On Friday, January 7, the California State Bar’s Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct (COPRAC), met again to review a proposal created by four California District Attorney’s which prohibits an elected prosecutor, or a candidate seeking election, from soliciting or receiving political or financial support from law enforcement unions. Following public comment, the committee announced for a second time that they would not discuss the proposal, leaving the decision unresolved.
This proposal, written by San Joaquin County DA Tori Verber Salazar, Contra Costa County DA Diana Becton, San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin, and former San Francisco DA George Gascón, was first introduced in June 2020. The State Bar committee discussed the proposal from the Prosecutor’s Alliance for the first time in December 2020, and paused on making any decisions due to advocates fighting against it, saying the rule discriminates against law enforcement and is a clear violation of First Amendment rights.
While only four out of the 58 California DA’s presented this proposed rule, is this a slippery slope to discriminate against certain groups from participating in the political process? The four DA’s argue that prosecutors cannot ethically investigate and prosecute police misconduct when police unions, sheriff’s offices and correctional divisions offer their endorsements and financial support. That conflict of interest also erodes public trust in law enforcement, they said. However, there are already rules and systems in place within the State Bar to address conflicts of interest that might arise between prosecutors and police unions; rules that all DA’s are required by law to follow.
Further, the proposed rules blatantly violates the First Amendment as content based restriction on the political speech of the progressive prosecutors political opponents, i.e. groups promoting public safety and consideration of the rights of victims of crime. The Mastagni law firm assisted the Peace Officers’ Research Association of California in submitting a letter to COPRAC the urging them to refrain from interposing themselves in an inherently political issue, which these prosecutors are promoting to obtain an unfair electoral advantage in campaign contributions and endorsements. Notably, the proposed rule does not seek to restrict the political participation of other groups supporting prosecutors’ Alliance, such as Black Lives Matter, the Real Justice PAC or Open Societies, nor require the recusal of prosecutors who render charging decisions involving members of these groups.