing millions of Californians in diverse counties banded together to call on the California State Bar to cure the conflict of interest created by police unions' out-sized influence in local elections. The new rule would explicitly preclude elected prosecutors-or prosecutors seeking election-from seeking or accepting political or financial support from law enforcement unions.
"We have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us to restore trust in our profession, but trust must be earned, it cannot be demanded," said San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar. "The first step to earning that trust back is ensuring the independence of county prosecutors is beyond reproach."
"The legal representation of an accused officer is generally financed by their law enforcement union," said Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton. "It is illogical that the rules prohibit prosecutors from soliciting and benefiting from financial and political support from an accused officer's advocate in court, while enabling the prosecutor to benefit financially and politically from the accused's advocate in public."
"District Attorneys will undoubtedly review use of force incidents involving police officers," said San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. "When they do, the financial and political support of these unions should not be allowed to influence that decision making."
"When videos emerge like the one depicting the killing of George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery, the damage it does to the entire criminal justice system cannot be overstated," said former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón. "That damage, however, is further compounded by delays in the condemnation, arrest, and charging of the involved law enforcement officers. These feelings, these protests, and the pain we're seeing, would not be as raw and widespread if we had seen police held accountable by local prosecutors quickly and with regularity. An important step in curing this pain is curing the conflict of interest that gives, at minimum, the appearance that police do not face consequences swiftly-or at all-due to the proximity and political influence of their union."
Prosecutors are in a unique position of having to work closely with law enforcement and simultaneously evaluate whether crimes have been committed by these same officers. Recent events involving police misconduct in which prosecutors either delayed or failed to file charges have shined a light on the importance of prosecutors making decisions regarding law enforcement officers' conduct without any undue influence or bias. Yet when prosecutors initiate an investigation or prosecution of an officer, the law enforcement unions often finance the legal representation of the accused officer. Prosecutors who have received an endorsement from the entity that is funding the defense of the officers being investigated or prosecuted creates, at a minimum, the appearance of a conflict of interest for elected prosecutors.
By precluding elected prosecutors-or prosecutors seeking election-from seeking or accepting political or financial support from law enforcement unions, the State Bar will reduce the presence of conflicts of interest and ensure independence on the part of elected prosecutors. This proposal also aspires to help reestablish community trust in the integrity of prosecutors at a time when national events have damaged that trust.
For more information, follow #CureTheConflict.